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Song of the Honest Miner Taxing Mining

Gold mines in the Humboldt River basin are pumping ground water at an unimaginable rate. They do it to keep their deep open pits and underground shafts dry. But nobody knows what the long-term effects will be.

Glenn Miller, a Sierra Club activist and professor of environmental resource sciences at the University of Nevada, Reno has been floating the idea of taxing every acre foot of ground water pumped out by the mines in order to fund efforts to get a handle on the problem. Bob Fulkerson, director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, is shopping the idea around the state legislature.

Don't expect to see much come of it during this legislature. But its time will come because the water deficit keeps getting bigger and bigger the more gold is mined in northern Nevada. The industry should pay for figuring out what gives when they take the water and how to put it back when they're gone.

Song of the Honest Miner

The cartoon at right--reprinted from Dan De Quille's The Big Bonanza--reminded us that, as the French say, "Plus a change, plus c'est la meme chose... especialment weeth mining!" The spectacular Bre-X mining scam in Indonesia had the best and brightest in mining, including more than a few in Nevada, hoodwinked for more than a year, while insiders and speculators took millions from stockholders who were left holding worthless shares of a salted gold mine in the end. Who said the good old days are past and gone? Not in mining!

Holy Bat Sex!

Cindie Geddes writes: last summer I went out with biologists Dave Worley and Mark Ports to survey bat habitat for a gold mining company. We were to find out if any of the old mining shafts that were scheduled for closure on its land were home to bats. Because of my small size, I was chosen to crawl into a couple of narrow shafts and call out my findings while Dave took notes.

Crawling into a mine shaft was like nothing I could have imagined. Sounds were muffled instantly and my ears ached for some familiar noise. When I turned off my flashlight for a moment the darkness was absolute. An icy breeze brushed so silkily across my face and arms that it felt like spiderwebs. The scent of the earth was so rich I could taste the minerals in the air on the tip of my tongue. I forgot about sunlight, birdsong and sagebrush. Without the touchstones of light and sound, the past and the future lost meaning. The present reigned supreme. I understood the bat.

Just before dark, we strung up ultra fine mist nets across the entrances of some of the shafts. When I came back from checking some empty nets, I found Dave and Mark rushing to disentangle bats from the nets so we could note their gender and breeding stage. Several bats waited in mesh bags.

I took a bat from a bag. A tiny fox-like face not much bigger than my thumb stared back, furious, tiny sharp teeth bared. The bat voiced its displeasure with a sound like two high voltage wires arcing with an angry "zzzzzt." I spread the bat's supple wings so it was stretched prone, belly up, like Dave had shown me how to do. I blew on the soft fur. Two clear spots up high showed she was a female. After a second blow I could tell she was breast feeding. By rubbing my thumb gently over her belly I could tell if she were pregnant. Males are distinguishable by their tiny erections.

Mine shafts don't look any different than natural caves to a bat looking for a place to rest, hibernate, breed, or rear its young. But the bat's desire for habitat has run head-first into the public's desire for mine safety. Public safety concerns have rapidly increased the rate at which old mines are closed sometimes destroying roosts and entombing bats. Protection of mine roosts is simple and inexpensive. A gate can keep humans out and let bats go in and out. Sixty-four percent of bat species in the United States are known to roost in mines. Twenty-two species of bats live in Nevada. Eighteen of these species live in caves or mines.

They Live!

The Burning Man keeps coming back for reruns like a bad B-movie on late-night TV. Except this ain't no movie. It's our backyard.

After last year's event got out of hand, generating protests even from sympathetic participants like Great Basin News, the organizers arranged to hold their happening on private land west of Gerlach this Labor Day weekend. But we still worry about the hordes descending on the Black Rock with their often repeated philosophy that "the desert is a vast blank screen on which reality may be projected." Excuse me but that's our shared reality your projecting your fantasies on.

We got a hallucinatory poem in defense of the Burning Man from Kirk Lumpkin of San Francisco. Entitled "Apocalypse: the Mode of Our Times," the poem reads, in part: "the apocalypse is in progress all around us...we come to release these energies to burn the excess baggage of the stupid, stiff, guilty, selfish people we've become--sun by day, fire by night, cooking the idiot flesh, frying the computer brain..."

It did little to quell our concerns so we promptly burned it.

We wish the Burning Men, Women and Children the best in rebuilding their sense of community and responsibility while they enjoy our wide open landscape. We'll be watching.

Nuclear Reactions

Watching the Easter protests at the Nevada Test Site from afar it occurred to us that maybe the irrational fear of things nuclear is not necessarily a big part of the problem, as so many scientists and risk managers would have us believe. Irrationality may even be a good part of the answer to the endless debate about how to handle the legacy of the nuclear age.

The protests have taken on all the trappings of religion. But perhaps some kind of religion is what we need to cultivate at the test site to communicate across the millennia that this stuff is bad mojo. Hey, maybe that's where they should put the Burning Man!

Critical Mass

"We Aren't Blocking Traffic... We ARE Traffic!" That's the slogan of Critical Mass, a monthly event in which bicyclists gather and ride en masse to reclaim the streets of their cities. This spring Critical Mass came to Reno--to mixed reactions from other bicyclists.

Our art director, Chris Carlsson was one of the founders of Critical Mass in San Francisco, which has grown from 45 riders to several thousand in five years. It has also spread to several dozen cities around the world. But unlike other organized bike rides or political demonstrations, Chris says, Critical Mass has no leaders. It is planned spontaneity.

This has given license to some riders--in San Francisco they're called the "testosterone brigade"--to play out their notions of a class war between bicyclists and motorists. This concerns some bicyclists, who fear that the anarchic event will give them a bad name.

But Critical Mass is not meant to be a protest, says Chris. It is a celebration. It is not about guilt-tripping or berating people for driving cars. Critical Mass invites people out of their cars and into a new sense of public space full of interesting, often provocative friends, neighbors and strangers. It reclaims public space from the prevailing isolation and atomization of our modern car centered lives. And it demonstrates that bicycling is a great way to get around town.

Critical Mass takes to the streets of Reno after 5 p.m. on the first Friday of each month. For more information, call Mark Newton at 702/747-1887.

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