October 2020 by Scott Harn
The extreme fires in California, Oregon and Washington, along with fires in other Western States, have obviously been tragic, not only for the loss of life and property, but for the fact that the risk could have been drastically reduced by active forest management practices such as managed logging, clearing of underbrush, removal of dead and dying trees, controlled burns and maintenance of roads. As I write this, fires in 2020 have consumed 3.6 million acres in California, over 1 million acres burned in Oregon, and Washington State is approaching 750,000 acres lost.
Like many of you, Public Lands for the People (PLP) board members were faced with statewide Forest Service closures of all National Forests in California during the recent spate of wildfires.
The Code of Federal Regulations specificifies who is exempt from closure orders. Section 36 CFR § 261.50(e) states:
An order may exempt any of the following persons from any of the prohibitions contained in the order:
(1) Persons with a permit specifically authorizing the otherwise prohibited act or omission.
(2) Owners or lessees of land in the area;
(3) Residents in the area;
(4) Any Federal, State, or local officer, or member of an organized rescue or fire fighting force in the performance of an official duty; and
(5) Persons engaged in a business, trade, or occupation in the area.
(6) Any other person meeting exemption requirements specified in the order.
We wanted to take this opportunity to point out that claimholders are considered private property landowners under the law.
PLP northern director Clark Pearson stated, “Thanks to the U.S. v. Hicks case, the courts have acknowledged that claimholders are owners of land within the National Forest who are exempt.”
Pearson recommends having a copy of your mining claim filing papers and a copy of the U.S. v. Hicks case with you if you are heading into a safe but closed area so you can politely present these items to law enforcement or Forest Service personnel if neede.
In this court case from 2002, Hicks was convicted in the US District Court for the District of Montana for operating a vehicle (motorcycle) in an area of the National Forest closed to motor vehicles by a Forest Service closure order. Hicks appealed, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that Hicks was acting as an agent or employee of a corporation that owned subsurface mineral rights in the National Forest and was not subject to a Forest Service closure order that exempted landowners. (The case is available online at www.publiclandsforthepeople.com or you can find it by searching for “US v. Hicks No. 01-30146.”)
But let’s be clear: At no time will we advocate heading into any area that could put you in danger or endanger those who might have to come to your rescue. Common sense must prevail.
While progress with Congress has been slow, the Trump administration has taken the lead to start making needed changes at the Department of Interior and US Department of Agriculture to support miners…
Toward the end of this summer, we expect another Federal Register notice will be published that deals with Forest Service mining regulations.
We will be bringing the first of several bills that were requested by Congress during a previous MMAC trip and presenting maps depicting all the MMAC-assisted Mining Districts.
The main problem with the current scheme is that regulatory agencies often consult with you, then disregard your concerns and do what they want anyway.
We are heading into 2019 with a cautiously optimistic view. We feel we are very close to obtaining regulatory relief for miners, and believe this NDAA cycle will prove fruitful.
…I’ll be heading back to Washington, DC, on June 4 with Clark Pearson of PLP for nearly a week of meetings with the Mine Safety and Health Administration, US Forest Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and numerous members of Congress in both the House and Senate.
Present conflicts and realizations having to do with dependence on China have illuminated the fact that suction dredge miners have a vital role to play and are an ignored and untapped domestic resource—until now.
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