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For many years, miners have been in constant conflict with the USFS and BLM. The small scale miner is often at the mercy of the government when it comes to their mining rights, making it difficult for them to pursue their prospects. However, there are many instances where the little guy was able to come out victorious.

 

Pitkin Road Closure

This case occurred in proximity to the historical town of Pitkin, that was originally a mining and ranching community with a very humble population of 67 residents. It’s home to several 4x4 roads, some of which that lead to direct access to mining claims and cabins. In 2012, the USFS decided to start closing these roads, specifically the Powderhouse Gulch Road. When a resident went to check the road closure, he was shocked to see that the road was completely destroyed.

In the above video, the resident explains if there was a fire in Pitkin, that road would have been their only exit, to which the forest service worker even agreed to, but offered no solutions. The residents decided to take matters in to their own hands, and began to restore the roads themselves. During their work, they were briefly interrupted by enforcement officers and were told if they continued rebuilding the roads, they would be arrested. They ignored their requests and continued working. Calling their bluff, the finished the road after 40 hours of hard work, and the USFS hasn’t interfered since. [1]

USA v Tierney

Thomas Tierney was prospecting on his Arizona claim, and was charged with a misdemeanor for prospecting in National Forest land without special authorization. He was given notices since 2004 by the USFS, that his Ash Canyon claim would cause significant disturbance. These notices compelled him to file a NOI(Notice of Intention) and POO(Plan of Operation), and continued to receive in 2009 and 2011.

The ranger claims that any mining activity in Sierra Vista’s Ash and Lutz Canyons “have a potential to adversely impact other surface resources.”

Tierney refutes this by saying, prospecting with a simple pick and shovel isn’t causing significant disturbances to the surface resources, thus not requiring him to submit an NOI or POO.

The officer issued him a citation anyways, claiming that his mining did cause damage, including dug up roots and cut down trees, to which Tierney denied. Tierney assured the court that he eventually back-fills every hole he prospects from.

The court ended up siding in his favor, stating,

Defendant argues he was not required to obtain special use authorization for mining activities because uses under “minerals (part 228)” are exempt from the requirement to obtain authorization. The Court agrees. Based on the plain language of the regulation, special use authorization is not required for mining activities as those are uses of Forest Service land under “minerals (part 228).” As such, they are exempted from the special use authorization requirement.

Defendant is not guilty of failing to obtain special use authorization when he was not required to obtain that type of authorization for the mining he was doing in Ash Canyon. While Defendant was charged under subsection (k) of 251.50, the dispute between Defendant and the Forest Service and the evidence that was presented at trial all focus on whether Defendant’s mining violated subsection (a) of the regulation.

He was found not guilty for causing disturbances, which is another point in the win column for the little guy! [2]

Protecting Historical Roads

Not unlike the Pitkin story, the roads near Olathe were closed, but by the BLM this time. In 2013, the Cushman and Dry Creek roads were being barricaded. Many activists claim that these roads were once trails used by Ute Native Americans to access a flint mine by the canyon cliffs, making the road a historical site.

According to federal law R.S. 2477, historic roads cannot be closed to the public. So a couple dozen citizens put matters in to their own hands, and started clearing the roads themselves, which they felt they have the legal right to do, to preserve history. When they reached the top of the trail, they were welcome by a large boulder with Native American petroglyphs.[3]

Mining Misnomer

A couple of miners wanted to do some exploratory work by the Rogue River, at Ennis Riffle, Oregon back in 2009. A couple of unidentified officers, likely BLM, confronted these miners, accusing them of illegally dredging on public land.

They explained to them that they were mischaracterizing their exploratory work as dredging, and exploratory mining is completely legal under the Grant of 1866. They even had a copy of the Grant on them, and showed it to them.

They asked for the officer’s identification to which they refused. Before the officers left, the miners added that it would be fraudulent to issue them a citation for “dredging” if all they’re doing is exploratory mining. They continued mining, and weren’t bothered since.

They recovered a few pieces of gold, a satisfying reward for standing up for themselves.[4]

The Supreme Court Decision

Taking a step towards a larger scale, the Supreme Court made a ruling, giving property owners the right to challenge the government over wetland decisions.

The Clean Water act is often used against miners, by either requiring them to get extremely expensive permits( or being heavily penalized) if their mining discharges pollutants into “waters of the United States.” The language is very broad, and the jurisdiction is not clear.

It is often difficult to determine whether a particular piece of property contains waters of the United States, but there are important consequences if it does. The Clean Water Act imposes substantial criminal and civil penalties for discharging any pollutant into waters covered by the Act without a permit from the Corps.

There are properties in swamps or other wetlands that can easily fit that criteria of residing in the “waters of the United States”.

Now, claim owners can challenge the government, to make a determination if their properties fall under the jurisdiction.

An approved Jurisdictional Determination (JD) gives a landowner at least some measure of predictability, so long as the agency’s declaration can be relied upon.
These kinds of newly instated checks and balances can be life saving for a small scale miner.

The Act, especially without the JD procedure were the Government permitted to fore close it, continues to raise troubling questions regarding the Government’s power to cast doubt on the full use and enjoyment of private property throughout the Nation. [5]

 

Gold Rush Expeditions is on Your Side

What did these stories have in common? Despite being at odds against government agencies, the law was still on the miner’s side. As long as these laws that protect the rights of miners are still intact, we’ll make sure your pursuit of happiness goes unobstructed. We have the experience, knowledge, and one of the finest mining attorneys on retainer. If you’re facing legal problems or are being hassled, give us a ring at (385) 218-2138, and we’ll be more than happy to be at your service!

 

Pitkin, Colorado

Sierra Vista, Arizona

Native American petroglyphs

Rogue River

US Supreme Court building

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