“Here are some links to Information on the Terry McClure Case…”
This past week was a busy one concerning the Karuk litigation against the Department of Fish & Game (DFG).
On very short notice, we got the word out last weekend that the Siskiyou County Supervisors would vote Tuesday morning (3 January) on a Resolution speaking out against the way DFG and the Karuks have settled the litigation behind closed doors (deciding upon further restrictions to prospectors). Timing required the Resolution to be taken up without delay; so that if it were passed, the Resolution could be included within the court filings that we will submit this next week. We feel it strengthens our position to have a County government providing the Court with a formal condemnation of this solution that the Karuks and DFG have come up with.
I was impressed and relieved that so many prospectors turned up for the Supervisor’s meeting in Yreka on Tuesday, and I’m sure the Supervisors were also impressed. Some came from hundreds of miles away. Quite a few prospectors from Oregon came down to give us support. As a result, the Supervisor’s hearing room was packed, with prospectors trailing out into the hallway.
Ultimately, the Supervisors unanimously passed a Resolution demanding that DFG follow the correct due-process in making any changes to the suction dredge regulations. They authorized Marcia Armstrong, who is the Chair-person for the Supervisors, to encourage the Superior Court Judge (in the litigation) to not endorse the Settlement Agreement between the Karuk’s and DFG and Order DFG to follow the public process as it is supposed to do. The Resolution also authorized Ms. Armstrong to contact our State Lawmakers and the Governor to request their assistance in getting DFG to follow due process.
From the Supervisor’s meeting, 49′er Mike and I spent two long days traveling to and from Sacramento to meet with one of the attorneys that is representing DFG in the ongoing litigation. Through earlier discussion with our own attorneys, DFG had agreed to allow us access to the documents concerning suction dredging, other than what they consider as privileged and exempt from discovery.
When we arrived at the Resources Department in Sacramento, they had already arranged a room where Mike and I could review the documents, and we were met by around 10 full file boxes of material. Big job!! Mike started at one end, I started at the other, and we met somewhere in the middle. We ended up taking copies of just under 500 pages. This was all copied again for our own files, and then we forwarded everything we received over to our attorneys.
While doing discovery in Sacramento, we were shocked in two ways:
1) The attorney representing DFG told us that the new restrictions to suction dredging are not being adopted pursuant to any of the emergency provisions contained within the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (which would require some formal biological justification). He told us that the regulatory changes are simply being adopted pursuant to a Stipulated Agreement with the Karuk Tribe of California in the ongoing litigation. Just that; nothing more! In other words, DFG believes it has the authority to completely shortcut the full CEQA process by changing our regulations behind closed doors in a quiet settlement with the Karuks. Wow!!
We should all start asking ourselves why anyone should bother going through the whole public process in the first place, if a State agency can simply trade it all off behind closed doors with an extremist group that files a lawsuit?
2) Then the attorney representing DFG told Mike and I that because of the ongoing litigation, most recent documents concerning suction dredging in the DFG files would be withheld from our view under some kind of expanded attorney-client privilege. Therefore, they are refusing to make any of the biological information available to us that supports the reasons why they have restricted dredging seasons or eliminated the activity altogether on some waterways!
Can you believe that?
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the California Administrative Procedures Act (APA) require State agencies to adopt or modify regulations through a fair and open process, whereby everyone who is interested in the outcome may participate in the process, and whereby the agency is required by law to carefully consider all relevant material brought forward by the public and finally adopt regulations which resolve perceived problems in such a manner that creates the least amount of difficulty upon those persons who will be affected by the regulations. The process is especially designed to prevent extremist groups from hijacking the system. The documents in the DFG files clearly show the CEQA process was followed when our suction dredge regulations were adopted in 1994. The extremist groups were present. But their concerns were weighed against ours, and final decisions were based upon science which was available for everyone to see.
For lack of being able to come up with a more accurate characterization, I am referring to this present situation as a reverse-CEQA. Here, we have DFG and the Karuk Tribe secretly going behind closed doors and working out how they are going to modify our suction dredge regulations. And now, they are refusing to give us any of the biological information (if it even exists) that they have used to justify the modifications! This is exactly what CEQA was meant to prevent; a case where an extremist group has completely hijacked the system!
Our attorneys are working on it. Our briefing papers to the Court are due in on this upcoming Tuesday (10 January). Then I suspect both DFG and the Karuks will respond with their own briefs. Then we will probably reply.
It is going to be interesting to see how both the Karuks and DFG will try to convince the Court that the miners have no right to intervene in the litigation. Stay tuned, because we will be posting the briefs as soon as we have them!
Meanwhile, once again, I am putting out a request for legal donations. To date, we have brought in around $3,000 since this thing started. I want to express my sincere thanks to everyone who has contributed!
The bills for December legal work will be arriving at any time. My guess is that we will need to raise more money just to pay those. Our attorneys did a lot of work for us last month! This month’s work by our attorneys is really going to run the costs up, because of the exchange of briefs just starting this week, and because of the Court hearing on the 26th.
You guys know that gulping feeling you get when you are spending more money than you have? That’s the way I am starting to feel!
The law is on our side in this matter. Winning is mainly going to be about raising money to pay the specialists on our side to make good presentations to the persons who will ultimately decide the outcome.
