SECOND QUARTER, MAY 2005 VOLUME 19, NUMBER 9
The Karuk litigation is an ongoing case where the Karuk Tribe of California has filed a lawsuit in federal court attempting to prevent the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) from approving or allowing mining (dredging, sluicing, panning, etc.) in-stream or near a watercourse (“Riparian Reserve”) in the Klamath National Forest without requiring a plan of operations, reclamation plan, and reclamation bond, preparing an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement reviewing the individual and cumulative impacts from proposed mining in Riparian Reserves, and going through an extensive consultation process with other federal agencies pursuant to the Endangered Species Act.
The New 49’ers filed a motion with the federal court to intervene in this litigation on the grounds that the miners need to be heard, since it is our rights that are being contested in the litigation. The judge has granted our intervention-status over strong objections voiced by the Karuks. So, we are now directly involved in the litigation.
However, even before our intervention status was approved, The Karuks and USFS signed a partial settlement agreement whereby the USFS has conceded that, by law, they cannot approve an Operating Plan within any area where a listed species (threatened or endangered) exists, without first going through an extensive consultation process with other federal agencies (can take years to complete). In the settlement, the USFS has agreed to not approve any more Operating Plans before going through consultation when it is required.
Existing 36 C.F.R. Part 228 mining regulations allow the District Ranger to use his or her own discretion, based upon the best advice of his or her staff and other experts, to decide what type of mining activity will likely cause a significant disturbance of surface resources. A Ranger’s determination of a significant disturbance requires a formal Operating Plan to be filed by the miner – which will now trigger the lengthy consultation process with other agencies.
Generally, District Rangers have determined that hand-mining and suction dredging activity conforming to state regulations do not rise to the level of a “significant disturbance.”
However, on April 29, the Karuks filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and Injunctive Relief asking Judge Saundra B. Armstrong in Oakland, to decide otherwise. The Karuk’s position is that without first going through a full consultation process, the USFS is not qualified to determine there will not be a “significant impact” upon any existing listed species. Therefore, they argue, the Judge should prohibit the USFS from allowing any type of mining activity in Riparian Reserves in the Klamath National Forest without requiring a plan of operations, reclamation plan, and reclamation bond, preparing an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement which reviews the individual and cumulative impacts from proposed mining in Riparian Reserves, and going through an extensive consultation process with other federal agencies pursuant to the Endangered Species Act.
In short, the Karuks are asking the judge to overturn existing Section 228 regulations concerning mining in the Klamath National Forest.
As the Karuks do not distinguish any difference in their summary judgment motion or other moving-papers in the lawsuit between hand mining (panning, etc.) from mechanized mining (bulldozers), we are presuming they are asking the judge to stop all forms of mining or prospecting activity in Riparian Reserves in the Klamath National Forest.
The hearing for the Karuk’s motion is currently set for 21 June of this year, and the judge has agreed to issue her decision before July 1. The New 49’ers are actively working on a response opposing the Karuk’s motion for summary judgment.
The decision on this motion will likely have an impact upon other national forests on the West Coast of the United States.
In view of the USFS concession concerning the requirement of consultation to support any Operating Plan, we do not feel very comfortable that it will mount an adequate defense to this latest motion, either. I think it is safe to say that much of the small-scale mining as we know it in America hangs in the balance on this one decision that will happen in just a few short weeks from now.
Naturally, these proceedings have caused different USFS land-managers to be uncertain how to administer small-scale mining programs. This slows down the process, or stops it altogether in some places.
I feel it is important to point out that the attack against mining is coming from organizations outside of government, that do not want to see miners in the National Forest anymore. The USFS is caught in the middle. Under the circumstances, there is no clear-cut correct answer to anything. So we need to patiently wait-out the system and keep our sights on the long-term. The mining law has always vindicated the rights of miners. It is not over until it is over! Let’s keep our chins up and be effective.
With a little luck, Judge Armstrong will decide in our favor and give the USFS some direction about how to exercise the discretion granted to them by Congress. That could actually make things better for us.
Legal Fund Needs Replenishment
Without access to legal-funds, we could not counter anti-mining activists in court. So we must replenish the fund as it gets used up. Just a little help from everyone is all that it takes to keep us in the game with really good attorneys. Fortunately, to date, our continued requests for replenishment have been answered by members and other concerned
people within the industry.
