Our rights as small miners are under attack as never before. There are hundreds of environmental extremist groups all “lawyered up” and full of cash—they are fighting a battle every day against us on a variety of fronts.
Many of these groups want to limit your mining rights in every way possible, and many would like to get your right to stake a claim or prospect under the 1872 Mining Law revoked. Barring that, they want to close roads, require impossibly complicated commercial mining permits for causal prospecting and create ridiculous laws like the one in Oregon that will prohibit any motorized mining within 100 yards of any stream (no matter how small the actual impact of the mining would be). These groups have far more money and people than we miners do, they have a large influence with regulatory agencies like the EPA, BLM and USFS, and they have lots of politicians right in their pockets. It’s not a pretty situation.
I get inquiries from miners regularly citing problems of access, permits and other regulatory difficulties. These problems are more common than ever and it’s a very frustrating situation. Most don’t like my answer—you need to roll up your sleeves and get involved. Most miners just want to go mining! They would rather be free to mine and not worry about fighting off some regulatory agency or try to stop a environmental extremist group from trying to undercut us.
This is not an easy fight. We are badly outnumbered. We can either surrender or draw a line in the sand and fight to hold the remaining mining rights we still have. I tell miners that if you are not part of the fight to save our mining rights, and therefore part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. We all need to be directly involved in the cause.
So, if you are a reader of this magazine, you need to be involved in a very real way to preserve your own right to mine and prospect. If you don’t, you will likely be seeing many more losses of our rights in the coming years. Even if you tell yourself that this is not your fight and you don’t want to be involved, there is no choice—if you want to prospect for minerals, you are a part of the fight and the environmental extremists see you as the enemy. When I challenge miners to roll up their sleeves and get involved, some honestly ask, “What can I do? How can I help?” And that is why I have written this article.
The fight to save our mining rights is a complex one with a lot of moving pieces that are constantly changing. That’s why ICMJ’s Prospecting and Mining Journal tries to stay on top of this and keep the mining community aware of what is going on. We do this in our magazine and on our website. Sometimes the window of opportunity is so short that a monthly magazine does not allow for a quick enough reaction and that is when our website can do a lot to bring prospectors together.
We just had an issue where the mining community needed to convince a California court to publish a decision so it could be cited in other cases. Scott Harn, our editor, put specific instructions on our website and we miners did a great job of launching a complex letter writing campaign. There was a very short window of opportunity to get this accomplished and we were successful. There are a number of different organizations involved in the effort as well and every miner should be a member of at least one. We have had some successes, but it takes all of us pulling in the same direction for the victory.
As miners we need to pay attention to local issues of regulation. We do our best at ICMJ’s Prospecting and Mining Journal to bring these to your attention, but we all need to work together. If you hear of something, you need to let others know. That’s where being a part of an organization really helps.
We also have a forum on our site that you can use to let others know of a similar situation. It is quite common that new, restrictive rules are put out to environmental groups for their comments, but miners are not specifically made aware until it is too late to provide constructive comments.
Once you are up on the issues, write letters, make phone calls and let your voice be heard. You need to also attend public meetings and comment on proposed regulations. If you don’t speak up, you won’t be heard!
Several years ago, I found out the EPA was proposing a rule to limit mercury emissions from large hard rock mines, but the rule was written to cover anyone who melted gold from ores, both hard rock and placer. It would have required anyone who melted gold to get a $50,000 permit and install emission controls to capture mercury, no matter how small the amount was.
With a letter writing campaign, we were able to get the EPA to change the rule to allow anyone who melts less than 100 ounces a year to be exempt.
One of the problems with the EPA rules is that staff members who write the rules have no clue whatsoever about the operations of the industry they are regulating. They get input from environmental extremists and the big mines, but give no consideration to anyone else. That’s why, as small-scale miners, we need to work to be heard.
Road closures are popping up in every state in the West. Road management plans from the Forest Service and BLM are constructed specifically with the intention to keep people off federal lands. Roads that have been in common use for more than 100 years are being closed and blocked off. For many prospectors these management plans have made access to mineral areas and claims much more difficult. The fight against these shut downs involves writing letters, making phone calls and attending meetings. Other groups, such as logging companies, ranchers, farmers and fishermen are interested in keeping these roads open. As a result, some politicians have become involved in the fight against these road closures.
Different groups have different focus points, and there are many different roles to fill, so they are each doing their own part in the fight to save our mining rights. Figure what issues you are interested in most, then join up with the one that best fits your objectives. Joining is important because there is power in numbers. The environmental extremists claim hundreds of thousands of members—we need to at least show that we have thousands of interested miners.
