Legislation & Regulation

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Legislative and Regulatory Update

October 2012 by Scott

• It’s almost November
It’s almost November, and that means it is time to cast your vote.

We’ve all been dealing with increased rules and regulations coming from the federal, state and local levels. Do your homework and contact those candidates who are running for office to find out if they support mining. Politely make it clear to them that you expect a return to reasonable regulations and you will support whomever is in favor of mining and the jobs mining creates, whether it be on a small or large scale. Once you determine who would be the most viable candidate, let your friends, neighbors and relatives know and convince them to get out and vote too.

• Two federal land managers found guilty of contempt
Not many people noticed, but a landmark case against overzealous federal regulations was overturned on July 26 by a three-judge panel of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

The case involved Wayne Hage, the Nevada rancher who became fed up with federal land managers and their increasing restrictions on cattle grazing and water use. He took the fight to them and sued them when they impounded some of his cattle following his refusal to pay fines for alleged grazing violations back in 1991. Years of court battles ensued. Wayne Hage died in 2006; his wife Jean preceded him in 1996.

In 2008, US Claims Court Judge Loren Smith ruled the federal government violated Hage’s rights and awarded $4.4 million to Hage’s surviving family members.

The federal government appealed, and the ruling was overturned on July 26, 2012, after the court determined the case was not “ripe.” According to the court, Hage needed a permit to cross federal lands to cut brush that was interfering with water flow in the ditches used to provide water for his cattle.

“We are not surprised by this decision,” said Margaret Byfield, Hage’s daughter. “Sitting through the appellate court hearings, we could tell which way the judges were headed. There was a lack of understanding of western law and how the western lands function.”

Byfield stated the family plans to file for a rehearing en banc, which is a hearing before all thirteen judges of the court, and the case may eventually reach the Supreme Court.

In the meantime, a related case was making its way through the courts. The US Forest Service and BLM filed a civil suit against Hage’s son back in 2007 alleging trespass and other violations related to cattle grazing. Instead of waiting for the court to rule on the case, Tonopah BLM manager Tom Seley and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest ranger Steve Williams tried to use other methods to get at Hage. They were accused of issuing trespass notices and demands for payments to other ranchers who had leased cattle to Hage, sending 75 applications for grazing permits and issuing permits to third parties to compete with Hage’s cattle for limited water supplies on the same lands.

On August 31, 2012, Chief Federal District Court Judge Robert Jones found Tom Seley and Steve Williams in contempt of court for “intimidation of witnesses and threats against witnesses.”

Judge Jones held Seley and Williams personally liable and ordered them to pay $33,000 for losses to Hage and third parties.

“Where you crossed the line is you took civil action yourself in order to kill the business of Hage,” he added.

“Mr. Seley can no longer be an administrator in this BLM district. I don’t trust him to be unbiased. Nor can he supervise anybody in this district,” said Judge Jones.

The federal government had numerous witnesses slated to testify. Judge Jones made a determination that Forest Service Region 4 Director Harv Forsgren was lying to the court and Jeanne Higgins, the agency head for Nevada, was not entirely truthful.

After that determination, the federal government withdrew their other witnesses.

Judge Jones also told Hage’s son to reapply for his grazing permits and ordered the federal government to immediately issue permits for the winter grazing season.

• A chance to halt additional wilderness in Southern California
Environmentalists are pushing for annexing what is commonly referred to as the “saddle” near Joshua Tree National Park in 29 Palms in Southern California.

Adding this area to the park would place additional lands off-limits to mining and other uses, including the Dale and Gold Park Mining Districts. Even if you are not from the area, your voice can be heard. Take a moment to let the 29 Palms City Council know that you will not be spending your money in the area if it is closed to mining and other uses. You can drop them a note by mail at: City Council of Twentynine Palms, 6136 Adobe Rd., Twentynine Palms, CA 92277.

• Oregon mineral withdrawal
A twenty-year mineral withdrawal on the Illinois River in Oregon is set to expire in June 2013.

The Forest Service is requesting a twenty-year extension to the withdrawal, which covers the Illinois River between Deer Creek and the mouth of Briggs Creek.

You also have the right to request a public meeting. Comments are due by October 31, 2012.

Address comments/requests to:
BLM Oregon/Wash. State Director
PO Box 2965
Portland, OR 97208

• A really good reason to get out and vote in Oregon
Attorney James Buchal, known as a strong property rights advocate and frequent fighter for miners, is running for Attorney General in the State of Oregon.

To our readers, Buchal is likely best known for his commitment to small miners and suction dredgers in their battles against federal government agencies. Buchal is currently one of the attorneys representing California suction gold dredgers in an effort to restore their right to mine.

“For too long, the Oregon Attorney General’s office has served as attorneys for the environmental movement, not the people of Oregon, helping to cripple Oregon’s economy,” states Buchal. “My Attorney General’s office will not advance unreasonable interpretations of environmental law, nor present fraudulent computer models in court instead of real evidence of environmental harm. We will hold polluters accountable for the real damage they cause, but we will not bring actions just to get our names in the paper or make points with the Sierra Club.”

© ICMJ's Prospecting and Mining Journal, CMJ Inc.