Once again, I am requesting anyone and everyone who is able, to please send in a $10 donation to help replenish the legal fund. Checks can be made out to New 49’ers Legal Fund, P.O. Box 47, Happy Camp, CA 96039. The girls in the office (530 493-2012) will also process credit or debit cards, or receive payment through PayPal. There are also Paypal “donation” buttons on the New 49er’s message forum as well as the Alaska Gold forums for your convenience.
Thanks for whatever you can do to help. We would not be able to do this without your support. Together, we are defending against one of the most serious threats to our industry that has been mounted in a very long time
2005 Program Approved on Klamath River
The Happy Camp Ranger District is allowing continued mining activity by New 49’er members under a formal Notice of Intent that has been provided by the Club on behalf of any members who wish to operate in conformance with our Operation Guidelines. Other than not dredging within a few hundred feet of Kinsman Creek (coldwater refugia), the guidelines presently are the same as what we had last year. You can obtain a copy from our office in Happy Camp (530 493-2012) or by visiting our web site.
What this means is that members who are willing to operate within our published guidelines are already covered by the Club’s formal Notice of Intent with the Happy Camp Ranger District, so it is not necessary for you to provide separate notice of your activities to the Forest Service. Basically, you just need to show up, register your presence with our office, and go to work.
Any members wishing to operate outside of our published guidelines are required to negotiate your own way, if necessary, with the federal authorities.
The Happy Camp Ranger District now covers all of the Klamath River from the mouth of Dillon Creek to Ash Creek – which is located around 5 miles downstream from Interstate 5. Happy Camp also administers Indian, Elk and Thompson Creeks. These waterways include the bulk of the mining property available to our members through our organization.
Some members have started the season early and are already actively prospecting along the Klamath River.
We are being told by the USFS that the Scott and Salmon River Ranger District (based in Fort Jones) is also going to sign-off on the formal Notice of Intent we have provided on behalf of our members. However, nothing is certain until we actually see it in writing. We learned last year to not rely upon assurances given to us until we actually them in writing.
There is no firm response yet from the District in Orleans about how they will administer mining on the lower Salmon River this year. A new District Ranger, Bill Rice, will take over on May 15. While there is still plenty of time before the dredging season begins there on 1 July, based upon how they did things last year in Orleans, I suggest it is probably better to not plan on their signing off on any Notice of Intent that we would provide on behalf of members.
This means that, unless things change, members wishing to prospect or mine along the lower Salmon River will likely need to manage your own individual relationships with the Forest Service down there.
In this event, I highly recommend that you carefully read the controlling decisions by the federal Court in Lex & Waggener and Terry McClure. While I am not an attorney, my own understanding of the judge’s decision in the McClure case just a few months ago is that the USFS cannot impose any penal authority upon small-scale miners (hand-miners and/or dredgers under the California regulations) who are prospecting on USFS land without an approved plan of operations.
If my understanding is correct, to stop mining activity that it does not approve of, it will now be necessary for the USFS to find some other punitive regulation, enact a new punitive regulation, or prove in civil court that the miner is creating significant disturbance of surface resources. It seems to me that the latter would be difficult to do, because the State of California is actively licensing suction dredging, based upon a formal finding of a non-significant impact. I would be surprised to see the USFS attempt to challenge an activity in civil court that has been approved and licensed by the State of California.
Although I must admit that I was very surprised that they challenged Terry McClure in court in last year. We live in very interesting times!
Really, the best solution all around is to create a set of guidelines we can all agree to, that allow small-scale miners to operate within bounds that are generally agreed to not create a significant disturbance. This has always been the purpose of our Operation Guidelines. Hopefully we will return to this soon in all areas where we make properties available to members. Meanwhile, because of the ongoing litigation, we will just have to cope with some confusion and uncertainty.
As the USFS is presently proceeding in such a manner as to allow our mining activity under the Notices we have provided them, we are moving forward with plans to manage a normal, full season in 2005. What else can we do?
See you out on the river,
SECOND QUARTER, JUNE 2005 VOLUME 19, NUMBER 5
By Dave McCracken General Manager
We received our Notice of Intent back from the U.S. Forest Service Ranger in Fort Jones. He has determined that our dredging, sluicing (with or without motorized pumps) and panning activities will not create any significant surface disturbance on the Scott River or along the upper Salmon River. That includes our claims along the North Fork of the Salmon, and on the Main Stem down to the Nordheimer Campground.
