-We've put our blood and sweat into this for 50 years," says 81-year-old A.J. Jackson, an owner of the Rainbow Talc Mine in Southern California's Death Valley. Jackson is talking about the mine he ran sporadically between 1952 and 1972. Now, Jackson and his partners want to dig again. The only problem: Rainbow Talc now lies within a wilderness area of Death Valley National Park.
Despite its location, Jackson's
proposal has a good shot at being approved by the National Park
Service. Staking new mining claims within national parks is
forbidden, but when parks have been created or expanded,
pre-existing claims survive the transfer to Park Service
jurisdiction. Mine owners, however, must contend with Park Service
mining regulations, and these are stricter than those of other
"We can't approve a mine if
it will cause significant damage to park resources," says Julia
Brunner, a regulatory specialist at the Park Service's geology
division in Denver.
But the agency must also
respect the property rights established by the 1872 Mining Law. "If
we can't mitigate the operations, we seek funding to buy them out,"
The National Park System contains
about 2,500 unpatented and patented mining claims, according to
Brunner, and most of the claims lie within the three Southern
California desert parks. Mojave National Preserve contains about
1,400 claims - more than any other Park Service unit. Death Valley
and Joshua Tree national parks have about 400 and 60 claims,
Currently, there are only nine
active hardrock mining operations in three Western parks: five in
Mojave National Preserve, two in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
in Alaska, and two in Death Valley National Park. Brunner says the
Park Service is now reviewing plans for 25 new operations,
including the Rainbow Talc proposal.
of claims within parks has fallen considerably in recent years,
thanks to reforms of the 1872 law which require a $100 annual
maintenance fee for each unpatented claim (HCN, 11/15/93).