You know, if we could just get a $10 donation from every person signed up on this forum, we would be in great shape at the moment!
Thanks for whatever you can do.
The New 49′ers Prospecting Organization
27 Davis Road, Happy Camp, CA 96039
(530) 493-2012 www.goldgold.com
U.S. Forest Service
Attn: Director, MGM Staff
Washington D.C. 20250
6 July 2007
Comments on proposed clarification, 36 CFR Part 261:
Our organization presently represents 1,300 active, concerned small-scale prospectors who utilize USFS lands for exploration and development of valuable minerals. While some of our members may submit their own comments, most of them look to our organization to provide comments on their behalf. We are aware that other prospecting organizations have already commented concerning the legalities of what you propose to do. So we will confine our comments to some practical concerns having to do with operations in the field. Thank you for allowing our organization to express the following comments:
1) While we do understand that district rangers desire to possess an enforcement mechanism to more-easily deal with some small percentage of mineral operators (or persons masquerading as mineral operators), we are worried that some districts will abuse the enforcement mechanism to make it even more difficult for legitimate mineral operators to prospect and develop valuable deposits on USFS lands.
Several years ago, when the Final Rule concerning Section 228 was adopted, we were promised by USFS Minerals Staff in Washington D.C. that there would be a very strong effort to ensure that only fully-trained minerals officers would be allowed to manage minerals operations, and such officers would be trained that existing laws instruct USFS to encourage mineral development on the public lands. We were assured that the abusive policies (against mineral developers) adopted by some district and regional USFS staff would be eliminated as a result of an internal push from Washington D.C., mainly through a well-organized educational program.
Years later, we still find ourselves at the hands of some USFS staff that are continuing a hostile management policy towards mineral developers. This is especially true in Northern California with management from the Orleans Ranger District, where the minerals officer (Leslie Burrows) has gone so far as to inform members of our organization that even the activity of gold panning would require a formal NOI which would take as long as 6 months to process before the activity would be “approved.” This, even though gold panning is specifically excluded from any NOI requirement! Miss Burrows and the Orleans District Ranger well-know that hand mining with a gold pan does not require any NOI or approval process from USFS, but they have clearly chosen a policy of discouragement (towards mineral developers), especially to new persons within our industry who are fearful of being in trouble with the authorities. Leslie Burrows is a bully towards mineral operators, and District Ranger, Bill Rice, has made it very clear to members of our organization that he personally has a policy of discouraging mineral operators, because his personal priority is to “protect” the needs of the Karuk Tribe. As part of this discouragement, the Orleans District has implemented a program of placing substantial barriers of dirt and gravel across the road access points to mining claims within the Orleans District where claim owners are able to camp on their own claims. I can send pictures if you would like to see them. Unquestionably, this district has adopted a deliberate and aggressive policy of preventing prospectors from camping upon their own mining claims!
I use this example of the Orleans District to show to what extent, in some places, that USFS district rangers and minerals staff will go to deliberately discourage mineral exploration on the public lands. While the Orleans District provides some of the best mining prospects within the Klamath National Forest, our organization has completely withdrawn all mineral exploration activity from the Orleans Ranger District because the existing district ranger there (William Rice) and his staff, as a matter of very firm policy, deliberately discourage mineral activity.
It would be naÃ¯ve to believe that Orleans is the only district within the USFS system that has adopted a policy of discouragement towards small-scale prospectors. Providing these districts with a penal provision will allow them yet another tool to push legitimate prospectors out of their districts. This would not be beneficial to the public interest. While I am only guessing at this, I suspect the USFS staff that is pushing Washington Minerals the hardest for a penal provision, are the very staff that are opposed to mineral development within their districts!
With these comments, we are encouraging Minerals staff in Washington to carefully weigh and balance the costs and benefits of creating a penal provision as proposed. How many serious problems really do exist with mineral operators right now that cannot be managed with the civil remedies? Are there any at all? What are the cost of these problems to the surface and environmental values which the USFS is charged to protect? Would there be much additional cost in just continuing with the existing civil remedy, rather than with a penal remedy (where a violation of Section 228 must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt)? Do those costs outweigh the losses to future productive activity on USFS lands which are sure to result from abusive policies in districts which are hostile to mineral development?
Washington Minerals staff is well-aware of the problems small-scale miners have in districts which are hostile to mineral developers.
I would point out that it was the abusive discouragement policy of the Orleans District which brought about the Decision in McClure which undermined the penal provision in the first place. This is important to consider. Because, giving district rangers a penal provision within Section 261 to enforce the provisions of Section 228 will still not resolve the basic problem which some district rangers are trying to solve (which is to push miners out of their districts).
The penal provision was defeated in McClure in the preliminary hearing. Had that been overcome, the Orleans District still would have had to overcome the burden of proving that Mr. McClure was required to obtain an approved Operating Plan. They would have had to prove he was creating a substantial surface disturbance. We don’t believe Orleans would have won that case.
Sometimes, it seems like the Ranger believes that just writing the criminal citation is the solution that will solve everything. I am pointing out that had the McClure case gone to a hearing on the merits; there is a reasonable chance that the end result would have been worse for the Forest Service than the loss of your penal provision. If not from Washington Minerals, then some language will have to come from the Courts that mineral operators cannot be turned out of the forest just because district staff object to the activity!
