Category Archives: Mining

A Glimpse of Bloody Run Creek

When I covered the Wild and Scenic Film Festival last January, I wrote a piece called “Occupy Confluences”. It’s about creating new systems, the blue lines on the map, and what inspired me to be a more active steward of the two watersheds that receive the run-off from our farm. The creek nearest the Middle Fork Yuba drainage is Bloody Run Creek, and in “Occupy Confluences” I pledge to get to know it better. Toward that end, I started a very unofficial organization called Friends of Bloody Run Creek. At first it was Friend of Bloody Run Creek, but my husband quickly joined. (There are no dues, no meetings, no anything but learning about the creek.) There are three of us now–our friend the Wilderness Wino signing up as well (except there is nothing to sign). Here on the blog we’ll follow our progress as we learn about Bloody Run Creek’s geology and history from its headwaters to confluence. If you’d like to help, email us at lightcapfarm@gmail.com, or leave a comment below. Here’s the link to “Occupy Confluences” if you want to start at the beginning.[https://lightcapfarm.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/occupy-confluences/]

Bloody Run Creek near Backbone Road

Hopeful cedar and Ponderosa pine along Bloody Run Creek.

For years now, my husband and I have indulged in what we call Back Yard Days. These are days when we happily turn left out our driveway, heading away from civilization as we’ve come to tolerate it. Because of the snow, Back Yard Days are usually three season affairs, but this winter there was so little snow we might have even made it to Graniteville to visit the Wilderness Wino. Instead we made our first pilgrimage to Bloody Run Creek as its (un)official Friends. Here’s the view heading home, near a strip of land that we folks up here call the Saddle Back.

Looking west from Backbone Road

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Filed under Back Yard Days, Community, Friends of Bloody Run Creek, Mining, Sustainability, Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival

Thwarting Our Best Intentions: A Polemic

It has been a typical couple weeks on Facebook in the land of leftie politics.  Whether I am visiting the group for Save The Scenic Santa Ritas down in Abbey Country, or reading a post from a local food activist here in Nevada City, or perusing the many leftie slogans that litter my news feed, it is pretty much the same. People who care fervently about their causes are driving potential supporters away with their rudeness and their inaccurate and objectifying language.  After ten years of covering left-wing politics as a reporter, this doesn’t surprise me.  There is a reason why our frequent refrain in the newsroom was “fucking lefties!”  There is a reason why it is a cliché that the left forms firing squads in a circle. But what somehow surprised me about what I’ve witnessed on Facebook these past weeks is that the people spouting their venom and lies—spouting them in the hopes of prosthelytizing —know they are venom and lies but don’t care.

First, let’s go to Abbey Country, where Arizonans have been engaged in a feisty debate for months now. A Canadian company doing business as Rosemont Copper Mine wishes to build and operate a mine in what is known as The Scenic Santa Rita Mountains. Thousands of birders, hikers, wine enthusiasts, and other tourists visit these mountains each year and strongly oppose the project.  There is also a great deal of support for the mine, especially with Arizona’s unemployment rate finally catching up with the rest of the nation’s. With publication of the DEIS delayed more than once, the state has been in limbo. Now that the document has been published, public hearings are being held and there may soon be some actual movement.  It’s very much the same story line as Nevada County, gold, and Emgold.

Every few weeks I visit the group page Save the Scenic Santa Ritas on Facebook. When I went there late October, I observed a conversation between two women, we’ll call them Katey and Amber.  Katey was speaking passionately against the mine; I don’t know what her role is with the organization Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, but she posted with authority and obviously a great deal of knowledge. Amber popped in to the group having just been to an informational meeting sponsored by Rosemont Copper; she had follow-up questions.

