Print Page

BLM California News.bytes 
News.bytes Extra, issue 559

BLM and State of California safeguard dangerous openings at Mountaineer Abandoned Mine Land

 aman stands near an old mine opening covered with metal guards
Photo courtesy of Ed Winchester, Frontier Environmental Solutions, Inc..

BLM’s Abandoned Mine Lands Program and the State of California’s Department of Conservation - Abandoned Mine Lands Unit (DOC) joined forces to safeguard dangerous mine openings in eastern Riverside County on public lands administered by the BLM Palm Springs Field Office.  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided funding to remediate nine dangerous mine features at the mine site.  Construction cost was approximately $75,000 while administrative cost was about $5,000. 

satellite view of the ground
Satellite view of the project location and the lower Colorado River system.

One of the features was backfilled with rock while the other eight received wildlife-friendly gates, and approximately 100-feet of non-designated route was reclaimed. 

Mining in the eastern portions of the Riverside and San Bernardino Counties occurred in the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s.  Mining of hardrock minerals such as gold, copper, and silver was a powerful incentive for exploration and settlement.   Mineral development often provided the economic base on which many remote communities were established along the river system.  But when ore bodies were mined out and miners left to find other new deposits, they often left behind a legacy safety hazards like those found at the Mountaineer Mine.   Mines were inseparably linked with the lower Colorado River (LCR).  The early mines in the area were seldom more than a two days walk from this important transportation route. 

The Mountaineer Mine, like many other mines along the LCR, house significant colonies of bats, many of which include sensitive species. Bats are important and valued members of the environment; they can eat up to half their weight in insects each night and are instrumental in pollination and seed dispersal. Because many natural bat habitats have been disturbed or destroyed, bats have found new homes in abandoned mines.  Bat Conservation International, the BLM, the Forest Service, FWS, and National Park Service have partnered to help protect vulnerable bat species in abandoned mines.

The mine site, located about 1 mile west of the the lower Colorado River, has been documented and noted by bat biologists for its importance for bats and habitat.  Up to five different species of bats have used the mine at different times of year, including having and raising babies (maternity), winter roost, and propagation.  Structure, warm temperatures, access to food and water, and the location of the mine are all prerequisites found at this site that make it highly desirable by bats.

The lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program (LCR MSCP) is a multi-stakeholder partnership that aims to balance the use of water resources in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River with the conservation of native species, to comply with the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Its habitat conservation plan (HCP) outlines a 50-year effort to conserve 26 federal- and state-listed candidate and sensitive species along the lower Colorado River, including birds, fish, small mammals, and bats along with many other species. The LCR MSCP area extends over 400 miles of the lower Colorado River from Lake Mead south to the border with Mexico.  Although the Bureau of Reclamation is the lead implementing agency, LCR MSCP projects are planned, designed, and implemented with involvement of partners, including BLM and public.

a load dangles from a helicopter
A helicopter uses a long line to deliver supplies (above) and steel for construction (below).
a long line from a helicopter dangles a load of steel

Visitors can gain access to the site by off-road vehicles and a short quarter-mile hike along an old mining trail.  Over the past ten years, biologists monitoring the mine site have documented that the mine has been impacted by visitation.  Trash and graffiti are found in various parts of the underground workings of the mine.

Project Goals and Benefits:  The primary goals established for the Mountaineer AML project included the following:
• provide a safe experience to the public when they are visiting the mine site;
•  assure that mining related features and were remediated to minimize damage to the natural environment, and;
• recognizing and protecting the biological importance of selected mine features along the lower Colorado River system.

A helicopter with a longline was used to move heavy loads of steel and equipment to the project site.  The pilot and machine were able to complete the pickup, delivery of supplies, and return in about 2-minutes from the loading area. 

Bats were observed to “boil” at this feature – an action of circling in and out of the mine entrance.  All parties including the contractor wanted to minimize the impacts of the gate to bats using the mine while maximize the space at and immediately outside the portal entrance for the nightly out-flight ritual.  Once the supplies and equipment were put into place the contractor began the process of building a steel cupola over the main shaft area and adjacent adit gates.  While the delivery of equipment and supplies took less than a day the total build time took approximately 3-weeks.  All together nine mine features were remedied and 100-feet of non-designated route was reclaimed.

Post-construction monitoring studies, usually conducted on an annual basis, will be performed by BLM and its cooperative conservation partners.  Three objectives to measure the success of this project will help guide monitoring efforts, these are:
• To document if the remediation actions have prevented human access into the mine
• To document bat use and numbers in the mine
• To document the different types of bats using the mine

a welder works on an animal-friendly enclosure over the abanadoned mine's opening
A welder is constructing a wildlife-friendly closure over the main shaft opening at the Mountaineer Mine.  Photo courtesy of Ed Winchester, Frontier Environmental Solutions, Inc.

- Sterling White, Desert District Abandoned Mine Lands and Hazmat Program Lead, BLM California Desert District (December 2012)

BLM California News.bytes, issue 559 -- To subscribe to News.bytes, send an e-mail to: mailto:Join-Newsbytes@List.ca.blm.gov OR visit our News.bytes subscription page.

Last updated: 12-04-2012