Those of us that are aware of the intent of congress and the language of Section 228 believe that giving district rangers a penal solution to try and discourage mineral developers will only make the problem worse. The only thing that will solve this problem is better management and education of district rangers and minerals staff from Washington D.C. Perhaps this will only happen after more litigation and direction from the Courts.
Our suggestion: If you are going to provide districts with another tool which could be used to further-discourage mineral development, please also create some very clear language to help prevent abuse. Promises of more and better training and direction from Washington have not produced results! Rather, we would like to see some clear language added into the proposed clarification which makes it more clear that the penal provision cannot be used to prevent any legitimate mineral-related activity which does not rise to the level of a substantial surface disturbance (as clarified within Section 228) which the district ranger or minerals staff must be prepared to prove when prosecuting a criminal citation.
An answer that Section 228 already clarifies this is not good enough. Definitions and exclusions differ between Sections 261 and 228, which will most certainly cause confusion and conflict. We suggest, if Section 261 is going to include a penal provision as a remedy for unauthorized mineral activity or associated occupation, there also needs to be some additional language in Section 261 which clarifies that mineral and associated activity is managed under Section 228; that Section 228 defines when authorization is required; and that those definitions revolve around what constitutes a “substantial surface disturbance.”
This would help district rangers with a tool to more-easily deal with people who are not legitimate mineral operators, or those who need to be brought into a formal Operating Plan when their activities rise to the level of a demonstrable substantial surface disturbance. At the same time, such language will require district staff to possess some level of proof (of a substantial surface disturbance) before issuing a criminal citation.
2) It is necessary for some mineral operators to occupy the national forest, sometimes for extended periods of time. Placing an arbitrary time limit upon how long a mineral prospector may occupy the forest would be counterproductive to the intent of existing mining law. Imposition of a 14-day camping limit upon a prospector who is actively searching for or developing mineral resources in the forest would be an arbitrary and capricious management in context with controlling case law that directs USFS to encourage mineral development.
What happens after the 14 days are up? If the prospector relocates his camp, do district staff then take it to the next step and tell the prospector he can only remain in the forest for a total of 30 days during a year? This would be very unreasonable in the context of “encouragement.”
With today’s cost of fuel and private lodging facilities, forcing a prospector to travel and reside in private facilities while prospecting for valuable mineral deposits some distance away will create economic hardship that would discourage a substantial amount of mineral prospecting. Preventing mineral developers from occupying mining claims while actively working them can create security issues (theft and vandalism of equipment) which will discourage a substantial amount of mineral development. This is especially true, being that any other person would be free to occupy an active mining claim for 14 days without special authorization. Telling a miner that he must abandon his equipment, while others would be allowed to occupy the same location, would be a very unreasonable policy in view of the substantial investment required to develop mineral deposits these days!
If the USFS has a policy of allowing any person to reside within the forest for up to 14 days without special use authorization, what is the problem with allowing mineral prospectors to reside there for longer periods, as long as they are not creating a substantial surface disturbance through the combination of the camping and mineral activity? Once again, we are back to the definitions and clarifications provided in Section 228. A prospector must have the right to look after his or her investment!
While we understand that district staff need a mechanism to deal with problems which can become substantial (sanitation, trash, accumulation of junk, equipment or other belongings) when some prospectors stay around longer, we believe the “substantial” language in Section 228 already addresses this. Let’s please not impose arbitrary time limits upon prospectors whose personal imprints upon the forest are not adding up in this way.
Once again, we believe the “substantial” concept in Section 228, coupled with the penal provision, would allow district staff the necessary mechanism to manage problems which get out of hand, while allowing prospectors who are doing things neatly the freedom to keep prospecting or developing valuable mineral deposits with minimal cost and risk.
While Washington Minerals Staff might not have any intention of imposing a 14 day camping limit upon prospectors, I can tell you with clear certainty that some district rangers and staff certainly do! The Orleans District routinely informs prospectors that they must either leave after 14 days or obtain an approved Operating Plan (which the Ranger says will require at least a year to process). Prospectors in Orleans are routinely threatened with penal consequences (if they camp longer than 14 days), even though no penal provision presently exists!
So it is greatly important for Minerals Staff to make USFS policy concerning camping limits clear in language. Otherwise, it will surely have to be worked out in litigation. To not clarify the issue at this phase would imply that USFS is deliberately being ambiguous concerning how long a legitimate mineral operator may occupy the public lands. This would be an invitation for conflict.
3) About your proposed language in Section 261.10 (p) “Use or occupancyâ¦without an approved operating plan when such authorization is required:”
Once again, we suggest there is need for further clarification in (p) that some types of mineral-related activity do not require either a special use permit or an approved operating plan; and that the distinction revolves around when the mineral-related activity rises to the level of a substantial impact upon surface resources as covered in Section 228.
Just as importantly, or perhaps even more so, we strongly encourage you to include some language which clarifies that special authorization is only necessary for the specific part of the activity which requires it.
As an example, if the USFS decides to assume a position that any camping beyond 14 days by mineral operators will require an operating plan or special use permit, you should not require the remaining part of the mineral program to be subjected to the operating plan requirement if no operating plan would be required if there was no extended camping. Case in point: A person who is using a metal detector to locate mineral specimens, under normal circumstances, would not even be required to provide Notice. Therefore, the person’s electronic prospecting activity should not be raised to the level of an approval process just because he or she desires to camp on the mining claim for an extended period of time. If USFS insists that extended camping will require an approved operating plan or special use permit, the approval process should only concern itself with the camping.
