Small mining and the fight for freedom
By: Mr. Shannon Poe
President, AMRA, American Mining Rights Association
Road closures, thousands of gates, Tasers being pulled on small miners, restrictions on using shovels to dig for gold, permits being required to drive to your claim, Senators being bought by Environmental groups and passing bills to stop suction dredging, harassment by USFS, DFG, BLM, EPA and a litany of other issues nearly on a daily basis all with the intent to stop small mining in America. Does this sound familiar? We can all agree from the evidence that small mining in America is under attack. So what is it going to take to stop this insanity?
Almost on a daily basis now, AMRA receives calls from all over the country from miners who tell us stories where the USFS is blocking access to their claims or require a Plan of Operations to stick a shovel in the ground or use a dredge on their “real property” mining claims. We have received threats from the EPA ourselves about mining our claims in Idaho. They tell us we need to apply for, and purchase an NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) or face a $37,500 fine per day when the Supreme Court has already ruled they are not applicable. I personally dredged last year for 14 days with a valid Idaho Dept. of Water Resources Permit, but the EPA says I could be fined $525,000.00 for dredging my claim and face prison of up to 140 years. Fear and intimidation are the EPA’s model for stopping something they do not like. Plans of Operations seem to be the big push right now with the USFS. They declare you need one to just put a shovel in the ground claiming you are creating a “significant disturbance”. They are saying suction dredgers and even highbankers are causing “stream alterations” and threatening small miners with jail and fines. Just this morning I talked to another Idaho miner with claims down in the southern part of the state the IDWR (Idaho Water Resources) stated he is altering the stream and needs to put “each one of the rocks you removed from your hole in the creek back into its exact position”. This absurd statement is from one of their representatives who has never dredged, nor have they ever witnessed a dredge in operation, nor do they have a background in mining or mining related activities. This representative is also adamant that the miner is “doing it wrong” referring to suction dredging. Why is this? It is ideology. This ideology is created by propaganda and lies about what the miners actually do. We’ve written about how the USFS in the 90’s used to call gold clubs and beg them to come dredge streams and rivers after large fires “to make the fish return”. What has changed since then? Much of the upper management in these agencies have been replaced with people who agree with the opposition to stop mining. Science be damned and facts to be ignored.
We could literally list hundreds of examples where, in the past 20 years regulatory and management agencies are being turned against those who own the public lands, the public. Recently the EPA caused an epic spill on the Animas River which extended through 4 states. Just one short week after this toxic release, the EPA tells the public that all has returned to normal, nothing to see here. Imagine for a minute if this had been a small miner. What do you suppose our government would have done to him? They would likely fine him hundreds of millions of dollars and likely put him in prison all the while saying how evil mining is. What happens to the EPA when this is done? Nothing.
The USFS (United States Forest Service) is now getting into this mix. In last month’s publication of The Mining Journal we wrote about our trip to Idaho, how we stood up to the USFS and one Geologists goal to shut down suction dredging on the South Fork of the Clearwater. This Geologist has publically stated he plans to stop suction dredging on the river and has even laid out some of his methods in recent articles he’s been quoted in. He openly stated he is going to mine claims and state they are not worthy of a valid claim due to the lack of valuable minerals. Makes one wonder if he is mining all of our claims in Idaho without permission.
The USFS is taking their opposition to mining even further with the addition of thousands of gates all across the West. You cannot drive anywhere in the Mother Lode of California now without seeing little signs and gates blocking the public from their own lands under the guise of the Travel Management Plan. They have concocted reasons like the yellow-legged frog, the pink-haired, three-eyed squirrel or some other beast which the environmental groups have sued and settled to protect. This is about ideology, not protecting the forests and streams.
Just last week we went down to the Los Angeles area to prospect with several gold clubs and miners on the San Gabriel River in protest to Mr. Obama’s Executive Action declaring the entire area a National Monument. Mr. Obama’s intent is to make it illegal to pan for gold on this long-time mining area. Immediately after arriving, a USFS LEO (law enforcement officer) approached one of the miners and threatened to cite him for “intent to prospect”. Let that sink in for a minute, “intent to prospect”. Is that like “intent to drive drunk” if I purchase a 12 pack of beer at a grocery store? How about “intent to litter” if I purchase a candy bar with a paper wrapper.