Our limit is no more than 8 dredges per mile along our claims on the Scott and Salmon Rivers.
We have set aside several nice, shady areas for camping.
All of our normal operational guidelines apply.
Our claims-guides have already been modified to reflect the present situation, and they have also been changed on the web site.
This present situation is substantially improved over last year. As long as members operate within our rules and published guidelines, there is no need to send in your own Notice to the Ranger if you want to dredge or surface mine on our claims along the Klamath, Scott and upper Salmon Rivers, and along Indian, Thompson and Elk Creeks.
I hope this makes you guys as happy as I am about this situation.
We are working on gaining back a similar operating program along the lower Salmon River (SA1 through SA-4) this season, but are not quite there yet. Stay tuned!
Karuk Litigation Nearly Finished
As many of you will already be aware, the Karuk Tribe of California has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), asking the judge to decide that the USFS does not have the authority to allow insignificant small-scale gold mining activity within the high-water marks of any waterway in the Klamath National Forest (KNF).
The KNF is where we hold most of our mining claims, and where most of our members prospect for gold. So our own interests are at risk. But because the points of law to be decided in this case are general by nature, the outcome is likely to affect all of the National Forests in America. There is a lot at stake here!
Because it is really the miners’ interests that are being fought over in this case, The New 49’ers filed a motion to intervene in the litigation several months ago, and our standing was approved by the judge. This is a good thing.
Even before we were granted standing in the litigation, the Karuks, USFS and the judge had already stipulated that this case would be decided by summary judgment prior to 1 July, 2005.
On schedule with that, the Karuks filed their motion for Summary Judgment on April 29. The Karuks are basically arguing that the USFS cannot allow any type of mineral activity within “riparian reserves” (within the high-water marks of any waterway in the forest), unless a full Operating Plan has been approved in advance – which would require years of environmental evaluation.
The New 49’ers filed our Opposition Brief on May 17th which mounts a very substantial argument why the Karuk’s position is flawed, and why miners have a right to access the public lands for the purpose of mineral exploration, which cannot be interfered with (by anyone) when our activity does not create a significant disturbance. We reinforced our position with several sworn Declarations which demonstrate that the arguments being made by the Karuks do not present an accurate presentation of the actual circumstances surrounding their claims in court:
1) A Declaration from Dennis Maria, who is the California Department of Fish & Game Biologist (now retired) that has personally overseen all of the small-scale mining activity in the KNF for many years. His Declaration states from personal knowledge that the suction dredge activity which the Karuks complain about does not create any significant negative impact upon the fishery resources.
2) A Declaration from Joseph Greene, who was a research biologist for 32 years with the Environmental Protection Agency (now retired). Mr. Greene dedicated his Declaration to answering the many questions raised by the Karuks in their complaint concerning the potential impacts from suction dredging and other small-scale mining activity. To accomplish this, Mr. Greene cited research from an extensive amount of source material he has accumulated from the many studies which have been completed on mining over the years.
3) A Declaration from myself about the nature of prospecting and small-scale mining on the National Forest. I explained that most prospectors today are using hand tools and portable vacuum cleaners, and that no one is using backhoes and bulldozers, as alleged in the Karuk’s complaint. I also gave a detailed account of the substantial number of meetings that have occurred in recent years between the USFS, Karuks and the miners so that we could work out any of their concerns. This, because the Karuks are
complaining that they have been completely left out of the process, which is simply not true.
The USFS filed its own opposition brief (opposing the Karuk position) on May 17th. Basically, the USFS is arguing that under the mineral laws, prospectors and miners have full right of access to the National Forest, and that the USFS has absolutely no authority to do anything about it as long as the mineral activity does not cause a significant surface disturbance.
I strongly suggest the USFS position is something every miner should read. There is probably nothing more informative today concerning the legal position that the USFS believes it is in with the management of mineral activity on the public lands.
The one good thing that is coming out as a result of this litigation is that the legal rolls and relationships between miners and the USFS are being put under a microscope and becoming much more clearly defined. Let’s hope that the judge reaffirms them, because the definitions having to do with this case are in our favor!