The reason this is important is that gaining approval of an operating plan within an area where special concern species or other special designations exist usually requires consultation with other agencies. The process can take many years to complete (if ever). In fact, the consultation process takes so long to complete, that the requirement of an operating plan in many areas basically amounts to a prohibition of the mineral activity! I’m sure Washington Minerals staff is well-aware of this.
We are suggesting that it would be a bad idea to lump a mineral activity which is being allowed under a NOI into a full operating plan/consultation program simply because the operator wants to spend longer than 14 days camping on his or her mining claim (safeguarding expensive equipment) while developing an underwater gold deposit.
This same concern extends to the subject of special use permits for camping or other activities that are related to a mineral program. As an example, our organization has worked hard and long to adjust our cumulative mineral activities into a program which the Happy Camp Ranger allows under a NOI. But the Ranger has told us that if we want to charge money to teach prospecting in his district, we will need to obtain special use authorization which will trigger a full consultation process – even though none of the activity would rise beyond the level of what is already being allowed under our NOI. So the additional activity of teaching would undermine our entire program in the forest, even though it would not increase the environmental impact. Here is an example of where overlapping regulations can completely undermine an otherwise allowable and productive activity!
If encouragement of mineral activity is the aim, it would be a bad idea to impose a “special authorization” requirement upon mineral operators that will automatically trigger costly and lengthy consultation processes, simply because the mineral operator wants to camp on his or her mining claim for longer than 14 days or do something else with requires special authorization, but does not increase the level of environmental impact.
Once again, since USFS is managing the surface resources, when it comes to mineral operators, we encourage you to manage our impact upon the surface resources, rather than try and push prospectors out of the forest after some arbitrary time limit.
To avoid abuse and conflicts, we encourage you to clarify these important concerns with additional language inside of Section 261.
President, The New 49′ers
(Forum Post by Dave on 12 January)
Hello you guys,
Believe me when I say that I appreciate the frustration about our adversaries possibly being able to recover their attorneys fees when they sue the government.
Sometimes the reason we are silent on some subjects is because it is not in the interest of our industry to talk openly about legal strategies on an open forum. I know this is also frustrating to some of you out there who contribute financially to our defense. Because we only speak generally about our strategies, perhaps you worry that we are missing something important. I would feel the very same way.
And I suppose there is a chance that we could miss something important. That is a really slim chance. We are fortunate to have really good attorneys working for our side; very experienced; and very committed to the principals that we stand for. So we are not missing very much.
I am not an expert on the area of Indian law, but my best understanding is that there are laws in affect that allow Indians to recover their attorneys fees when they sue the government and win. I read an article a few days go that the big environmental legal foundations are hustling around these days to file their lawsuits under the umbrella of federally-recognized tribes. I gather that this is somewhat of a cash cow for them.
The Karuk attorneys (environmental law foundations) motioned the federal court in last year’s litigation to recover just under $200,000 in their legal fees because they succeeded in forcing the USFS into a settlement on the issue of Operating Plans, even though all of their main claims in the litigation were over-ruled by the court. The USFS motioned the court to put the question of fee-recovery on hold until the appeal is settled, and my understanding is that’s what has been done. So I don’t think they have recovered any attorney fees in the federal litigation, yet.
As we are intervenors in the federal litigation on the side of the USFS, it doesn’t look like we can recover attorney fees there. I gather that there is some law in place that prevents us from recovering our legal fees from the Karuk Tribe. Our attorneys are of the opinion that we would spend more money than we have trying to recover, with little chance of success. Besides, even if we decide to try, we could not get anywhere until the litigation is finished. It won’t be finished until all of the appeals are exhausted. So it is still pretty early to debate over cost-recovery measures against the Karuks.
One of the posts on our forum makes a good point in this State litigation, in that we are intervening because a State Agency has made drastic changes in the way it is regulating our industry without following (any) due process. But it is still very early to be asking for cost recovery. First we have to win!! If the judge formally decides that DFG has acted against the law, it seems likely that we would have a reasonable argument to recover costs from the State. Please be confident that we would not miss this opportunity if it exists. But we still have a ways to go before we get to that point.
If you have contributed to the defense of our industry to the point where your financial reserves are almost gone, please back off. Since we have many thousands of people associated with our industry, my hope is that we can get smaller contributions from more people, rather than large contributions from fewer people who cannot really afford it. So let’s figure out how to get more people on the team. A single $10 donation from all or most of the people who will be directly affected by this litigation would easily put us over the top. Unfortunately, not everyone helps. And fortunately, some people help a lot. I assume this is what you are talking about.
I expect it has probably been about the same during the entire history of the fight for freedom; a smaller number of movers and shakers who have the confidence and support of just enough believers to keep the dream alive. As hard as we work, and as good as our lawyers are, we could not do it without you guys. Our industry would have been gone a long time ago if you guys were not ready to step up in our time of need.
Defensive measures will forever be necessary to protect the interests of small-scale mining. Just get used to it. The impulse to get rid of us (and all other productive enterprise in America) is not going to go away. Defense of our industry is an ongoing process.
