Gold for politicians, too
Economic interests tied to mining are also entrenched in the political culture.
"Mining controls at least 50 percent of the regional government,"said McElhinny. "It's extremely difficult to do anything that doesn't touch any political figure."
And for the miners themselves, they are simply defending their livelihood in a region where the payback for illegal activity is high and income alternatives are almost nonexistent. Swenson is skeptical of the possibility of mining on a sustainable scale.
"I can't really imagine it," she said. "There are so many miners and not many economic alternatives."
"Perhaps the mining will decrease once they get out to easier deposits, once they've mined out easily accessible areas," she added. "I don't see that happening in the near future."
When discussing with colleagues in other development and conservation organizations, said McElhinny, "they admit half-jokingly that they should be out there panning for gold, as well."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500