California passed SB 637, another bill to squash suction gold dredging, which was signed by Governor Brown on October 9.
This latest attack transfers permitting authority for suction dredging to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), an unelected group who has made no secret of the fact that they wish to shut down gold dredging across California.
The bill restricts the agency from issuing a permit unless it can determine there will be no significant effects to fish and wildlife, allows them to increase the permit fee to cover all reasonable costs of regulation, adopt waste discharge requirements and prohibit the use of suction dredges under certain conditions that the agency has yet to define. SB 637 also applies to other motorized suction or vacuum devices.
In other words, the State of California has every intention of making it nearly impossible to use a suction dredge.
It was blatantly obvious during the public hearings on SB 637 that many California legislators simply did not care about sound science, or the rights granted to miners by the 1872 Mining Act or the Minerals Policy Act of 1970.
Time after time we have tried to participate in the public process and negotiate when the outcome was already pre-determined by an agency or elected officials. We’ve been trying to negotiate when we have no chance of success.
So what is the answer?
Over the past several issues we have focused on the power of traditional Mining Districts. Traditional Mining Districts have the power to create their own rules and regulations, and this was written into the Mining Act of 1872. The ability to create rules and regulations, coupled with the bill recently completed in a joint effort between the Minerals and Mining Advisory Council (MMAC) and Public Lands for the People (PLP), appears to be the only way we can restore our granted rights to mine for gold and other valuable metals and minerals. See "Miners Making the Rules and Regulations?" for more information.
• Public land users cry “fowl”
The Sage-grouse is only about the size of chicken but needs tens of millions of acres for critical habitat if one is to believe the Fish & Wildlife Service.
On September 22, the US Fish & Wildlife Service announced their decision that the Sage-grouse will not be listed as an endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Before anyone even had time to applaud the common sense decision announced by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the Bureau of Land Management released two Records of Decision to establish segregation and withdrawal plans for 19 million acres of public lands across the West, with severe restrictions for surface occupancy and use, grazing restrictions, and buffers zones.
BLM states they plan to honor only valid, existing claims in the segregated and withdrawn areas, which include mining areas in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Montana and Wyoming. Unpatented mining claims in what they label the “Sagebrush Focal Area” will require a validity examination, done at the expense of the miner, to prove that a valuable deposit exists, and each separate claim will be subject to this requirement.
The Federal Register notice was published on September 24, 2015, which began a public comment period for the next 90 days.
“There’s no question the restrictions in the land use plan amendments are more severe than the restrictions that would have accompanied an endangered finding under the ESA,” said a statement by the American Exploration & Mining Association (AEMA). “In effect, the ‘not warranted’ determination is hollow because the land use plan amendments is in effect a ‘back door listing.’”
Lawsuits have already been filed by Eureka and Elko counties in Nevada, and by the State of Idaho. AEMA stated they are working with Mountain States Legal Foundation and “will be filing separate lawsuits challenging the Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Big Horn Basin Wyoming land use plan amendments.”
Comments are due by December 23, 2015. They can be mailed to:
Not to beat a dead horse, but again, the answer to all of these land withdrawals and other excessive regulations lies in the power of traditional Mining Districts and the “Minerals and Mining Regulatory Reform Act—A Clear Path Respecting Mining Rights.” See "Miners Making the Rules and Regulations?" for more information.
November 2016 Within these districts, some of the roads and trails have been reopened for access, critical habitat designations have been scaled back, and a few Mining Districts were completely removed from proposed withdrawals.
I hope this case inspires some of you. It shows that miners can and do succeed when they are persistent and well-prepared, even when representing themselves against state and federal attorneys in a court of law.