If you are tired, take a rest, and hope that there are enough others who will support the industry until you can stand up again. Everyone understands this.
Here are two things to hope for:
1) Hope that those of us who are managing defensive measures for the industry at the moment (there are only a handful of us) do not get tired any time soon.
2) Hope that a new generation of movers and shakers will evolve within our industry to take things over as we do start getting tired
On the subject of movers and shakers, it takes a lot more than just making noise. I’m sure you guys know that. It requires a reasonable assessment of the problem, measured against available resources, to come up with workable solutions, and implement them to completion. It is a lot of work!
My personal assessment is that with your continued support, we do have the resources to overcome the legal challenges our adversaries will throw at us in the forseeable future. Just let’s not allow Congress to change the mining law!
I personally read every word of every brief that gets filed within the litigation we are managing. I cannot tell you the amount of time and work involved with developing the briefs and the Declarations that are filed on our behalf.
The bottom line is that we must defeat these regulatory changes which DFG is already imposing upon our industry. If a State agency is allowed to impose further restrictions upon our industry by secret agreement with an extremist-group, then the whole industry is at risk. There is nothing to prevent DFG (or other agencies) from making further secretive agreements to further-restrict mining elsewhere in California. In fact, that is certain to happen! There will be no end to it until they finish us off.
By the way, my suggestion is to not send in any application for a DFG dredge permit until we see how this litigation is going to settle out. There is still plenty of time before the beginning of the season.
I understand the feelings of frustration. I experience them, too. When you put heavy stress on any kind of structure, those supports that are doing the most to hold it all together feel the stress the most, sometimes grown the loudest, and can also be the first to break. It’s no different here. This is stressful.
But the good news is that I truly believe we are going to win this one. And when we do, the State is going to know that it cannot make any more court settlements to try and regulate our Industry. That will be another big win for us. And it will be another thing that our next generation of industry leaders will not have to defend against. While we may or may not recover attorney fees, the legal structure supporting our industry will be stronger. That is worth the cost!
We don’t really have any other choice but to fight on this one!
The other thing is that there are only so many ways our adversaries can come at us through the legal system. With last year’s big win, they have pretty-much exhausted their federal remedies. Now we are at the State level. I don’t want to tip anyone off, but I only see about two opportunities at the State level. Naturally, they are starting with the one they feel allows them their best chance of winning. Because of the nature of the way they have proceeded (in secret, behind closed doors to agree upon a settlement), this case is on a fast track to resolution of the key issues concerning how our industry will be regulated by the State. With just a little luck, these issues could be resolved by the court in just two weeks. That’s fast!
While I can be wrong about legal matters, I believe we will come out on top on this one.
But we still have to pay the specialists on our side. This is very important! Because we want them to be there for us the next time. Even if there isn’t one (wishful thinking), we must always plan for a next time! Since I am managing this one, I am naturally worried about paying our bills.
I agree that there may be an uneven playing field in that it is probably easier for the environmental law foundations to recover attorney fees through the Karuk Tribe, than it is for us to recover our costs while defending our industry. Especially since they are suing government agencies and we are only entering the litigation as intervenors. However, I don’t think they have been paid for anything yet concerning the litigation we have been involved in. Be assured, when those issues come before the judges, we will be arguing that they have nothing coming to them.
DFG did agree to reimburse the Karuk attorneys for their legal fees. But if we succeed in killing the Stipulated Agreement, the reimbursement provision will also be dead!
And listen, even if those attorneys eventually do get paid for their time, ultimately we should be glad that the government is responsible to pay for their good work on our behalf. While their motivations are not with us, their actions are succeeding in strengthening the legal structure that supports our industry! We are a lot better off than we were a year ago because of the federal litigation! We now have an opportunity to do the very same thing at the State level.
Through discussions with our attorneys, it does not appear that we have a reasonable chance of recovering our own attorney fees from the Karuk Tribe when they sue a government agency. There does not appear to be much of a solution there for making it cost them when we prevail over their attacks upon our industry.
The more reasonable approach is for us to be asking State and federal authorities why the Karuks are being allowed to kill the very same fish they are trying to protect from us? There apparently is no recognized fishing right under law. So it would seem that our complaint against the Karuks in court, using the very same arguments they make against us, could possibly go somewhere. We are in the early stages of exploring that.
Hang in there you guys. I’m asking that you extend a little faith that we are not missing much. I guarantee you that we are working hard to do the very best job that we can with what we have to work with. And, like last time, I believe it will be enough. Watch for our latest brief (Opposition to the Stipulated Agreement) in the next few days, and you will see what I mean.
6 December 2009
The State of California recently passed a law which has placed a statewide moratorium on suction dredging in California until the Department of Fish & Game (DFG) completes an updated Environmental Impact Report (EIR). This EIR process has already begun. Click here for more information.
The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on suction dredging in California is being completed through a CEQA Process (California Environmental Quality Act); which, based upon best available science, requires the authorities to identify any important concerns (measured against some “baseline”). Then, those concerns must be addressed through implementation of regulations which are least-restrictive upon people and economic activity. This is not new to us, since we actively participated in the earlier EIR which was completed during 1994.
DFG began the public process on 26 October by circulating a 107-page Notice of Preparation (NOP). The NOP is mostly made up of an “Initial Study Suction Dredging Program,” which is also being referred to as the “Initial Scoping Document.” This formal review has basically identified every known potential negative impact which could be associated with suction dredging.