There is a substantial amount of clearly established law which makes it abundantly clear (at least to me) that, because the mineral laws convey an actual property interest upon prospectors, the USFS does not possess the authority to interfere with any mineral activity which does not create a significant impact upon surface resources in the National Forest. This has been brought out in both ours and the USFS Opposition briefs.
In that the Karuks are asking the federal judge to impose an authority upon the Forest Service where one does not exist as a matter of law, my hope is that the Karuk’s motion for Summary Judgment will fail. But, the decision is not up to me. The judge will let us all know what she decides sometime around the end of June.
Meanwhile, I would like to let you know that, with your help, we have done as well as we can to defend against the Karuk challenge. I want to thank our two attorneys, James Buchal and Dabney Eastham, who have worked tirelessly on our behalf. We are very lucky to have them on our side.
I also want to thank all of you who have so generously contributed to our legal fund. Without you, we would not be meeting our adversaries with everything we need to do our absolute best. As it is, we have not been lacking for the resources to meet this challenge.
I encourage you to read the Briefs and Declarations concerning this case if you have time. This will give you a good perception of how complex and how much work is involved with mounting a substantial legal defense in this day and age. The material is very educational! It will also give you a substantial understanding of the legal foundations which support prospecting and mining activity on the public lands, and the legal challenges which we are defending against these days.
I am always awe-inspired when important circumstances cause miners to pull ourselves together in a common cause, and I feel very honored to be part of it when it happens. The experience gives me the feeling of being part of something worthwhile and important in our time. And I sincerely thank you guys for allowing me to play a part in this.
I encourage everyone to pay close attention to how this comes out towards the end of this month. We will have news of the judge’s decision on our web site as soon as we get it. The girls in the office will be informed if you ant to call the office. And, we will publish the July newsletter and send it out as soon as we know what is happening.
SECOND QUARTER, APRIL 2005 VOLUME 19, NUMBER 3
By Dave McCracken, General Manager
There is nothing shockingly-new on the ongoing Karuk litigation. This is a case where the Karuk Tribe of California has filed a lawsuit in federal court attempting to prevent the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) from approving Mining Plans for in-stream mining without first going through an extensive consultation process with other federal agencies.
Existing 36 C.F.R. Part 228 mining regulations allow the District Ranger to use his or her own discretion, based upon the best advice of his or her staff and other experts, to decide what type of mining activity will likely cause a significant disturbance and possibly trigger the consultation process with other agencies.
Generally, District Rangers have decided that hand-mining and suction dredging activity conforming to state regulations do not rise to the level of a “significant impact.” The Karuk Tribe is asking a federal judge, Saundra B. Armstrong in Oakland, to decide otherwise.
Our organization has filed a motion with the federal court to intervene in this litigation. We are doing this on the grounds that the miners need to be heard in this matter, since it is our rights that are being contested in the litigation.
The decision in this case will have an impact upon all national forests in America.
Since filing our motion with the Court, the Karuks have filed an Opposition to our Intervention. Their position is that even if miners are not allowed to work our claims, the BLM will allow us to own them if we pay the annual fees. Therefore, they say, our economic interest in the litigation is not important.
I won’t comment directly on the Karuk position, because we are actively involved in the litigation. But if you are interested, you can take a look at our formal Reply to the Karuks. We have created a special “Legal Affairs” page on our web site HERE so you can go up and have a direct look at the documents concerning the legal affairs that we are either involved with, or are watching closely.
Legal Fund Needs Replenishment!
As you can imagine, the very intense amount of legal activity during resent months has taken a heavy toll on our legal resources. These legal-fund resources are the only thing that allows us to meet anti-mining activists in court. So we must replenish the fund as it gets used up. Just a little help from everyone is all that it takes to keep us in the game with really good attorneys.
I am requesting anyone and everyone who is able, to please send in a $10 donation to help replenish the legal fund. Checks can be made out to New 49’ers Legal Fund, P.O. Box 47, Happy Camp, CA 96039. The girls in the office (530 493-2012) will also process a credit or debit card, or receive payment through PayPal.
Thanks for whatever you can do to help. We would not be able to do this
without your support. Together, we are accomplishing some of the most important things that are happening within our industry at this time.
FIRST QUARTER, MARCH 2005 VOLUME 19, NUMBER 2
As many members will recall, last season, federal law officers from the U.S. Forest Service issued Terry McClure a criminal citation for using a 4-inch dredge on his mining claim along the lower Salmon River in Siskiyou County, California.