As typical with Facebook, I saw the end of the conversation first, in which Amber sarcastically thanked Katey for her rudeness, since it had helped win Amber over to the side of the mine’s developers.  Having been to one of those informational meetings at Rosemont, I can see how Amber’s decision might have been made easier. The spokespeople at the meetings are very nice, quite calm and yet passionate, plus they had out free beverages and chips.   Treating people well is a great way to seduce them; Rosemont gets that but Katey doesn’t seem to.  As I skimmed through their conversation, I was stunned by Katey’s rude tone and dismissive approach to Amber’s questions.  Amber and I tried to tell her not to be so rude.  “A little honey with your vinegar?”  I wrote hopefully, only to also be chastised that Katey doesn’t have time for oversensitive people because it was a “fight” so she had to fight.  (I regret I cannot quote Katey more specifically, because she or someone on her behalf went back and removed every single one of her comments from the conversation. I attempted to contact her to follow up, but not only her posts but apparently her profile have disappeared from Facebook.)

In the rhetorical nightmare that embodies the flaccid ineffectuality of left wing politics, Katey has hit the jackpot.  Meanwhile, Rosemont Copper Mine has a new supporter. Amber is a small business owner in Tucson, so I imagine that she already has a sign up in her shop window supporting the mine.  Has Katey won the “fight”?  Hopefully the gorgeous Santa Ritas have wiser spokespeople in their camp—or else it will be Rosemont Copper Mine in Abbey Country.  More jobs, less tourism, American copper sold to China to make more cheap shit we’ll buy at Walmart.  Katey does not see that she is actually fighting for the enemy.  Perhaps she’ll get a thank you card from Rosemont Copper.

(And we need to remember that Katey, Amber, or both women could be on Rosemont’s payroll. Corporations regularly hire shills to infiltrate and affect grass roots groups, and given Rosemont’s manipulative television spots, I wouldn’t be surprised.  I have no evidence of this; I am merely saying it is possible. If either woman were to be on their payroll, I’m sure that the company feels its money is well spent.)

The Scenic Santa Ritas. I took this photo standing in the exact spot of the proposed mine.

Meanwhile, in Nevada City last October, I attended a dinner-and-a-movie fundraiser for a local farm defense fund.  The event was at The Willo, which impressed me, because it’s not a typical leftie venue.  It’s a venerable old roadhouse famous for its steaks and affordable cocktails. And eat steaks and drink cocktails we did, before we watched the film Farmaggedon, which offers vivid evidence and video footage of the USDA raids on artisanal and organic farmers across the country.  In the film, the footage of these raids is frightening to say the least. Machine guns and children in the same room, people’s yogurt, chickens, grains, sheep, confiscated before their tearful eyes. The raids are violent, the technology and firearms ratcheted up to the point of absurdity.  Before the film began, a spokesman for the farm defense fund gave a speech, as is customary at such events. He said there had just been a raid in Placer County, and that soon they expected equally dramatic events in Nevada County. As we listened to him, we were all sobered by the reality that USDA tanks and guns could soon be rolling down Cement Hill Road and Highway 174. It seemed far-fetched, hyperbolic–until we saw the film.

A couple weeks later, about the end of the month, a farm activist posted on Facebook: a food swap organization shut down in eastern Nevada County, in the town of Truckee. The farm activist, let’s call her Sheila, announced the incident with screaming caps on both Facebook and email:  RAID in Nevada County.  I checked in on Facebook with the group who’d organized the food swap, Tahoe Slow Food, and saw that the spokeswoman for the group was already putting out that fire.  “I would like to clarify,” she said,  “There was no raid!”  She went on to explain the relatively polite exchange between the group and the health department, and said they hoped to resolve things with further conversations.  (Not as exciting as a raid, I know.)  I went to Sheila and said, “Look, no raid.”  Her response: “a minor difference to me. Swapping food is still illegal.”

Most people, particularly food consumers who are not activists, would see more than a minor difference between an armed USDA raid and a quiet conversation between health department officials and a slow food group. Those people, who can’t quite grock that the USDA raids are even real, will brand Sheila’s hyperbole as hysteria and say something like this:  “Those left wing nuts. Talking all this shit about raids when there aren’t any. We can’t believe a word they say. Go Monsanto!  Go Walmart!”  Sheila joins Katey in getting a warm, fuzzy, thank-you note from her enemy. The more misinformation is out there, the less mobilized the public will be to engage in causes that are central to their lives.  But, like Katey, Sheila can’t see beyond her strident view to the larger rhetorical concern.