The Scoping Document has been sent around to all or most government agencies, environmental groups, mining interests and other known “stakeholders” who may have some interest in the progress and outcome of the EIR. Interested parties were provided an opportunity to comment on the Initial Scoping Document. The deadline for written comments passed on 3 December. This was the initial opportunity for us to make comments voicing our concerns about how the process is moving forward or any initial conclusions DFG has made that we believe are incorrect within the Scoping Document.
The New 49’ers submitted written comments expressing several areas of concern. We have created a special page on our web site so you can view our comments, and so you can follow along and participate in this important process as it moves forward.
One of our most important initial concerns is that within the Scoping Document, DFG says that they intend to use the existing moratorium (on suction dredging) to create a baseline of “no dredging activity” in order to gauge the importance of any potential impacts.
Everything leading up to this process (years of legal wrangling) resulted in several court decisions and Settlement Agreements whereby DFG pledged to perform the EIR specifically for the purpose of determining if existing suction dredging regulations have been providing adequate protection for fish. The moratorium has stopped existing dredging activity only until existing regulations are re-evaluated. More than 2,500 suction dredge permits were issued by California during our 2009 season. But DFG has decided to create a baseline in the EIR to evaluate all of the potential impacts against zero activity, choosing to completely ignore the existence of our $60million annual business! We have had a viable suction dredge industry in California for the past 30 years. Now DFG is going to try and evaluate future impacts against a baseline of zero?
Do you guys get the idea that the State of California is deliberately trying to kill off its own private business, or is it just me?
We felt this issue was so important, and because there are serious legal implications, we paid our attorneys to author comments on our behalf concerning this particular issue.
Another major problem in the Scoping Document was in the way DFG has projected volumes of streambed which are processed by suction dredgers. Basically, they took the volume capacities advertised by the dredge manufacturers and multiplied those by an average number of hours per day, multiplied by so many days per week, multiplied by the number of permits they sold in 2008. You guys get the idea? DFG thinks we just go down and suck up sediments which mostly just pass through a suction nozzle! They have no idea that we are taking apart compacted streambeds in which 85% of the material must be moved out of the excavation by hand (or by power winch in the case of large rocks) because it is too large to pass through the nozzle.
This is proof-positive that the people who are spending $1.5 million performing this Environmental Impact Report on suction dredging have no direct experience of their own with the activity! No wonder California is bankrupt!
Since projected volume capacities are what DFG will use to place a negative value upon the potential impacts from suction dredges, and their estimates are many magnitudes greater than what really happens in dredging, I personally devoted some substantial work into comments on this subject.
We also made comments on other very important issues. For example, the Scoping Document seems to indicate that DFG is going to completely ignore all of the biological discussions and conclusions which evolved from the EIR which we worked so hard to complete in 1994. So, contrary to their promises in Court, rather than take a hard look at the well-established, earlier biological conclusions to see if they are providing adequate protection for fish, it appears that DFG now intends to scrap all the earlier work and begin the entire biological discussion over again from scratch. Here are our initial comments about that.
On top of that, despite repeated formal Declarations to the courts and California legislature that they have new data which suggests harm to fish, we cannot find anything new in the Scoping Document. It looks to us like they just want to rework all the same old arguments, once again.
DFG concerns over mercury are the exception to my statement in the paragraph above. This all stems from a study which the State performed several years ago where they proved that a standard suction dredge recovered 98% of the mercury which they sucked up out of an established mercury hot spot (there were visible pools of mercury on the bedrock). Of course, little or no credit is given to the 98% clean-up rate. All of the attention is on the 2% loss of mercury in the tailings. This is not mercury the dredgers put into the stream, have you; the mercury was already in the stream. The State’s argument is that because the dredge sucked it up in the first place, it is a water quality violation to discard any mercury back into the waterway. Leave it to the State to decide that it is better to not remove 98% of the mercury which dredgers rarely encounter!
Environmentalists argue that because a suction dredge only recovered 98% of the mercury out of an established waste site, all suction dredging should be stopped across the entire state! We submitted comments on this from myself and also from some other specialists in this field.
We also felt it important to comment on the continuous misuse of the term “recreational” in relation to mineral exploration and mining activity. It is common for State officials to confuse small-scale gold exploration activities as just another recreation, no different than any other. Federal law provides every American the right to search for minerals on any level which you choose to – and to claim valuable deposits which you find on the public lands. Whether or not you are enjoying the activity has nothing to do with it. Even a total anti-mining activist has the right to claim a valuable deposit if he stumbles upon one. But he or she would argue that you don’t have the right simply because you are enjoying the activity? Give me a break!
I encourage you to take the time to read our comments if you can find the time.
We have done our best to set the record right. Now we will wait and see how seriously DFG will entertain our comments. The more seriously they treat them now, the less of a battle we will have later if they decide to just skip over them as unimportant.
The purpose of the CEQA process is to get at the truth. But we have seen time and time again (nearly every time) where truth and justice has not been part of the State process, so we will have to remain vigilant.
A draft EIR is the next step in the process. We can expect to see that during this next summer or fall (2010). That will be followed by another opportunity for public input. A final EIR is not expected until spring 2011 at the earliest.