Terry had a 2004 California suction dredge permit which allowed suction dredging on that section of the Salmon River through the 15th of September. But the Acting Ranger in Orleans, Joyce Thompson, had decided that any suction dredging or high-banking activity along the lower Salmon River was “likely to cause significant disturbance of surface resources.” During 2004, Ms. Thompson prohibited all dredging or high-banking activity within the Ukonom Ranger District in the Klamath National Forest. This is the ranger district in which Terry had his claim.
Terry had developed a valuable deposit of placer gold on the lower Salmon River in 2003. Believing that Ms. Thompson’s decision to stop small-scale mining activity along the lower Salmon River was arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law, Terry resumed suction dredging on his claim in August 2004, and continued to operate, even though he was confronted several times by U.S. Forest Service employees, including Ms. Thompson. The conflict evolved into the issuance of a criminal citation on September 1, 2004. Federal law enforcement officers threatened Terry with arrest if he did not immediately stop dredging and remove his mining equipment from his mining claim. Terry was cited under 36 C.F.R Section 261.10(k) for occupying or otherwise using National Forest land without special-use authorization when such authorization was required.
Not wishing to be arrested, Terry withdrew from his mining claim and resumed the battle in court. Many people within our industry were outraged over this situation, and a lot of effort went into raising money to help with Terry’s legal expenses. I am proud to say that many New 49’er members contributed generously to the effort. Equal Access for Justice contributed the use of an on-line legal research service and advice. Public Lands for the People (PLP) contributed documents and advice. Laura Skaer of the Northwest Mining Association was helpful. Mike Higby, Jim Foley, Dan Miller and Gene Wiley implemented very effective and creative fund-raising programs over the industry chat forums. Other supporters helped in important ways.
After a hearing on January 18, 2005 and the filing of a total of four briefs concerning Terry’s motion to dismiss the charges against him, United States Magistrate Judge Craig M. Kellison issued an order on February 2, 2005 to dismiss the violation notice and end the case against Terry McClure before trial. The seven-page order ruled that the U.S. Forest Service cannot classify mining operations as a “Special-Use” activity under 36 C.F.R. Part 251, because mining activity (including camping on mining claims when there is active mining activity going on) is specifically excluded from Special Use regulations. 36 C.F.R. Part 251 is the “catch-all” regulation for activities on National Forest land other than mining, timber harvesting and a few other excluded uses. For example, if a power company wants to run a power line over National Forest land, it must apply for a special-use authorization.
Mining and prospecting for precious metals is managed under the 36 C.F.R. Part 228 Subpart A mining regulations, which are intended to protect the surface resources of National Forest land, while at the same time, ensuring that people have access to the public lands to search for and develop valuable mineral deposits.
The Department of Justice essentially argued in court that mining without an approved operating plan was the same as using National Forest land without a special–use authorization, and admitted that it could find no other regulation with which to cite Terry McClure. Counsel for Terry McClure, Dabney Eastham, brilliantly argued in the dismissal-motion that mining activity on U.S. Forest Service land can only be managed under the 36C.F.R. Part 228 Subpart A mining regulations, and that the regulation under which Terry was cited did not apply. The magistrate judge ultimately agreed. The judge relied heavily upon the recent landmark case of Lex and Waggener that was issued a year ago (United States v. Lex, 300 F. Supp. 2d 951 (E.D. Cal. 2003)), deciding that camping on mining claims by active miners also must be managed by the U.S. Forest Service under the 36C.F.R. Part 228 Subpart A mining regulations.
The judge ruled that miners cannot be charged for failure to obey the Special-Use Authorization regulations if they do not file a notice of intent to mine or refuse to file an operating plan with the U.S. Forest Service. You can find the judge’s decision, along with the relevant case filings, on our web site CLICK HERE
This, for the most part, seems to have eliminated the U.S. Forest Service’s power to issue criminal citations to individuals who are engaged in small-scale gold mining activity, or who are camping in association with that activity. It appears that in order to bring a case against a miner, they will need to be prepared to prove in civil court either that the person is not a miner at all, or that the mining activity truly is creating a substantial disturbance of surface resources so that the miner can be prevented by a civil injunction from operating without an approved operating plan.
This decision strongly vindicates the rights of miners under the 1872 mining law, directly in step with the Lex and Waggener Decision of 2003.