Let’s take a look at some of the different organizations that are fighting for us and give you contact info so you can get involved. I don’t intend this as an all-inclusive list, but these are a few of the best-known organizations and a bit about them.
Public Lands for the People. The first group I want to talk about is the small miners’ organization of which I am a member, Public lands for the People (PLP). PLP has been around for 19 years and is involved in a wide variety of mining rights issues, including spearheading the effort to restore dredging in California. Although I am a member myself, ICMJ’s Prospecting and Mining Journal magazine has also donated tens of thousands of dollars to PLP over the years. PLP has represented miners at public hearings, assisted other groups with research, filed lawsuits against state and federal agencies, helped in individual court cases, and organized groups to join forces in order to maintain the rights of all citizens on public lands. Over the years they have had a number of successful efforts, but the legal action to restore suction dredging in California is proving to be one of their largest and most expensive efforts.
You can find out more about PLP on their webpage (www.plp1.org) as well as get directions on how to join. PLP is also raising funds by selling donated items on their eBay page, along with tickets for their annual fundraising raffle.
Pacific Legal Foundation. Pacific Legal Foundation is involved in many conservative rights issues, including access and use of public lands. The organization was founded in Sacramento in 1973 as a freedom-based public interest legal organization by members of then governor Ronald Reagan’s senior staff. The organization has worked on a wide variety of property rights and regulation issues, including mining and access to public lands, but their scope goes farther and their organization is larger. The group serves as a legal watchdog that litigates in favor of limited government, property rights and free enterprise. More information is available online at www.pacificlegal.org
Western Mining Alliance. Western Mining Alliance is another organization that represents the independent miner and believes the small miner should have the right to make a day’s living through honest work. The organization is comprised of property owners, miners, claim holders, businesses and supporters of the right to mine. The group works to maintain and restore our rights and does this by participation in the political process, and the support of legal challenges to the rights of miners on many fronts. They also work to present sound research in opposition of the biased studies and reports created by government agencies with misguided agendas driven by extreme environmentalists. More information is available online at westernminingalliance.org
Waldo Mining District. The Waldo Mining District is an independent miner’s organization centered in Josephine County, Oregon, and it is focused on dealing with mining rights in the state of Oregon. Democrat politicians bent on shutting down all small placer mining in Oregon have made considerable progress, and Tom Kitchar and the Waldo Mining District have been active in getting the word out to Oregon miners. In 2013, Oregon enacted SB 838, which will establish a 5-year moratorium on all motorized placer mining in most gold-bearing streams. This will effectively prohibit both dredging and high banking, and cover essentially the full width of most 20-acre placer claims. Visit waldominingdistrict.com for more information.
American Mining Rights Association. American Mining Rights Association (AMRA) is a group created by miners to preserve and maintain their rights as they pertain to access to public lands and to the minerals on those lands. Miners and public land users are often frustrated at not being informed, or being under-represented in the rule development process as overregulation continues to rage out of control. This group aims to change that. They partner with gold clubs and other land rights advocacy groups all across America. They have taken a leadership role in the fight to keep miners dredging in Idaho. More information is available online at americanminingrights.com
Other, more broadly-based personal liberty rights organizations like the Mountains States Legal Foundation (www.mountainstateslegal.org), or larger, mining oriented associations like the American Exploration and Mining Association (www.miningamerica.org) sometimes get involved in various issues that are important to independent miners.
From time to time I hear accusations against these organizations. A frequent complaint is that they consume a lot of money and don’t accomplish much. I am really disappointed in the miners who tell me this—they have no idea how difficult the road is to save our mining rights. Court trials are extremely expensive. We are totally out-gunned and outnumbered when it comes to money, lawyers, sympathetic bureaucrats and supportive politicians. Most of the general public doesn’t even know there is such a thing as US Mining Law, let alone even care about it. I think most believe gold comes from the back of jewelry stores and never consider that it comes from a mine. Between an apathetic public and the rabid environmentalists, we face a very difficult situation. If you think the mining rights groups should be getting more done with less money, you really have no idea how difficult this fight really is.
I urge you to find out more and become a part of the effort. The alternative—to just surrender to the environmental extremists—is unacceptable. I have been “in the fight” for years, even before I was invited to join the staff at ICMJ’s Prospecting and Mining Journal, and I challenge you to join us in the effort to preserve our mining rights.
December 2010 On Tuesday morning, August 26, 2010, my clients Michael and Linda Backlund were forced to plead guilty to a charge of violating 36 CFR §261.10(b), which criminalizes maintaining a residence on Forest Service land without authorization “when such authorization is required.” This is a new regulation pursuant to which virtually anything, even a tent, is an unlawful “residence” unless authorized in advance.