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.
If you are a claimholder and your Mining District is in disarray, it’s time to join MMAC and get on board so your district can benefit from these changes as they are implemented.
We have found strong support from legislators in both the House and Senate for several proposed bills that will provide Mining Districts with a greater role in the decisions that affect access to mining claims, oversight and regulations.
Priorities will include meeting with the EPA regarding suction gold dredging permitting and with the Forest Service regarding revisions to CFR 228A regulations related to mining and access on public lands.
How would you like it if you could make the actual rules and regulations governing your own business? A dream, right? Well, the existing Federal Mining Law gives a claimholder this ability in the context of organized Mining Districts.
We’ve built up some contacts in DC during our trips there over the past four years, and we believe we finally have the correct contacts who can get this petition reviewed by the proper people.
Is there any hope for a solution? Yes, there is, and we’ve been working with Public Lands for the People, the Minerals and Mining Advisory Council, attorney James Buchal and others on that solution.
If you need more proof that having an organized Mining District can help you, look no further than the recently proposed Methow Headwaters Withdrawal in north-central Washington State.
The Bawl Mill • Ask The Experts - Too early to build the crusher? • Ask The Experts - Time for small mine exemptions • Ask The Experts - Should I be checking the culverts for gold? • Sniping for Gold—The Next Best Thing to Dredging • Hard Rock 101: Advanced Micro Blasting • Now Is The Time For Exploration • Gold in Unlikely Places—And 'Eating Crow' • From Iowa to Alaska—How I Became A Gold Miner • Jamestown and Our Mother Lode Gold Rush Adventures • Why Assaying Placer Gold Deposits Doesn't Work • Gold Prospecting for Better or Worse: Those Blasted Boulders! • Melman on Gold & Silver • Mining Stock Quotes and Mineral & Metal Prices