I had been thinking about Katey and Sheila, about the frustrating reality that so many people with profound ideas about the future are marginalizing not only themselves but also the very causes they dedicate their lives to. Incidents such as the two I’ve described are as commonplace as they are polarizing.  Why is this, I’ve been wondering. Meanwhile, on Facebook, I began noticing a trend developing—a trend that began about the same time the Occupy movement went viral.  People began creating and sharing slogans and testimonials through photographs.  One stream of these photos is dedicated to the 99%, one person at a time telling his or her story about their fall from the middle class.  These, at least, have some text and explanation for why they are saying what they are saying.  Less so the slogans, which encapsulate complex social dynamics into dangerously simplistic ideas.  For example: “I have nothing against God, it’s his fan club I can’t stand.”  These slogans seem to make people happy; I think that’s because it does feel good to have one’s philosophies and ideas wrapped nicely and placed beneath the Christmas tree for others to “ooo” and “ah” over. These slogans are as dangerous to the left as are the rash actions of Katey and Sheila. The absurd generalization that God’s “fan club” can be lumped into one demographic is insulting not to the faithful but to the intellectual capacity of the left.

It is easy to fall through the trap door into the soft, pillowy comfort of smugness. Back in 2003 when I was a reporter I remember asking Jeremy Skahill, who’d just returned from months in Iraq, how the Iraqis felt about Americans.  Skahill was as nice as he could be when he told me how ridiculous my question was: “There are hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, each with his or her own opinion,” he reminded me. When we do as I tried, and attempt to reduce the complexity of a nation into a pat, sentence-long encapsulation, we oversimplify.  When we oversimplify complex issues, we polarize our audience.  “Where is tolerance?” a Christian I know and love wrote on Facebook.  “Why are there so many posts about how evil we are?”  The creator of the “fan club” slogan wasn’t picturing my friend, a hard-working, home-schooling, fair and open minded woman who happens to get strength from a different place than he does. He was objectifying her, oversimplifying the dilemma of organized religion and the harm done on its behalf, and in the process creating more hate and angst. He was, in essence, sabotaging his mission just as completely as Katey and Sheila sabotaged theirs.

Creating animosity, misinformation, and polarization are all ineffective, counterproductive ways out of the mess we are in.  There are mountain ranges to be stewarded, wholesome foods to be protected, and individual choices to be honored. Only when the left begins to treat others with the respect it demands for itself can it truly help the 99% it claims to care about.  Offering faux compassion to a massive body of people is meaningless; we need to care for and respect each individual that contributes to that statistic.  Furthermore, we need to make a commitment as individuals to go beyond the slogans, to challenge the hyperbole, to demand honesty and integrity in our daily conversations. If we can’t do that, how do we seriously think we change an entire planet for the better?

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Filed under Abbey Country, Community, Essays, Farming, Mining, Polemics, politics, Sustainability

Let’s Stop Whining: A Polemic

by Carolyn Crane

Pima County, Arizona

Last Saturday, I found myself on the old Thurber Ranch outside Sonoita, Arizona, listening to a presentation about a proposed open pit copper mine. The site-coordinator, Dennis Fischer, gave an excellent presentation.  He is truly a wealth of information, and he carries that knowledge around with him in his head.  He referred to study after study, named fact after fact supporting his project.  The studies he mentioned were conducted by the University of Arizona, Tucson.  Rosemont Copper, he said with some pride, has forked over $4 million for studies so far. I raised my hand, and he nodded to me.  “Have any studies been conducted that were not paid for by Rosemont Copper?” I ventured.  He looked a little bewildered by the question at first, but then perked right up.  “One, a fifteen thousand dollar study by Pima County,” he said.  “If I were you I’d believe our four million dollars worth of studies.”