Joyce Thompson is no longer the acting district ranger in Orleans.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Terry and Joanne McClure. Their win will affect the way the entire small-scale mining community is managed by the U.S. Forest Service from this time forward.
Anyone who has ever been involved with this kind of ordeal knows well that it takes an enormous depth of emotional substance to stand up to the overwhelming might of the U.S. government. The McClure’s quiet and steely determination to challenge the arbitrary and capricious action of the Acting Ranger, at the risk of criminal penalties, should make us all proud to be miners.
Karuk Lawsuit Going into High Gear!
The Karuk Tribe of California filed a lawsuit in federal court on the 8th of October (2004) against the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to prevent the USFS from allowing dredging or high-banking in or near any waterways (so-called “Riparian Reserves”) within the Klamath and Six Rivers National Forests, unless the USFS first undertakes exhaustive and time-consuming measures to ensure that the activities will not disturb various species of animals.
Because there is ongoing litigation, it is better that I do not comment on it any more than is necessary to help generate support within our own industry. This is a time for all good miners and supporters to pull ourselves together.
We have created a special “Legal Affairs” page HERE on our web site so you can go up and have a direct look at the documents concerning the legal affairs that we are either involved with, or are watching closely.
The Karuk lawsuit is about what rises to a “significant disturbance of surface resources,” and who should make that determination. Existing 36 C.F.R. Part 228 mining regulations allow the District Ranger to use his or her own discretion, based upon the best advice of his or her staff and other experts, to decide what type of mining activity will likely cause a significant disturbance and possibly trigger an extensive consultation process to which a substantial number of additional federal agencies become involved.
Generally, District Rangers have decided that hand-mining and suction dredging activity that conforms to state regulations does not rise to the level of a “significant impact.” The Karuk Tribe is asking a federal judge, Saundra B. Armstrong in Oakland, to decide otherwise.
The USFS seems to be taking a firm stand, defending the way it has historically managed small-scale gold mining projects. This is good for the prospectors and miners!
However, this is a challenge our whole industry must face together, because all of us
will certainly be affected by the outcome. Just as this newsletteris going to press, The New 49’ershas filed a motion with the federal court in Oakland to intervene in the litigation. We are doing this on the grounds that we will be directly impacted by the outcome of the litigation, and that we cannot depend upon the USFS to fully defend the rights of miners. The miners need to be heard in this matter!
Part of filing this Motion has also required us to file a very substantial proposed answer to the Karuk complaint. Pulling it all together has taken a lot of effort by the two attorneys that represent us, me and others. The decision in this case will affect all national forests in America. There is a lot at stake here, and we have done our absolute best to represent the interest of prospectors and miners in these national forests.
This action brought by the Karuk Tribe is just getting started. I believe the real drama will unfold over the next several months. If you are interested, I encourage you to go up on our web site and take a look at our Motion to Intervene, and our proposed answer to the Karuk Tribe’s complaint. It will give you a good idea how hard we have been working lately! These case filings can be found HERE
Legal Fund Needs Replenishment!
As you can imagine, the very intense amount of legal activity during resent months has taken a heavy toll on our legal resources. You guys know that gulping feeling when you start worrying about running out of money? I’m starting to get it!
Therefore, I am requesting anyone and everyone who is able, to please send in a $10 donation to help replenish the legal fund. Checks can be made out to New 49’ers Legal Fund, P.O. Box 47, Happy Camp, CA 96039. The girls in the office (530 493-2012) will also process a credit or debit card, or receive payment through PayPal.
Thanks for whatever you can do to help. We would not be able to do this without your support. Together, we are accomplishing some of the most important things that are happening within our industry at this time.
FIRST QUARTER, JANUARY 2005 VOLUME 19, NUMBER 1
The Karuk Tribe of California filed a lawsuit in federal court on the 15th of October (2004) against the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The purpose of the lawsuit is to stop the USFS from allowing any mining or prospecting activity between the high-water lines of any active waterways within the national forests, unless the USFS first undertakes exhaustive measures to ensure the activity will not create undue surface disturbance.
Because there is ongoing litigation, it is better that I do not comment on it any more than is necessary to help generate support within our own industry. This is a time for all good miners and supporters to pull ourselves together. Links to the legal filings in the case can be found up on the Club’s chat forum. This can be found by clicking here.
