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A bighorn sheep. Photo Credit: Don McCrady

OMYA Mining Public Land Sale – Privatization of public lands

OMYA Mining Public Land Sale

Back in 2005, the Bureau of Land Management found OMYA, Inc., operator of a limestone mine in California’s San Bernardino Mountains, guilty of removing mining waste from its quarry on private lands and dumping it on public lands. BLM has now proposed to reward this behavior by selling OMYA 70 acres of public lands to expand the mine. To add insult to injury, the lands for sale are part of a wildlife linkage corridor that BLM designated in 2016 as an area of critical environmental concern (ACEC) to protect bighorn sheep, golden eagles, desert tortoise, prairie falcons and other species.

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OMYA Mining Public Land Sale Location

OMYA Mining Public Land Sale

With the OMYA Mining Public Land Sale, the government would sell part of a wildlife corridor linkage area to a notorious polluter.

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Photo: U.S. Forest Service

OMYA Mining Public Land Sale – The Details

Reward a mining company for dumping waste on public lands? Apparently yes, if you’re the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

In 2005, BLM issued OMYA, Inc., operator of a limestone mine in California’s San Bernardino Mountains, a Notice of Trespass for unauthorized dumping of mining waste on nearly 10 acres of public lands. OMYA was found to have knowingly removed overburden from its quarry on private lands and dumped it on nearby public lands.

Fifteen years later the trespass is still unresolved. Now, instead of making OMYA remove the waste, BLM is proposing to reward their bad behavior by selling OMYA not only the 10 acres on which it dumped the waste, but also 60 additional acres of public lands so that it can expand its mine operations. Rewarding such bad behavior will do nothing to deter similar actions by OMYA or others in the future. Instead, it will set a terrible precedent of rewarding bad actors. Notably, this sale would also violate a promise from former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that the Trump administration would not sell off public lands.

Compounding this terrible precedent, the lands BLM proposes to sell are part of the Granite Mountain Wildlife Linkage Area of Critical Environmental Concern (GMWLA), which BLM designated in 2016 to preserve a wildlife corridor connecting important habitat to the north with the San Bernardino National Forest to the south. The GMWLA supports many species, including desert bighorn sheep; golden eagles; desert tortoise; prairie falcons; and rare plant communities, including Joshua tree woodlands. An isolated and declining herd of desert bighorn, a fully protected species under the California Endangered Species Act, lives in the area of the public lands proposed for sale.

BLM prepared an environmental assessment to evaluate the impacts of the proposed sale and took public comments in December 2018. The assessment was deficient in many respects, including its analysis of impacts to the desert bighorn sheep herd, as well as its discussion of whether BLM has legal authority under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to sell the land to OMYA. The assessment also neglected to consider the real implications of encouraging or rewarding OMYA’s trespass by enabling them to purchase the lands they damaged.

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