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Categories: From the Pick & Shovel Gazette

 Monday, September 26, 2016

Of fairy slippers, toads and yellow-legged frogs

Agency rule-making continues to restrict land access, prospecting

by Brad Jones

Of fairy slippers, toads and yellow-legged frogs
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GPAA Managing Editor

Once upon a time, the U.S. Forest Service was a respected federal agency that served the interests of the American people, and not just the interests of radical environmentalist lobby groups. Those days seem like such a long, long time ago in a land far, far away. It is simply astounding how much things have changed in one generation when it comes to the federal policy on public lands. 
Let’s take the controversy that stems from a wildflower called the fairy slipper orchid that the Forest Service has picked as a reason to ban new mining claims in the gold-rich Black Hills of South Dakota. Despite Forest Service efforts to prop up this orchid as some sort of rarity that needs to be protected, the fairy slipper is common throughout the United States and Canada. And, the fact that this flower happens to grow near the lady slipper, a slightly different kind of orchid in the Black Hills, doesn’t make either species rare, threatened or endangered. Yet, the Forest Service  has deemed it necessary to propose banning 18,000 acres of land from any future mining claims, even though the local deer population, which considers these orchids a delicacy, is free to roam the Black Hills and eat them. The 18,000 acres was later negotiated down to 11,000 acres. But, the new mindset among environmentalists and some Forest Service staff that ‘all prospecting leads to mining, and mining is unacceptable’ is simply unsustainable, and doesn’t reflect nor respect the federal mining laws or the American Way.

Frogs and toads
In California, the story is pretty much the same, 
except on a much greater scale. U.S. Fish and Wildlife recently designated 1.8 million acres of prime gold-bearing land in the Mother Lode as critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act for three amphibians — the Sierra-Nevada yellow-legged frog, the northern “distinct population segment” of the mountain yellow-legged frog and the Yosemite toad. Counties affected are Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Inyo, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sierra, Tulare, and Tuolumne.
The final rule was published Aug. 26 in the Federal  Register. One of the public comments raises the concern that critical habitat designation “will likely cause severe restrictions on land access and could limit or forbid mining.” 
Though USFW responds to this public comment in the final rule, the explanation is convoluted and vague bureaucratic gobbledygook. Read it for yourself:
“Our Response: The act of designating critical habitat does not summarily preclude access to any land, whether private, tribal, State, or Federal. Critical habitat receives protection under section 7 of the Act through the requirement that Federal agencies ensure, in consultation with the Service, that any action they authorize, fund, or carry out is not likely to result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat. Furthermore, designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership, or establish any closures or any restrictions on use of or access to the designated areas through the designation process, nor does it establish specific land management standards or prescriptions, although Federal agencies are prohibited from carrying out, funding, or authorizing actions that would destroy or adversely modify critical habitat.”
Pop Quiz: What exactly does this mean?
Answer: To borrow an old quote from the American film classic, Cool Hand Luke: ‘What we have here is failure to communicate.’
This response from the USFW is about the furthest thing from transparency and truth in government imaginable. It’s called dodging the question. And, according to the Western Mining Alliance—in the event California ever reverses the dredging ban—this ruling would close off large parts of the Mother Lode to dredging. 
To borrow another old line from a 1957 Bugsy and Mugsy Looney Toons episode: “I don’t know how ya’s done it, but I know ya’s done it.”

Oppose the Bear Ears National Monument
Recently, officials for the Navajo Nation have asked President Barack Obama to designate the Bears Ears Buttes as a national monument under the Antiquities Act. The proposed Bears Ears National Monument, backed by Hollywood activist Robert Redford and The Wilderness Society to ban drilling and mining, would encompass 1.9 million acres in southeastern Utah. The state already has the largest national monument in the continental U.S. with the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument. Write your state legislators and Congress to oppose these and other land grabs.

Article as featured in the October-November 2016 edition of the Pick & Shovel Gazette

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