The Karuk’s lawsuit was put together and filed by the Western Mining Action Project. This is an organization that is based in Colorado, a long way away from our program in California. It is no secret that this group is a coalition of environmental organizations that have come together for the single purpose of eliminating all mining within the public lands of America.
To know what this law suit is really about, all we have to do is focus on the Causes of Action listed at the end of the Karuk’s complaint. These are the points where the Karuks are asking for relief from the Federal Court. Regardless of all the other things said in their complaint; what the Karuks are really asking for is a determination by the Federal Court that the US Forest Service should not be allowing any prospecting or mining activity (by any individuals or groups) within riparian reserves (within the high-water marks of waterways) on the public lands, unless the miner or prospector has been fully processed through an Operating Plan.
Operating Plans these days are taking up to 5 years or longer for the U.S. Forest Service to process. In fact, they take so long, that a Ranger’s determination to require one (or the Federal Court’s determination that Operating Plans will be required from all in-stream miners) amounts to a de-facto disapproval of any mining plan. Who can afford to wait 5 years for an answer?
The Karuk’s complaint suggests that even a person using a hand-shovel to dig a single sample should not be allowed to do so without an approved Operating Plan. So this is a very important challenge to mining; I believe, the most serious and far-reaching challenge that we have ever faced as an industry.
The lawsuit is about what rises to a “significant surface disturbance,” and who should make that determination. The lawsuit complains that any and every disturbance within riparian reserves is “significant,” and therefore should require exhaustive environmental study before being allowed.
The good side is that the USFS has come out fighting this legal challenge from the start. Their first move has been a Motion to Dismiss the litigation altogether. The USFS is taking a very firm stand defending the way they have historically managed small-scale gold mining projects. This is good for our side.
However, this is a challenge our whole industry must face together. Because all of us will certainly be affected by the outcome.
Our New 49’ers Mining Association is in the process of putting together a Motion to Intervene in the litigation. We have retained and are presently conferring with several attorney-specialists
to assist us. The process is ongoing. I should not comment more specifically than this — other than to let you know we are doing our absolute best to combat this challenge, given the (very) limited financial resources at our disposal.
While there are many reasons to get involved with this litigation, the primary one is that it is the fundamental rights of miners and prospectors that are being challenged by the Karuk Tribe (represented by a conglomerate of large environmental interests). We have no control over how aggressively the government will fight for our rights. So we must be directly involved in the ongoing litigation.
Litigation costs money – especially, as in this case, when it is necessary to hire specialists. We need to hire the best specialists we can afford. We need more than we have already hired! That’s all I can say about this.
In anticipation something like this could happen, our organization began raising money last summer for a legal defense fund. This produced enough of a fund that we have been able to launch ourselves into this litigation. But not enough to see us through it! We are now looking to all active members to help in this effort.
I encourage you to meet with any local mining associations you are aware of, and pull together whatever financial resources you can. Please send them in care of our legal defense fund: The New 49’ers — Legal Fund P.O. Box 47, Happy Camp, CA 96039 (530) 493-2012.
I am also asking all members to please send in $10 or more. Every contribution helps!
If you are not comfortable sending money to our fund, we will be happy to provide the names and addresses of our attorneys, so you can send money directly to them. Whatever works best for you. We will accept help any way we can get it!
The mining law really does support our side in this litigation. And a lot of the claims being made inside the Karuk Complaint are just not true. When (if) we win, we will have some clearly established law on the books that will defend small-scale miners at the federal level a long way through the 21st century. This will put us ahead!
Ever-increasing conservative policies (and laws) being put out by the Bush Administration should also help us win this battle.
But we must all work together. Because we are up against some very substantial environmental interests that are trying to eliminate all mining and prospecting within all waterways on the public lands in this single lawsuit. They are going to throw everything they have at it. So should we!
Not much has happened yet in the case of Terry McClure. He was cited last summer by (ex)Ranger, Joyce Thompson, for dredging on his mining claim along the lower Salmon River.
For more information about this, please see our September Newsletter.
A Preliminary Hearing is scheduled for mid-January, where the judge will entertain a Motion to Dismiss on the grounds that Terry was cited under a regulation that allows no jurisdiction over mining activity on the public lands. The case is very early in its evolution.