Back in 1980, a 17 year old freshman on the San Francisco State campus, I asked another question of an older student near me in the old cinderblock HLL building where the liberal arts students met.  “Why are some buildings so new, and some buildings so old?” I asked her.  “Honey, “ she said, “Wake up. The science buildings are new because corporations fund their construction, and then fund the experiments and studies that happen inside.”  To be honest, her answer confused me.  A little over twenty years later, in the same town, I listened to Dr. Vandana Shiva address a capacity crowd.  She lamented over the corporate control of our seed, among other things.  Then, she told us there was another grave danger that we as U.S. citizens thought little about: the fact that we had handed over our public universities to corporate influence and funding.  She spoke of Dr. Ignacio Chapela, a biology professor at neighboring UC Berkeley, who continued to fight this trend as well as the corporate domination of our seed.  I ventured over the bridge and met Dr. Chapela at a construction site on campus where he was protesting with his students.  Their complaint: the building being constructed was financed with corporate dollars, as would be the studies conducted within.  In The Future of Food, a film by Debra Koons Garcia, Dr. Chapela shows us the modest studies he conducts with the relative pennies he gathers from the public sector, and how limited non-corporate biological research is in the 21st century.

A few weeks ago I attended a food and farm conference in northern California. Dr. Will Winters, a veterinarian and natural food activist, joked that if you gave him $100,000 to conduct a study, he could come up with whatever conclusion the donor wished. Indeed, statistics can be manipulated every which way; we learn this in the critical thinking class I teach. Mr. Fischer from Rosemont Copper seemed unaware of this, proud of his company’s bought-and-paid-for research, and proud of the fact that they were putting at least one graduate student through school.  Maybe he is naïve, or maybe he thought we were.  Or maybe he’s like most U.S. citizens and doesn’t think it matters. The thing is, though, corporate influence over and control of U.S. universities isn’t Mr. Fischer’s fault.  It’s ours.

The official opposition to Rosemont Copper is a Tucson-based non-profit corporation called Save the Scenic Santa Ritas. Recently, on its group page on Facebook, an opponent of the mine was bemoaning the fact that Rosemont Copper is owned by a publicly-traded Canadian corporation, Augusta Resource.  He was asking how Arizona could sanction a copper mine to a foreign corporation.  I wrote back with a three word answer:  World Trade Organization.  Just because it’s happening “doesn’t make it right,” he countered.  That’s true.  Conversely, just because it isn’t right doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.  Thanks to WTO policies, corporations now have more legal rights than countries, let alone counties and towns, and the most powerful financial engines in the world are corporate rather than national economies. This transfer of power accelerated in 1944 with the signing of the Bretton-Woods agreement that created the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Corporations now control the information that passes through our universities, our access to seed, and in many cases our books and antiquities, as our libraries and museums are increasingly privatized. Corporations control our food supply, our power supply, our money, and even our prisons.

In The Matrix, an agent tells Morpheus that humans are not mammals as we believe we are, but actually a virus that has destroyed the earth.  I’m not quite dark enough to agree with him, but I do believe we created that virus, and that virus is the corporation.  Along with our immediate ancestors, we are the Drs. Frankenstein, and corporate personhood is our monster. In this brave new world we’ve created, consumerism is our soma. As our nation recovered from World War Two, our citizens lined up for their daily doses in supermarkets and malls, glad for the convenience and ease the corporations gave us. Before we knew it we were slaves to that system, and we still are today. Few knew way back then that our comfort came at the expense of those in the global south; blissed out, the average U.S. citizen didn’t ask questions.

Today, we have only to look at Tunisia and Egypt to see how possible it is for citizens to demand systemic change. What ingredients need be present?  To me, the formula seems to be that about half the country must have nothing left to lose. Here in the United States, I’m not sure how far we are from that.  Since the corporations now have almost all of the money, they make our soma in China so we can still afford it.  Their slick promoter, the Chief of State, promises us change if we will only continue to have faith in the corporate state.

Toward the end of the Rosemont Copper tour, we traveled  to the site of the mine, and we stood in the center of what would be the open pit, its floor two thousand feet below us.  On the way back, one passenger asked Mr. Fischer, “Will this be on the ballot?”   “This is not a popularity contest,” Mr. Fischer responded emphatically, even repeating the sentence.  “We are making sure all our “I”s are dotted and our “T”s are crossed.”  He was highly confident that the corporation’s perseverance and bankroll along with Pima County’s economic desperation would result in the mine moving forward.

