Article as featured in the December ’15/January ’16 edition of the Pick & Shovel Gazette. To subscribe, go to www.goldprospectors.org/join
Gov. Jerry Brown signs SB637 into law
California continues to heap loads
of anti-prospecting legislation on the shoulders of already weary miners.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 637 into law Oct. 9, amending Section 5653 of the Fish and Game Code. The bill, presented by Sen. Ben Allen, D-26th District (Redondo Beach), requires the California Water Quality Board to regulate suction dredging through water quality permits.
“This bill would require the department to issue a permit if the department determines that the use does not cause any significant effects to fish and wildlife and would authorize the department to adjust the specified fee to an amount sufficient to cover all reasonable costs of the department in regulating suction dredging activities. This bill would prohibit the department from issuing a permit until the permit application is deemed complete, as prescribed,” according to the California legislative website.
American Mining Rights Association President Shannon Poe said it is just one more tactic the state of California is using to keep a “de facto ban” on small-scale suction dredging.
“The question is still there whether the state can concoct a scheme — that’s really what this is. They have created a de facto ban on these forms of mining. They don’t have the permitting process in place; they didn’t think that far ahead. And, if you can’t get a permit to mine, you can’t mine,” Poe said “It’s going to end up being a legal challenge.”
AMRA to hose Rinehart dinner fundraiser
The American Mining Rights Association will hold its First Annual Dinner Fundraiser to raise support for Brandon Rinehart’s Supreme Court case regarding suction dredge permitting at 5 p.m. Dec. 12 in Oakdale, Calif.
Tickets range from $50 to $3,500 for a table of eight. Each ticket includes dinner and at least one door prize ticket. Door prizes include prospecting equipment, such as a four-inch Proline dredge, a weeklong trip to Roaring Camp in California’s Mother Lode and a one-ounce gold bar, as well as a variety of firearms.
WHAT: First Annual Dinner Fundraiser
WHERE: 110 S. 2nd Ave, Oakdale, CA 95361
WHEN: 5 p.m. Dec. 12
HOW: For more information, visit: americanminingrights.com/dinner/
EPA backs down, Forest Service steps in
After battling the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to enforce a general permit for small-scale suction dredging in Idaho, the EPA has finally given it a rest, said American Mining Rights Association President Shannon Poe.
“The EPA has backed down in Idaho after two years; they’ve decided that they’re not going to force the issue of Clean Water permits on the South Fork of the Clearwater, so after our two-year battle with them, we’ve finally won that victory,” Poe said. “But, now the U.S. Forest Service is trying to require Plans of Operations. They tried to shut us down twice this year, but that’s something we’re going to tackle here pretty soon.”
In fact, Poe was on his way down to Boise in mid-October to meet with lawmakers on a pro-small-scale suction dredging and pro-small-scale mining bill.
“It basically gives miners the rights they were granted in 1872,” Poe said. “It just reaffirms those by the state.”
AMRA is also working on its first
“division” which will to help unite the miners in the western states.
“We call it Rocky Mountain Division, and it will include eastern Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Montana and Arizona,” Poe said. “We’ve expanded more claims to get more involved in legislation with states that are severely under attack.”
AMRA representatives attended a miner meeting with Western Mining Alliance on Sept. 20 in Nevada City, Calif., to further encourage miner unity. A similar meeting was hosted by AMRA back in March and drew miners, clubs and retailers from across the state of California. The mining and land rights group is planning to hold two more mining meetings in northern and Southern California in early 2016, and then take the message on the road.
“We want to take that on the road and do the same thing for Idaho, Washington and Oregon,” Poe said. “I’ve been just running around like crazy all across the Western states speaking that message of unity to clubs and GPAA chapters and everybody else. We really need to keep that message of unity going and get everybody on board.”
AMRA also plans to take its message to the offices and desks of federal agency employees, he said.
“Right now, the only people sitting down and talking to these folks are radical environmental groups,” Poe said.
Restrictions hurt rural communities
With the small-scale suction dredge mining moratorium within sight, the city of Grants Pass, Ore., was named the ninth poorest city in the nation, according to an Oct. 8 article by Yahoo! Finance. According to the article, Grants Pass’ unemployment rate is the sixteenth highest in the country at 8.2 percent.
Approximately 20 percent of Grants Pass residents live below the poverty line, nearly five percent higher than the national average.
“And, all this in spite of being surrounded by a million-plus acres of timber and one of the richest, mostly unexploited mineral belts anywhere in the world — none of which anyone is allowed to touch,” said Recorder for Galice Mining District Kerby Jackson.
Grants Pass began as a mining town boasting rich placer, nickel and copper deposits, Jackson said. Later on, it became predominantly a timber town, but once the spotted owl came on the scene, the timber industry was demolished and the town fell into ruin, quickly taking on a reputation for being the true “Wild West” — and not in a nostalgic way.
“We have a situation now where people were falling back on mining, but that’s being gutted at this point,” Jackson said.
Miners are doing what they can to keep the industry alive, despite the statewide moratorium imposed under state Senate Bill 838, which goes into effect Jan. 1.
“Galice Mining and Waldo Mining districts retained James Buchal to represent us in that. We will be headed to court here pretty soon,” Jackson said. “Other plaintiffs include Millennium Diggers, Willamette Valley Miners and nine individual miners, mostly dredgers, who are claim owners in state of Oregon.”
Tennessee cracks down on gold prospectors
As Tennessee prospectors continue to wait on the release of a General Aquatic Resource Alteration Permit from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, new restrictions have popped up in the national forests.
“The issue we have now is we have a new district supervisor ... it may very well shut us down,” said GPAA Tennessee State Director Richard Robinson. “They aren’t really letting us prospect. There are only two creeks in the entire Cherokee National Forest we’re allowed to prospect on right now. It’s affecting the membership. Where we usually prospect, on Coker Creek, is on national forest, so we’re having to seek out private land.”
Robinson spoke with JaSal Morris, U.S Forest Service Supervisor for the Cherokee National Forest, and Morris said he didn’t have a problem with the types of tools being used.
“I showed him all of our Class 1 prospecting tools: shovels, sucker tubes, things of that nature. The supervisor himself said, ‘I don’t have a problem with any of these tools. I don’t think you’re damaging anything using these tools, but our problem is applying mining law — what applies to you guys and what doesn’t,’ ” Robinson said.
As it goes, the Mining Law of 1872 does not apply to states east of the Mississippi, so prospectors are not protected from restrictions handed down by federal and state agencies.
“Until (the Forest Service) gets a decision from the Department of Interior and Counsel in the Department of Interior, we don’t have any guidelines to go by, and the Forest Service has, more or less, just shut us out,” he said.
Robinson said Forest Service law enforcement officers will cite prospectors, though he does not know of anyone who has received any kind of fine or citation thus far.
The only way to combat the anti-prospecting trend that is moving across the entire nation is attacking it at a federal level, Robinson said.
Writing letters and talking to state representatives is the best defense at this point, he said.
“Prospectors in general are facing this exact same fight all over the country. You’ve got unelected officials out there and agencies that were made instead of created legally that are out there regulating what we do—for all intents and purposes, legislating—and there’s no basis for them to do it,” Robinson said. “In Tennessee, we’re just getting a taste of it. We understood the state regulation was coming, but the Forest Service? We never expected that.”
Brad Jones is the Managing Editor/Communications Director for the Gold Prospectors Association of America and the Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association. He can be reached at email@example.com