Terry is represented by a competent and enthusiastic attorney, and we feel pretty confident that Terry will come out on top when this case comes to an end. I’ll keep you informed.
Best wishes to everyone for a happy holiday and prosperous New Year!
In a 37-page decision by United States District Judge Saundra B. Armstrong on the 1st of July, 2005, a Summary Judgment Motion by the Karuk Tribe of California to prevent the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in the Klamath National Forest from allowing any in-stream mining activity without first requiring years of exhaustive environmental evaluation – was DENIED!
This case was filed by the Karuks in late 2004 against the USFS, on the grounds that in-stream mining activity requires a heightened level of environmental scrutiny pursuant to clauses within the Northwest Forest Plan (which affects 19 forests in California, Oregon & Washington State) and the Klamath National Forest Plan.
As the outcome of the litigation would affect small-scale miners more than anyone else, under the banner of The New 49’ers, numerous small scale miners along with multiple mining organizations pulled together the necessary resources to retain very competent attorneys to intervene in the litigation on our behalf.
During the litigation, it became clear that not only did the Karuks and their environmental allies want to stop all of the small-scale mining activity within the Klamath National Forest, but they had their sights set on stopping mining throughout the entire Pacific Northwest. The general nature of the legal arguments concerning this case, and the final decision, should have some impact on most small-scale mining activity in the western United States.
As the litigation was a challenge to USFS Agency decisions, it was decided early on in the litigation that the full case would be decided by Judge Armstrong in a Motion for Summary Judgment. Therefore, this decision puts an end to this particular litigation.
The Karuk’s argued that the USFS was bound by the language within the Northwest Forest Plan which requires any and all mineral activity within the high water marks of active waterways to be managed through a formal Operating Plan (Operating Plans can take years to process).
Both the USFS and the Miners argued that the general mining law and existing mining regulations do not grant any authority to the USFS to manage mining or prospecting activity which does not create a significant disturbance of surface resources in the National Forest. Therefore, we argued, that the Northwest Forest Plan could not create an authority over miners and prospectors which did not exist in the first place. The judge agreed.
I encourage all miners to read the full decision, because it provides excellent education specifically how the federal courts today are interpreting the rights of miners. Here follow just a few excerpts from Judge Armstrong’s decision:
“Third, Plaintiff’s [Karuk Tribe] argument utterly ignores the fact that mining operations take place pursuant to the General Mining Law and the Surface Resources Act, which confers a statutory right upon miners to enter certain public lands for the purpose of mining and prospecting. This distinction is significant, as it differentiates mining operations from “licenses, contracts, leases, easements, rights-of-way, permits, or grants-in-aid,” which are permissive in nature”.
“Further, Plaintiff’s [Karuk Tribe] assertion that the standards and guidelines [language in the Northwest Forest Plan] have the ‘force and effect of binding law’ is flatly contradicted by the explicit language in the Northwest Forest Plan. Specifically, the Northwest Forest Plan provides that its standards and guidelines ‘do not apply where they would be contrary to existing law or regulation, or where they would require the agencies to take actions for which they do not have authority.’”
“By the Plan’s own terms, the mining regulations supersede the requirements of MA 10-34.”
“Indeed, as Defendants argue, Plaintiff’s narrow reading of the Klamath Forest Plan is untenable in light of numerous regulatory and statutory provisions that apply to mining in national forests and blatantly ignores the fact that, pursuant to the General Mining Law and 36 C.F.R. Section 228, the Forest Service may not interfere with mining that is not likely to result in a significant disturbance of surface resources.” (emphasis added)
This, in my own view, was one of the most important and dangerous cases our industry has had to defend against in a very long time. I am happy to announce that it is the end of a very stressful chapter (fear of losing). I cannot express how relieved I personally am that this decision came out so strongly affirming the rights of miners, and acknowledging that the USFS has pursued a very consistent management approach, despite conflicting statutes which also require environmental protection.
The positive result of this litigation is that the USFS has been forced to clearly define the fundamental rights of miners, and the federal court has affirmed them.
We should not overlook that the USFS performed admirably to acknowledge, affirm and support the mining rights in this litigation.
I want to thank out two attorneys, James Buchal and Dabney Eastham who worked tirelessly on our behalf. And I want to express my most heartfelt gratitude for the many, many supporters out there who have made financial contributions so we could stay in the game.
This, indeed, is a sunny day for small-scale miners!