When its citizens don’t take it seriously, democracy does indeed become a sick sideshow, today a blockbuster movie financed by the same corporations though the conduit of the lobbyist and the safeguard of the superdelegate. What should be considered an important public referendum on an irrevocable environmental act is marginalized to “a popularity contest”.  Fischer said that with the help of its buddies at University of Arizona, Rosemont Copper is already moving the agave plant from the mining site, legally required of them because the plant feeds the endangered Lesser Long-Nosed Bat. Save the Scenic Santa Ritas and Pima County seem committed to fighting to the end with the meager resources available to them. As the economy in south eastern Arizona gets weaker and weaker, the public looks more favorably on the $900 million dollars Rosemont Copper will bring to the area.

Several years ago, I met with Maude Barlow in Canada to discuss the WTO, corporate domination, and the environment.  She quoted fellow Canadian David Suzuki and referred to his metaphor about the lily pads on the pond.  They multiply exponentially, she explained, and a pond only half covered one day can be completely choked the next, no longer able to sustain life.  That was the state of the global environment, she said.  It’s hard to say if this is true, since we’ve by-and-large lost our independent scientific research. In the years since I met with her, clearly more lily pads have accumulated on the pond.  In any case, mining projects of any kind can’t help the fragile state of our environment. Most people don’t care, just as long as they get their soma.

In 2010, the country saw an important shift: for the first time in our history, more dams were removed than built.  Why?  Because independent science, funded mostly by nonprofits such as SRYCL (in my home town) have proven that not only are the fishes suffering by not being able to swim upstream and spawn as they once did, but the actual health of other native animals and of the land itself are being impacted by the fishes’ absence. The dams are also coming down because government agencies don’t have the money to repair or maintain what they once constructed. A mine seems to me to be analogous to a dam, something man-made that wildlife needs to adjust to, a structure whose presence holds hidden, long-term ramifications.

I live where the foothills meet the Sierra, and not far above us the forest has been clear-cut by a corporation called SPI. Every weekday each summer we watch the 18-wheelers haul timber down our road, often at break neck speed.  Their habitat destroyed, deer, mountain lions, and black bears encroach on residential neighborhoods. Deer are hit daily by motorists and moved to the side of the road to feed the buzzards. Still, no significant movement has been organized to tell SPI they’ve destroyed enough habitat and made enough money. One brave friend of mine started clocking their trucks with a speed gun and reporting the offenders to the corporate office in town.  A few citizen meetings were held.  But each and every resident did not camp out on the road and tell SPI once and for all: No!  With the lily pads filling the pond, this may be the level of action required. We don’t take the necessary steps to destroy the monster we’ve created simply because only a few of us see things this way.  Most of us are in a survival mode of a more superficial nature: holding down enough work and buying enough things to continue the life style that has forged our identity as Americans.

I don’t yet have a final position on the Rosemont Mine.  First I need to do more research, get my hands on what are apparently several independent studies, although Mr. Fischer only knew of one. I need to check facts and logic. (My feelings about environmental protection probably won’t be Arizona’s, either.  Just today the Tucson Daily Star reported that Republican Senator Sylvia Allen has taken on the EPA, saying that Arizona shouldn’t waste its money protecting its citizens from the bogus threat of global warning and high levels of carbon dioxide emissions [http://azstarnet.com/news/science/environment/article_52343bbc-4bbc-5002-bef6-a24fd248b600.html].) Arizona citizens may want this mine, which is supposed to be the most eco-savvy mine every constructed in the state.  Much more on that later.

But one thing I know now is how the scenic Santa Ritas got in this mess, and why they will probably end up—along with the Lesser Long-Nosed Bat and other wildlife—being less important than jobs and profits.   We as U.S. citizens sold them out to the virus we created. So please, let’s stop whining. We did this.  We only have ourselves, our complacency, and our addiction to consumerism to blame.

The scenic Santa Ritas. This is the view from the center of the projected pit.

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Filed under Abbey Country, Essays, Mining, Polemics, Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival