This is our letter to USFS Chief Tidwell, Congress, the committees which oversee the USFS, BLM and President Trump’s senior staff on behalf of the small miners and the issue’s we are hearing about now almost every day. We are demanding a face to face meeting to address these stunning revelations. We encourage you to read the entire letter, and please consider joining AMRA or making a donation today so we may continue our fight for your rights. Donations or membership information can be found at americanminingrights.com
Dear Mr. Tidwell August 10, 2017
House Natural Resources Committee
Greetings, I am writing to you this morning to provide factual information on several highly concerning issues which we are experiencing within the USFS throughout the western United States. As the nations largest small mining advocacy association, AMRA, American Mining Rights Association represent tens of thousands of small miners and mining claim owners all across this vast country.
Recently, we have been contacted by numerous miners all across the western states with accounts of the USFS agents not just stepping outside the scope of their authority, but violating the civil rights of its citizens. Ignoring the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), locking and blocking legitmate mining claim owners from their properties, destroying private property, illegal searches and even pulling a Taser, pointing it at the face of a miner who was panning for gold on his mining claim after the miner asked why he needed to produce ID for sitting in a creek. Incidents such as these are but the tip of the iceburg of a culture which seems prevalent among many within the USFS. As public employees working for the public to manage the public’s lands, this must, and will be addressed. When the USFS was formed in 1881, it was to manage the public’s land for the public and to encourage mining. We question whether many within the USFS know of this motto, or are deliberately ignoring this.
First, let us state that we are not opposed to the Forest Service. We have many within the USFS whom we have had positive interactions with and seem to understand they work for the people and manage our lands for us. First and foremost on that list is District Ranger, now acting Supervisor Jim Junette with the Stanislaus National Forest. We have had disagreements, but he will never step outside the boundaries of his authority, nor endorse anyone else who does. He believes he works for the people and his actions demonstrate this. We at AMRA believe all people, whether they are a private citizen, or a USFS LEO should be held to the same standards, laws and regulations as everyone else. They should respect the laws, the case history of decisions made by the highest court in our land, the Supreme Court and that nobody should be above the law.
That being said, mining claim owners are not mere guests within America’s boundaries. As the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (US v Shumway) has stated “The court held that the unpatented “title of a locator” is “property in the fullest sense of the word”. Mining claims are real property. Mining claim owners in many states pay property taxes on these properties, rely on them to either provide, or supplement their incomes. The mining of gold and other natural resources are a matter of national security and nearly everything created by man on planet earth is either grown, or mined. From the smartphones we all use, the computer I am using to type this letter to the protective shields the Space Shuttle uses. It is not just an economic issue, but one of national security. America relying on other countries for their minerals for everyday items is not just dangerous, but economically unwise.
Mining claim owners have a fundamental right of access to their mining claims. As real property, blocking an owner from their claim (with gates put up by the USFS or BLM) is analogous to putting up a gate to your home and saying you cannot drive in, but must walk and carry everything by hand. That you must carry your groceries from the gate to your refrigerator, or push that new dryer on a dolly to your laundry room. Miners use equipment which is heavy, even a simple 6’ pry bar weighs 30lbs, then add a lunch, shovels, sluice boxes, buckets, crevice tools, backpacks and the myriad of other equipment and the typical miner has well over 100 lbs. of equipment to simply prospect. Forcing anyone to hike for extended distances, while carrying enormous burdens when an existing road protected by law provides a means of ingress and egress is not just an undue burden, it is illegal. Even though the access issue has been extensively litigated by claim owners with the results being they have a fundamental right of access, the USFS in many instances ignore our laws, courts and case precedence. As recently as two weeks ago, the Utah Supreme Court ruled on RS2477 where roads which existed as a “public right of way” prior to 1976 must remain open for the public. Additionally, in the USFS 2810 manual which addresses the Forest Service’s authority concerning mining claims, under 2813.14 it states: “The right of reasonable access for purposes of prospecting, locating, and mining is provided by statute. Such access must be in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Forest Service. However, the rules and regulations may not be applied so as to prevent lawful mineral activities or to cause undue hardship on bona fide prospectors and miners”. It is not a question if the mining claim owner has a right of access, the question is why is the USFS acting as if it is their land, not the public’s, and has the right to disregard rulings by court, up to and including the Supreme Court of the United States?
Allow me to provide you with some examples which are not just concerning, but alarming in their illegality:
Nez Perce NF Idaho, 2016/2017
The Nez Perce NF Supervisor Cheryl Probert has unilaterally enacted a new regulatory move to restrict the number of suction dredges which may operate on the SF Clearwater River in Idaho based entirely on a letter from her District Ranger Terry Nevius stating suction dredging caused a “significant disturbance”. Suction dredging has been in operation in this area for well over 50 years with no negative impact on the fishery. For many years now, the dredge period is limited to a one month window of time, July 15th to August 14th to protect fish runs. On the outside looking in, this would seem to be something which could be debated, open for public comment, studied or use previous studies on the effects of suction dredging. However, during a live public comment meeting on this very topic in 2016, District Ranger Nevius stated, on the record that he did not write, state, nor sign any letter stating what Supervisor Probert put forth as the premise for the restrictions. The entire premise of Ms. Probert’s restricting the dredges on that river are based on a forged letter, as stated, on the record by Ranger Nevius. Who forged the letter and why did this bombshell statement not stop the process? Why is this process being allowed to continue when it is indisputably fraud? There are over 90 mining claim owners on the SF Clearwater and restricting the number of dredges to just 15 is reprehensible and to do so using forgery is criminal. Ms. Probert also adopted the Fish and Game study on suction dredges which conclusively, and quite succinctly stated the activity is not deleterious to fish or fish habitat in all of the categories studied. In fact, there was very recently an active operation in the state of Idaho where Fish and Game were using a large suction dredge to “create fish habitat”. Suction dredging to create fish habitat. Studies conclusively prove suction dredging is not deleterious and the premise of her prohibition has been conclusively proven to be fraudulent by the statement of her own District Ranger. Yet Probert does not waiver in her march towards complete annihilation of suction dredging in her NF boundaries.
Payette NF Idaho, July 2017:
A retired 30 year veteran in law enforcement took his horses to his mining claim in the Sesech river area of Idaho. After arriving at his mining claim and the public campground adjacent to it, he found the condition of the campground literally destroyed by fallen trees. He spent three days cleaning up the debris, stacking the limbs and cutting the trees into usable firewood for anyone else who wanted to use the campground. District Ranger Botello, stated to this former LEO, to scatter the debris back into the camp sites so as to discourage anyone else from camping there and to “return it to its natural state”. Ranger Botello stated that any activity on his mining claim would require a NOI (Notice Of Intent) and a PoO (Plan of Operations). When the mining claim owner told Ranger Botello that he was using hand tools, Botello demanded he obtain an NOI or PoO again. This too is a matter of settled law in US v Tierney. Using hand tools cannot create a significant disturbance. Additionally, Ranger Botello told the miner that he should consult with the District Ranger prior to picking up any mining claims in the future and he should: “ride your horses, kick a few rocks, but don’t stay too long”. There is currently a gate which blocks the access on a very old road to the miners claim and when the miner inquired about access since his mobility is limited by a recognized and documented disability, Ranger Botello told him it would take over a year to review. A few days later, USFS LEO Dingman arrived at the campground and inquired about the ATV the miner had on site. The miner stated he used it to drag some of the deadfall from the campground and that he used it for mobility due to his disability. To quote LEO Dingman “the USFS does not recognize any of the ADA in relationship to that. That has been tried before”. The USFS does not recognize the American with Disabilities Act? Ironically, the man who came forward with these statements told me this morning of an encounter with the USFS back in the 1990’s in this same area. A Ranger back then brought firewood to their campground and even gave them some advice on where to find the elk they were hunting. The Ranger stated “they are going to put a stop to things like what we are doing, riding horses and exploring in the mountains”. Perhaps the Ranger was psychic or perhaps he saw the culture change coming even back in the 1990’s.
San Gabriel NF, California July 2017:
Two ladies purchased an existing mining claim in the San Gabriel NF on Lytle Creek. This desert area was burned nearly a year ago, and the USFS gated the road into the canyon where the ladies claim resides ½ mile from the gate. The USFS has not reopened the road and claim it is under review until September 2017. Federal law requires these ladies either work the claim and prove it’s a valuable mineral deposit, or must pay $155 per 20 acres as a maintenance fee prior to the end of August. If the danger of the fire has passed nearly a year ago, and the claim is located in the desert with no safety issues of over-hanging trees or dangers, they again have a fundamental right of access and should be provided with a key to the gate to perform their requirements under Federal law. We understand and respect dangers due to fires. In our own backyard just two short weeks ago, the Detwiler fire came within 1 ½ miles from our property and they closed the roads to remove dangers. The dangers are non-existent with the claims these ladies own and they are right in requesting access. The USFS is denying them access to the road.
Payette NF Idaho, 2016:
USFS LEO Dingman stated to a miner who was shooting a pellet gun at some floating ice in the Sesech River “I should cite you, because that’s almost a firearm”.
July 2017, Idaho:
AMRA has been contacted by 4 other mining claim owners both in the Payette NF and Nez Perce NF where the Forest Service is refusing to grant access to their mining claims through newly installed gates. These are not safety issues being cited, but maintenance issues. As previously stated, Utah has settled the right of the public to access their roads in the public domain. The roads are to remain open. Also in the Payette, complete roads have been bulldozed to restrict access to once existing roads of access to mining claims.
June 2017, Sierra NF, California:
A mining claim owner is being denied access to his mining claim through a road which has existed since 1870. A newly installed gate by USFS is blocking access due to “maintenance issues”.
January 2016, Stanislaus NF California:
Two decorated military war veterans, one with his wife, were panning for gold using a small trowel and a gold pan on their mining claim. They were parked legally along the gravel road adjacent to the claim, had current tags on their vehicles and were performing a very small scale mining operation by digging in some dirt along the creek when they were approached by two USFS LEO’s, one a Captain (Heidi Reich) the other a subordinate. The LEO’s first statement was “everyone needs to pull out their ID’s so we can determine if anyone is claim jumping”. When the wife of the Purple Heart recipient replied she only had her AMRA membership card which was expired, they made this woman hike up the hill to retrieve her valid ID. This was after the Captain told her “Ma’am, keep your hands in plain sight and make no sudden moves”. Once at the vehicle, and satisfied she had produced her valid ID, they returned to the little creek and demanded the other two men produce their ID’s, when one asked “why are you doing this, we have done nothing wrong” the Captain replied “we need to know who is in our forest”. Firstly, the USFS has zero authority to enforce who mines on whose claim. It is a civil matter and not the responsibility, nor authority of the USFS. When one of the veterans said “I don’t need to show you my ID, I haven’t done anything wrong”, the Captain pulled the Taser off her hip, put the barrel 1 foot from his forehead and said “you are going to give my your ******** ID now”. We filed a formal complaint with Commander Wears of the USFS, only to have that swept under the carpet and ignored. We have filed a Federal Tort claim on behalf of these two war heroes.
October 2015 to February 2016, Stanislaus NF California:
We have obtained 12 statements from citizens, not miners who were randomly, and without probable cause stopped and their vehicles illegally searched by SNF LEO’s. Take for example driving with your 12 year old grandchild up in the mountains to shoot a .22 for the first time, or taking your 11 year old son camping in a meadow near a beautiful river only to have that trip interrupted by a USFS with a gun search your possessions just for being in the woods. You are driving along an improved, two lane gravel road and you see a white USFS LEO truck coming your direction. The truck turns sideways in the road, blocks your path, the LEO exits the vehicle and demands you and the child put your hands on the hood and he/she illegally searches your vehicle without consent. Not once, not twice, but over a dozen incidents which happened over a 6 month period. These acts, so egregious, resulted in Mariposa County Sheriff, Doug Binnewies to rescind the LEO capacity to enforce state law in his county. In Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, the issue of probable cause was settled by the United States Supreme Court. To protect against unwarranted searches and seizures and that there must be probable cause or consent. The actions of the LEO’s are the precise definition of unwarranted search and seizure, without consent. Not knowing anything about the occupants, not have any calls to report illegal activity and not having any other reason to stop the people other than they were driving on a road is not just alarming, it is criminal.
While we could cite a dozen more examples of this in just the past year, and dozens and dozens of examples in the past 5 years, it would be redundant and a waste of time.
As a matter of fact, the issue’s facing the public aren’t just limited to the USFS and their rogue agents, we have files of incidents with the BLM as well. There is a strong culture among many within these agencies to obstruct, interfere and intimidate the public from exercising their rights to either mine, or enjoy their public lands. That it is pervasive is not in question any longer and must be addressed immediately.
This is the problem we see with these agencies, they commit atrocious acts, force its citizens to fund raise to sue them to prove the illegality of their actions while the agents themselves are protected and have no fear of retribution forcing the citizens to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation costs. The USFS and BLM have the unlimited war chest fund in the tax payer’s dollars to fight back.
We are formally requesting a meeting with USFS Chief Tom Tidwell, Secretary Perdue and Secretary Zinke to provide the factual evidence on these and other rather disturbing examples and this highly pervasive and rampant ideology. We are willing to come to whatever location in America on whatever date which could expedite this meeting, face to face, with facts, professionalism and sincerity. The public must be heard, and the amount of people experiencing these issues has reached a level of alarm.
Mr. Shannon Poe
President, AMRA, American Mining Rights Association
PMB#607, 6386 Greeley Hill Road
Coulterville CA 95311