Completing the Administrative process is the one thing that surely is going to get dredgers back in the California waterways. We are right on top of this.
On June 6th, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) published its Final Rule on Section 228.4 in the Federal Register. Section 228.4 is concerned with when it is necessary for a miner or prospector to submit a Notice of Intent (NOI) or Plan of Operation (PoO) with the USFS.
For around the past 30 years, Section 228.4 has said that miners or prospectors only have to provide notice to the USFS of our activities when impacts upon the surface resources might become significant.
As a result of the judge’s interpretation of this language in the recent landmark case of Lex & Waggener, last summer, the USFS implemented an Interim Rule with new guidelines for Section 228.4. Many of us within the industry objected to the Interim Rule, because it basically said that a NOI was required whenever a miner or prospector would potentially create any surface disturbance on National Forest land.
The USFS allowed a public comment period after publishing its Interim Rule, and they had at least one public scoping meeting, which took place in southern Oregon. That meeting was sponsored by the Waldo Miners in Cave Junction, Oregon.
The full version of the notice in the Federal Register condenses the thousands of individual comments which the USFS received concerning the Interim Rule into common categories, and addresses each type of comment with a response. These formal responses will become important later, in the event there are questions about what was intended by the Final Rule.
Michael J. Burnside, who was the U. S. Forest Service Assistant Director of Minerals and Geology Management in Washington DC from 2003 to 2005, has presented us with a substantial explanation about the history behind and development of the Final Rule.
For those of you who are taking an interest in the reasoning behind how the Final Rule was created, or what it means, I strongly suggest that you read through the entirety of the notice with an open mind. The rational behind the Final Rule is substantial, so I will not repeat it here. Rather, I will go into of the main points which I feel are important to small-scale miners:
1) Small-scale miners objected strenuously to the “any surface impact” concept of the Interim Rule, basically arguing that the USFS should not waste its limited resources processing NOI’s from miners that were not creating a significant disturbance on Forest Service land. We also argued that miners or prospectors should not be burdened with a requirement to notify the USFS of activities which do not create a significant impact on surface resources. As a result, the Final Rule returned to the “significant disturbance” concept.
Here follows a statement in the comment-section of the text on this subject:
2) We also objected to the idea that miners or prospectors should be required to provide a NOI for any activity that may cause an impact upon Forest Service land that was similar to other users of the Forest that were not required to obtain any special-use authorization. Examples were given of the use of ATV’s, boats or rafts, camping and otherwise occupying the Forest while actively pursuing mineral exploration activities. As a result, the Final Rule specifically excludes from the NOI-requirement any prospecting activity which creates surface disturbances on par with other users of the forest who are not required to obtain special use authorization.
3) Within the comment-section of the notice, the USFS explains that they do not distinguish between commercial or, so-called, “recreational mining activity” or different types of mining clubs or groups. This position is consistent with our arguments that the mining law allows everyone equal rights to prospect on the public lands and lay claim to valuable minerals when they are discovered.
4) We complained that prospectors were having difficulty in some areas where the USFS was considering any prospecting activity a “significant impact;” even panning, metal detecting and non-motorized sluicing or dry-washing! As a result, the Final Rule specifically excludes these types of small-scale prospecting activities from the NOI requirement.
Here follows a statement in the comment-section of the text on this subject:
These are activities that are specifically excluded from the need to ever file a NOI. It means that under no circumstances do panners, non-motorized sluicers or electronic prospectors need to file an NOI; they do not have to make any contact with the USFS for these types of activities.
This is very good for the lower Salmon River area, by the way. Most of the activity going on down there two seasons ago involved the panning very rich pay-dirt located within the exposed bedrock cracks and irregularities along the edges of the river. Now, there is no question that small-scale prospecting and short-term camping along our mining claims do not require any NOI to the USFS in advance of the activity.
5) Any other mineral-related activity which is not likely to cause significant impact is excluded from the need to file a NOI. This is good for the industry. Naturally, whether this includes motorized sluicing (high-banking) or dredging will depend upon the situation surrounding the location where the activity tales place.
While such activity in most cases (according to my own judgment) would not create a “significant impact,” the USFS reasoned within the comment-section of the notice that there is the possibility of significant impact in some circumstances (such as when there is critical habitat present which supports a listed species), so they could not categorically exclude motorized mining from the NOI requirement. But they also did not specifically make a NOI a requirement of these activities. The Final Rule says that the miner or prospector should provide a NOI if he or she reasonably concludes that there may be a “significant impact.”
I should point out that within the Karuk litigation, the USFS has taken the position that they have no authority over mineral-related activity on Forest Service land that is not creating a significant surface disturbance.
Some people are already misinterpreting the Final Rule, assuming that motorized sluicing and dredging requires a NOI, because they are not specifically on the list of exclusions. However, a careful reading of the Rule says that any type of mining activities only require a NOI where there is likelihood of “significant disturbance.”
6) No penal provision has been added to Section 228.4. If I have this right, this means that the USFS cannot write a criminal citation to a miner or prospector who fails to provide the USFS with a NOI or Operating Plan. For more information on this subject, I suggest you read what the judge had to say in the recent McClure decision.
Some would argue that the USFS should not have the discretion to decide what is, and what is not, a “significant surface disturbance” concerning mineral-related activities on Forest Service land. There are also several sub-sets of arguments along these lines, such as whether or not the USFS even has authority to regulate mining activity within the high-water marks of western rivers in the first place, and what constitutes a “navigable river.”