Recently, the government spent a bunch of your tax money to truck in dump truck after dump truck of small gravels, the same size which any dredge creates, and dumped them into the American River in California to create fish habitat. This is the hypocrisy of the opposition. They would rather spend your tax money and demonize suction dredging when suction dredges would create this habitat, not just for free, but would be adding revenue to the state in permits and money spent by the miners in local communities. Local communities are devastated by the illegal moratorium in CA. Families are suffering and businesses are closing.
So what is it going to take to stop this insanity? Unity. We must unite, all of us. Fishermen, hunters, hikers, off-roaders and campers to name a few. Mining claim owners are different from these other groups of people, we own real property and have a fundamental right to access our property and obtain the valuable minerals therein. These other groups have a “privilege” in using their public lands, meaning they can be highly regulated and denied access. If the small miners fall, we all fall. As small miners, we should all be reaching out to these other groups and opening up a dialogue about what problems they have. You will find they are the same. AMRA is actively trying to get in front of a lot of these other groups and have successfully partnered with hound hunters, fishermen, off-roaders and camping groups. They have been locked and blocked from doing the things they love to do just like the miners. We hosted and held for the first time, a unity meeting in California with manufacturers, gold clubs, small miners, retailers and advocacy associations where we all got on the same page and discussed the problems we face, and the solutions to stop them. We are currently planning another meeting in California as well as Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
Want an example of how people uniting can stop government insanity? Look back to 2010 and just two days before the election. The EPA came out and decided they were going to ban lead bullets. The NRA (National Rifle Assoc.) stepped in, mobilized its base of members who then called Congress, told them heck no, and this was stopped dead in its tracks. This is what we need to do as public land users. Unite. Have loud voices. Be heard. We all have common interests, we all face challenges of an ever oppressive regulatory government.
First, let us state we are not Republicans or Democrats, we are just Americans who are deeply concerned with losing access to our public lands because quite frankly, we cannot identify with either party right now. Here’s a little known statistic; In California in 2014, 15.9 percent of 18-to 24-year olds voted in the last Congressional election. Just over 50% voted of those over the age of 40. We all hear the complaints of people saying “why vote, it’s just cancelled out by the big cities like L.A., San Francisco and Sacramento”. True, there are majorities of Democrats, whom are predominantly the opposition to mining in the big cities, but overall, the demographics for California as a whole when divided by county, is Republican or Republican leaning. If these people actually went out and voted, California could be impacted greatly in favor of opening up our public lands. If people reached out to the youth, explained the facts and give them the truth instead of them learning from some ideologue teacher or professor, California could return to some of the Constitutional principles it was founded on. The same goes for other states like Oregon, Washington and Colorado.
Simply put, reach out to other groups, join them, and listen to them, partner with AMRA or another group focused on preserving public lands. Write letters to your Congressman when prompted if it is an issue you oppose. We frequently testify against certain bills, post letters we write on behalf of small miners and encourage our members, followers and fellow miners to do the same. Write a letter, pick up a phone. If you are not voicing your opinion and opposition, you are essentially supporting the opposition. Educate our youth before they are indoctrinated into someone’s political ideology. Vote, and tell everyone else their vote does count. If you don’t vote and speak out, don’t complain when this is all gone and the next generation does not get to experience the freedoms we have.
The other thing all miners can do is get involved in social media like Facebook. AMRA has a very active Facebook page (under American Mining Rights) which we post on an almost daily basis of our activities and what is happening in the small mining community. We post updates on Senate bills and even provide examples of letter to voice opposition to particular bills or other rights-destroying legislation. When any of the Associations post that they need you to write a letter or call a Representative to voice your opinion, do it. Don’t’ just complain, do it. Imagine you are a Senator and you are thinking of voting on a bill. As that Senator, you receive 10 letters asking you to close a giant section of the public lands and two letters opposing this. What would you do? Now imagine if you received 100 letters opposing and 10 for it. This is power of the people and uniting together to a strong voice will impact all of this loss of our public lands.
Get involved, join Facebook, join a gold club or an association like AMRA. If we don’t all unite, and unite now, what are we going to leave for the next generation?