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Legislative and Regulatory Update

• San Bernardino National Forest Closure
The San Bernardino National Forest (SBNF) submitted an application to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to withdraw portions of the SBNF from mineral location and mineral entry under mining laws.
The lands specified in the application for mineral withdrawal total approximately 44,575 acres and SBNF says this area is habitat for 12 threatened and endangered plant species, and for the endangered southwestern arroyo toad. Approximately 890 acres of these lands are in the Front Country Ranger District, with the remainder in the Mountaintop Ranger District.

SBNF claims the purpose for the withdrawal application is to promote the conservation of habitat for listed threatened and endangered species. The Federal Endangered Species Act (Act), section 7 (a)(1), directs federal agencies to utilize their authorities to further the purposes of the Act by carrying out conservation programs for listed species. The announcement states, “Under consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the San Bernardino National Forest committed to apply for mineral withdrawal of threatened and endangered species habitat in order to meet obligations under 7 (a)(1), and to ensure that ongoing activities on the Forest are not likely to jeopardize listed and threatened and endangered species as defined under section 7(a)(2) of the Act. This application for withdrawal and publication thereof, also satisfies settlement conditions of lawsuits filed against the Forest Service and BLM.

“The application for withdrawal was submitted to the BLM on April 27, 2001. The BLM published a notice in the Federal Register on October 29, 2001 announcing that the application is being processed. This publication initiated a 90-day public comment period and begins a temporary 2-year segregation affecting the Forest System Lands proposed for withdrawal. The process for withdrawal follows Title 43 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 2300.

“The temporary segregation period now in effect will terminate by October 29, 2003. During this temporary 2-year segregation period, the lands specified in the application, subject to valid existing rights, are closed to activities provided under the general mining laws of the United States. These include mineral location and mineral entry. This means that, during the temporary segregation period, and within the specified area, prospecting is prohibited within the specified area and no new mining claims may be located or relocated. It also means that, during the temporary segregation period and within the specified area, only those claims with pre-existing discovery and possessing valid existing rights on the notice date (October 29, 2001) can be legally entered and worked. During the temporary segregation period and within the specified area, claims held without a pre-existing discovery may not be entered for the purpose of making a discovery or for any other mining-related activity. Any mining-related activities on valid claims within the national Forest remain subject to Forest Service mineral regulations under Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 2800.

“The segregation does not affect leases, licenses, permits, rights-of-way, currently authorized public uses of and/or access to the national Forest (except those involving mineral location or mineral entry) or any use on adjacent or nested private lands. Nor would the subsequent withdrawal, if and when finalized, affect the above Forest uses.

“The withdrawal application may be cancelled by the Forest Service, in whole or in part, for any or all of the specified lands, if the Forest Service determines such lands are no longer needed to meet the purpose of the requested withdrawal. Such cancellation would terminate the temporary segregation of the lands to be removed from the withdrawal application.

“The Secretary of the Interior may deny the application if the estimated costs associated with the requested withdrawal are found to be excessive in relation to available funds.

“Information to be developed by the San Bernardino National Forest, with full public input, will determine whether to finalize in whole or in part, the withdrawal requested in our application.”

SBNF appears to be going into this review with their minds already made up. The notice says they want “full public input.” However, it also states that the report will “explain how existing and potential mining uses are incompatible with endangered species habitat protection and conservation.”

At least one public meeting will be scheduled. The meeting announcement will be published in the Federal Register, Sacramento Bee, San Bernardino County Sun, and Big Bear Grizzly. Those who submit comment letters will also be notified.

In the meantime, be sure to keep your paperwork current and pay your claim fees to maintain a valid claim.

Should the requested withdrawal be finalized, all lands specified in the application, or some portion thereof, would be closed to mineral location and mineral entry for a period of 20 years, subject to valid existing rights. No new claims could be located within the withdrawn area nor could any lapsed claims be relocated within the withdrawn area. Claims located within the withdrawn area would not be recognized as valid unless all requirements of the mining law, including discovery of a valuable mineral deposit, are met at the time of withdrawal. Withdrawn areas not claimed, and those not validly claimed, would be closed to mineral entry, thus prohibiting prospecting and working these areas for the purpose of making a mineral discovery.

SBNF suggests that comments and input should focus on the requested final withdrawal rather than the temporary segregation currently in place. Comments are due by January 28, 2002.

Send comments to:

U.S. Forest Service
Big Bear Ranger Station
P.O. Box 290
Fawnskin CA 92333
Attn: Scott Eliason

...and to:

Brent Handlby, Director:
Land and Minerals Management
Forest Service
Pacific Southwest Region
1323 Club Drive
Vallejo CA 94592-1110

Comments submitted anonymously will be accepted and considered; however, those who submit anonymous comments will not have standing to appeal the subsequent decision under 36 CFR Parts 215 or 217.

Questions are to be directed to Scott Eliason, a District Botanist(!!!), at (909) 866-3437, ext. 3904.

• Interior secretary wants reforms to 1872 Mining Law
Interior Secretary Gale Norton wrote lawmakers who oversee natural resources that she hoped Congress could “resolve long-standing and contentious issues” in its 2002 session, including making changes to the 1872 Mining Law.

“The existing framework...has served the nation well,” Norton said. Updating it would “further protect taxpayers and help us achieve more effective administration of the mining program.”

The last time Congress tried seriously to overhaul the 1872 Mining Law was in 1994, just before Democrats lost control of both the House and the Senate. The legislation failed over mining industry concerns.

While offering no specifics, Norton also said Congress should look at imposing royalties for the first time on hard-rock mining.

The fiscal changes that Norton wants include making permanent the existing annual claim fees of $100 per year for each 20 acres, whether or not a mine is in operation.

Democrats are pushing for a gross royalty of 8 percent on the wholesale price of the minerals extracted, the same royalty paid on some coal from federal lands.

The Interior Department is not taking a hard-and-fast stance on any of the issues, said Larry Finfer, spokesman for Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, which administers the Mining Law.

• Nevada drops lawsuit over mining regulations
Carson City, Nevada (AP)—Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn and Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa said recently the state is dropping its lawsuit against the Interior Department over Clinton administration mining regulations because the Bush administration has withdrawn them.

Guinn and Del Papa said the federal Bureau of Land Management had conceded that the initial rule would have cost the mining industry in Western states more than 6,000 jobs and nearly $400 million in income. They said the state’s lawsuit helped to reshape the rules, with Guinn saying it “clearly was an important factor” in the withdrawal.

Senator Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said Nevada’s mining industry—second only to tourism in the state—is hurting because of over-regulation under President Clinton and former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

Nevada is the third-leading producer of gold in the world, behind South Africa and Australia.

Reid, the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, also said environmentalists made unreasonable demands for reforms of the federal mining laws.

• Environmental extremists sue over mine operation
Two environmental extremist groups, the Sierra Club and the Mineral Policy Center, filed a lawsuit against the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company in U.S. District Court in Denver, claiming the operation violated the Clean Water Act by discharging pollutants and failing to get necessary permits.

The lawsuit claims the mine affects several watersheds, including Squaw Gulch and Cripple Creek, both drainages to the Arkansas River.

An attorney for the company, Peter O’Conner, said all permits are valid and in place, and called the suit just another attempt to disrupt operations.
© ICMJ's Prospecting and Mining Journal, CMJ Inc.
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