These arguments have also been raised (but I doubt they will be resolved) within the Karuk litigation.
Until those issues are resolved to everyone’s satisfaction within a court of law, it is clear that the USFS believes it has the authority to regulate mineral activity which results in a significant impact upon surface resources, and they are moving forward with the presumption that they do. Therefore, they are taking responsibility to manage small-scale mining activity in accordance with this Final Rule.
Some would argue that miners and prospectors should be allowed to do whatever we want. As nice as that might be, I don’t think that argument is supported by controlling case law. The general mining law supports us a great deal. But not so much that we can turn our backs upon the rest of the world. According to its own interpretation, the USFS is charged with the responsibility of balancing use of the public lands at issue here.
The potential for problems do exist (as will always be the case) where there may be a difference in opinion between the USFS and a miner or prospector over what constitutes a “significant surface disturbance.” My own interpretation is that if such disagreements cannot be resolved between the USFS and the miner (especially in the wake of the recent McClure decision), if the USFS feels so strongly about it that they want to stop the miner from pursuing his or her mining activity, the USFS will be required to prove its position to a civil court (this is acknowledged within the comment-section of the notice).
So in essence, it appears the USFS has the authority to decide, but they must be prepared to prove their position in court before they can finally prevent the prospecting activity. This seems like a pretty reasonable balance to me!
The Karuks are suing to prevent the USFS from allowing any mining under a NOI. That case will be decided around the end of June, 2005. The Interim Rule required a NOI for almost any prospecting or mining activity. The Final Rule requires a NOI only for activity that will create a significant surface disturbance. As the USFS has determined that most of our small-scale mining activity does not create a “significant impact,” I would say that this Final Rule has been published at a good time for us.
While we can debate amongst ourselves how much better the Final Rule might have been if we wrote the final language ourselves, we should not ignore how much worse it would have been if the USFS decided to hold onto the language contained within the Interim Rule! Or they might have even come up with something worse than the Interim Rule!
I suggest we might want to acknowledge that the USFS did pretty well here to balance competing interests while continuing to encourage mineral development – which is their mandate from congress. We should be happy that there are officials within the USFS that take this mandate seriously!
I would suggest we move forward, continue to organize ourselves as we have been doing, pool our resources, and prepare to assist small-scale miners in those instances where we believe a local determination of “significant disturbance” is not reasonable. These are things to resolve in court. No amount of language in a Rule will prevent some disagreements from happening.
There will be 25 prizes in all:
Grand Prize: 1-ounce of Gold!
Four ¼-ounce Prizes
Twenty 1-pennyweight prizes
This is gold which Dave Mack dredged from the Rogue River during the 2010 Season. Dave has authorized our office to automatically generate a ticket in your name for every $10 legal contribution we receive ($100 would generate 10 tickets, etc).
There is no limit to the size or frequency of your contributions, or to the number of prizes you can win. The drawing will take place at our weekly potluck in Happy Camp on 2 July, 2011.
The New 49′ers Prospecting Association,
27 Davis Road, Happy Camp, California 96039 (530) 493-2012 www.goldgold.com
August 27, 2008
The Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger
Governor, State of California
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814
RE: Opposition to proposed language within AB 1789 to further-restrict suction dredge mining:
Dear Governor Schwarzenegger,
Last year, you vetoed AB 1032(Wolk); a bill that would have required the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) to close rivers and waterways to suction dredge gold mining without having to follow the administrative process required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
It has come to our attention that the proponents of AB1032 are now pushing anti-suction dredging language within Assembly Bill 1798. The language would further restrict or prohibit suction dredge mining on a wide number of waterways within California. The proponents of this trailer bill language are trying to make an end run to reverse your veto of AB 1032 by using the legislative and administrative process to eliminate this activity.
The Assembly and Senate propose to further-restrict or eliminate suction dredge mining until the Department of Fish & Game completes a new Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Because these permits are issued annually, and DFGâs last EIR process took several years to complete, this language would cause great harm to the Gold Suction Dredge Mining program in California, upon which 2,500 miners and their families and mining-related businesses depend, for at least several years; probably longer. In addition to the miners themselves, several rural counties, particularly Siskiyou County, would face significant hardship as a cornerstone of their recreation and resource-based economies is removed further harming the stateâs economy at a time when gold prices are at an all time high of between $800.00 and $1000.00 an ounce.
We would like to point out that throughout all of the litigation and other attempts to kill suction dredge mining by anti-mining activists during the last few years, they have yet to show any proof that a single fish has ever been harmed by suction dredgers. This, while the very same people are promoting that the State must continue to issue fish-kill licenses to millions of fishermen! This is clearly a case where special interests are attempting to subvert the political process to eliminate an important part of Californiaâs ongoing, rich heritage; gold mining.
We are asking you to please veto this trailer bill language and allow the continued issuing of Suction Dredge Permits while the required environmental review process is being conducted.
(Be sure to include your full name and address.)
Cc: Senator Dave Cogdill, Senate Republican Leader
Senator Don Perata, Senate President Pro Tem
Assemblymember Michael Villines, Assembly Republican Leader
Assemblymember Karen Bass, Speaker of the Assembly