The miners fight back against road closures
By: Mr. Shannon Poe
President American Mining Rights Association (AMRA)
For those who love being a small miner, getting out on your claim and mining is something we anxiously plan for months in advance and dream of finding that glorious paystreak we have all been looking for. Having access to public lands and their Federal mining claims is essential. It is quite deflating to see a new gate put up by the Forest Service with a giant lock blocking your access to your claim. The miners are fighting back over the legality of blocking access to their claims.
Over the past decade, and increasing into hyper speed over the past 6 years, the number of public roads being closed, gated and blocked by giant boulders is nothing short of alarming. Tens of thousands of mining claim owners in just California are being denied access to their valid Federal mining claims. But this isn’t limited to just California, we are hearing reports from Arizona, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and even as far as Maine and Georgia.
Our government is using several methods to lock and block the public from their claims including the new Travel Management Plan, forest fire remediation and environmental allegations such as this one found on a gold claim outside of Groveland CA, “This meadow is closed to protect a natural landscape”. Many of these closures are in direct violation of current laws including the fundamental right to accessing a valid Federal mining claim. Access to mining claims has been disputed many times, and in some cases has reached the highest courts in the land. One of AMRA’s primary missions is to inform and educate the miner what his or her rights are as they pertain to mining claims and the small miner. In the case of the sign in the meadow, only Congress can create laws, not regulatory agencies. What the USFS is essentially doing by putting up a sign and blocking a meadow to “protect a natural landscape” is creating a defacto wilderness. This is illegal.
In US v Hicks, mining claims are recognized as “real property in every sense of the word”. Most are confused by the many publications, regulations and what they hear from fellow miners and gold clubs. As can be seen in the Hicks case, they recognize a mining claim owner on the same level as someone who owns a piece of property with a house on that land. Ever wonder why a claim owner pays taxes on a mining claim? Even the states recognize them as real property and a source of income from those taxes. Does a fisherman pay taxes on his favorite fishing hole? Of course not.
Here are some additional rights a valid Federal mining claim owner has:
Under 30 U.S.C. 615(b) “prohibits the interference, limitation, or restriction of any existing rights to any Federal mining claimant holding a valid mining claim on Federal lands”. This is pretty clear, you have a right to access and mine your claim and no Federal agency can interfere with that right.
Another issue we hear all the time is miners who say they need to fill out a NOI (Notice of Intent) or a POO (Plan of Operations) with the regulatory agencies to mine their claims. This is not true. We have owned claims for many years and have yet to fill out any of these, nor do we have any intent, ever, to fill one out. By doing so, you are entering into a legal, binding contract for them to regulate you and your claim. They are not required unless you create a “significant disturbance”, meaning running a giant backhoe to dig a hole. It is settled case law that “a significant disturbance cannot be created by hand tools”. This includes dredges, picks, shovels, highbankers and other small mining equipment. AMRA is representing (at no charge to the claim owner) a man who has owned a placer claim since 1972. The USFS is trying desperately to take his claim away for reasons unknown at this time. They have even gone so far as to say his claim is an archeological site and have been digging on his claim to try and prove it. This too is a Federal crime. They must obtain permission from the claim owner to put a shovel in the ground, and we are calling them out on it.
Mining claim owners cannot by law be denied access to their claims. Back in February of this year we, we were provided some video of someone who snuck in behind all the gates around the perimeter of the Rim Fire outside of Groveland CA which is completely gated with Federal locks. What that video showed was perimeter gates, then additional gates on the same road a mile or two in. Miles and miles of boulders blocking mining claim access, camping areas enjoyed for generations and giant swaths of roads where one cannot even turn around because of the newly trucked in boulders. AMRA is formally representing East Bay Prospectors, a chapter of the GPAA on this issue at no cost to them. The rim fire area has been closed since September of 2013 and none of the claim owners have been allowed access to those claims including AMRA members accessing AMRA claims as well as other numerous individual claim owners, gold clubs and Associations. We immediately sent several letters to USFS Stanislaus Supervisor Susan Skalski on behalf of the small miners in CA and demanded numerous questions be answered regarding the closures and boulders. Unfortunately, it took the involvement and coordination of Congressman McClintock and Congressman Denham to get her attention as our letters, emails and calls were completely ignored for over 3 months.
In the first part of June, AMRA finally managed to get a face to face with Ms. Skalski over the 300,000 acres of public lands she closed under the umbrella of the “Rim Fire Remediation” after the fire last year. Our primary goal was to determine who gave the directive to deny access to valid mining claim owners in violation of Federal law, to determine why they were lining miles and miles of public lands, camping areas and mining claims with giant, Volkswagen sized boulders and we wanted to know why they were allocating millions of dollars of tax payer money in locking and blocking the public from their lands under the guise of fire remediation.
Literally minutes prior to the meeting, Ms. Skalski presented us with a written response to our letters sent months earlier. She stated in that letter “The placement of gates and/or boulders is a mechanism used to help insure the integrity of the closure”. She continued “As opposed to patented mining claims, mineral leases, and private property inholdings, persons with a placer mining claim do not fall within one of the categories”. As stated, there are numerous, too numerous in fact to list here, cases in which mining claims have been challenged by the Federal agencies and time and again, it has been proven that the courts recognized mining claims as “real property in every sense of the word” (Bradford, 212 U.S. at 394, 29 S.Ct. 349). Even placer claims which are not patented, again, think of the taxes paid on Federal Mining Claims.
To deny access to the mining claims is analogous to USFS putting a gate on the cul-de-sac to your house and stating they will deny your access. The courts have settled this law about how they look at patented and non-patented mining claims. They see zero difference and both claim types have exactly the same access rights.
In the meeting, we presented Ms. Skalski with the various court cases from the 9th Circuit Court in CA on these settled law cases and she was mortified. It was abundantly clear to us in this meeting that the USFS legal department does not research any case law, is woefully uninformed and either willingly violated the rights of the miners or are just incompetent. We also grilled her on the hundreds of tons of boulders trucked in and she referred us to the Travel Management Team which she claimed is responsible for placing them. Ms. Skalski admitted at that time she was the direct supervisor over the travel management team, she is their boss. We have a meeting on July 3rd with Ms. Skalski and her Travel Management Team for the obvious questions of improper allocation of Federal funds for this, and are even taking it a step further. We would like to know specifically where the rocks were quarried, were they inspected for invasive species and was each of the thousands of rocks cleaned prior to introducing them into a new environment. Might as well take a page out of the environmental group’s playbook. This also brings up another violation, the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA). By placing these boulders along the mining claims, they are limiting the accessibility to the claims in direct violation of the ADA. We also presented this to Ms. Skalski and again, she was visibly surprised by the obvious fact the USFS has clearly violated this act.
The meeting did not result in the removal of gates, the issuance of keys to the gates for the small miners, the removal of the rocks or answers of why all of this is taking place…but it will. Obviously, the small miners are on solid ground and unless they are granted access at this next meeting, we will need to litigate this. We are exploring a Federal injunction against the USFS for these egregious and glaring violations of our rights. But it all takes money and they know it. It would appear as if the violations committed by Federal agencies are frequent and blatant, they know we do not have the funds to challenge them in court so many of these atrocities go unchecked. We want to change that.
Last night, while typing this and just one week after our meeting with Ms. Skalski, we read in the local paper that Ms. Skalski has elected to retire in September of this year.
AMRA is a proud partner with PLP, Public Land for the People, the two primary non-profits fighting for the miner’s rights across America. AMRA offers access to their exceptional gold claims all across the western United States for a small tax-deductible donation to the miner’s legal fund. Support AMRA and support PLP, our fundamental rights depend on it.