Mining Districts: A Concept Reborn
October 2011 by Jim FoleyIn the last ten years mining has come under increasing attack from extreme environmental, as well as tribal special interest groups and last, but not least, federal and state agencies. Most of the mining opposition today is centered around the small-scale miner. These miners number in the thousands and come from every walk of life. While many of these miners hold regular jobs and practice their mining as a supplement to their regular income, and some for purely recreational purposes, there are a large percentage of them who depend on mining as their sole income.
Mining benefits a very large support industry, which includes manufacturers of equipment as well as many other types of businesses that serve as the business community in the mostly rural areas of what is known as “gold country.” Many, if not most of these businesses depend heavily on miners dollars to carry them through the winter months when business slows down in their small communities. These are the businesses that keep small communities thriving. Their continued existence benefits not only miners, but also their respective communities. They are the mom and pop grocery stores, general stores, gas stations, repair shops, restaurants, motels and R.V. parks.
It is easy to see that anything that would ban or adversely affect mining can and does have a terribly devastating effect on our rural communities. In California a recent “suction dredge” mining ban in all state waters has caused extreme financial hardship on many rural businesses. Some will close because their owners say they cannot continue to stay open to serve their communities without the help of miner’s dollars; others have already closed because of this hardship.
Most of the present-day anti-mining sentiment is centered in the Northwest states of Washington, Oregon and California. The opposition to mining normally consists of well organized and well funded organizations. By contrast, miners are, for the most part, unorganized and lacking the funding needed to combat the assault on their mining rights and property.
While it is true that all natural resource users on our public lands are also being attacked by these very same special interest groups, miners are crucial to the success of the environmentalist’s agenda simply because mining is protected by an Act of Congress known by its federal designation: HR 365. This act was put in place in 1866, and last amended in 1872. It is now known as the Mining Law of 1872. If special interest groups can topple miners, who have an actual “right” to mine, then all natural resource users will be easy pickings.
Because of the very real threat to mining and miners, there has been a lot of talk among miners about the possibility of forming mining districts like the ones that were originally formed to unite miners and fight for our rights to mine, as Congress granted us. So far this has only been talk with no real direction or knowledge of how to go about forming one, or how it might be used for the good of all miners. Mining districts no longer exist, but that doesn’t mean they cannot exist once again to fulfill the unmet needs of the modern miner.
The South West Oregon Mining Association
SWOMA began to put out feelers in the mining community to see if there was interest in forming a mining district. Fortunately there was a great deal of interest.
After widespread notice, on September 2, 2011 at their second fact-finding meeting, it was decided by those present to form a mining district. A vote was taken of those present, which was about 70 miners in attendance, coming from as far away as Indiana. The vote was unanimous in favor of forming the district.
As required by custom and law, the name of the new mining district needed to be determined. It was decided by vote to name the new district the Jefferson Mining District. The boundaries of the District will approximate the “abandoned” State of Jefferson boundaries, to include most of Southern Oregon and Northern California. Ida Reimann was named and voted the first Recorder for the Jefferson Mining District. Kerby Jackson was named and voted interim chairman pending formal structuring of District organization. Rules promulgation was tabled until organization Establishment. The initial purpose of the Jefferson Mining District will be to produce a federally authorized Coordination Plan, which miners throughout the district may use to assert and enforce the mining law.
What is Coordination?
A mining district is a lawful governmental entity that stands on equal footing with any other governmental entity as far as demanding that federal agencies coordinate with the mining district.
Local governments that have implemented “coordination” status with federal management agencies are successfully fighting erosion of private property rights in their communities. The “coordination” status is authorized by almost every federal statute relating to management of land, resource, and environment. All the local government has to do is formally accept the congressional invitation to “coordinate,” and federal agencies have no choice but to agree.
What is this “coordination” factor, which elevates the involvement of local government in federal planning and management actions? The foundation for the concept is found in the Federal Land Policy Management Act, commonly known as FLPMA. Section 1712 of Title 43 of the United States Code requires that the Bureau of Land Management must coordinate its “land use inventory, planning, and management actions” with any local government that has engaged in land use planning for the federal lands managed by the federal agencies. This is where the Coordination Plan comes in. The Plan will enforce standard of the law for such things as ingress and egress.
No local government is better suited to write a Coordination Plan for miners than the actual miners who are affected by federal agency actions.
In this respect and for this purpose, the Jefferson Mining District was formed. The purpose of this new mining district is for the protection and advocation of miners and their rights and property under the mining law. Authoring, and then teaching miners how to enforce the district-wide Coordination Plan will be its initiating purpose. All that will remain in this regard is for miners within the District to step up, taking responsibility for protecting themselves, their property and their rights.
By the authority of the mining district, agencies must coordinate their plans with the mining district plan. Finally miners have a voice that cannot be ignored by agencies that have, up until this time, listened politely to miners concerns and then just as politely ignored both miners and the mining law. Increased mining district mobilization will bring more power to the miners, which will have a positive economic ripple effect into the larger community.
More information can be found on the Internet at: www.miningrights.org
They can also be contacted regarding membership in the Jefferson Mining District at: www.miningrights.org/contact.html
We spent our evening at some informal get-togethers at two private residences in the DC area, which provided the opportunity to talk with staff members from Congress, other agencies, and a few consultants working on public land issues. We found common ground with many of them, and found a strong ally in a former Congressman turned consultant who agreed that Mining Districts provide the smartest legal route...
...Most importantly, the mining districts can open the federal land to multiple-use by the public on principles of inclusion rather than the present-day exclusions...
Public Lands for the People has agreed to support the US Supreme Court appeal with financial assistance and with the filing of an amicus brief. (We here at the Mining Journal have also agreed to participate in the amicus brief.)
We have been playing defense for 100% of the game, and now we are finally playing some offense.
On July 4, we are reminded of the sacrifices our Founding Fathers made to establish this great country of ours, and in that spirit, the Minerals and Mining Advisory Council (MMAC) has created a draft Declaration of Miners.And MMAC has been hard at work writing a bill, with the unwavering support of several members of Congress, to reaffirm the rights of miners operating in traditional mining districts.
Toward the end of this summer, we expect another Federal Register notice will be published that deals with Forest Service mining regulations.
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