What has happened to the United States Forest Service?
By: Mr. Shannon Poe
President, AMRA, American Mining Rights Association
I remember growing up watching TV and the commercials showing a happy Smokey the Bear reminding me that only I cannot prevent forest fires. He was there to help remind us it is our lands and we need to protect them. I also have positive memories of interactions with Rangers growing up in Oregon while hunting and fishing and can honestly say I don’t remember one single incident which was unfavorable. They were friendly, kind, and seemed to truly enjoy working in the forests protecting our lands. Yes, our lands. The USFS was created way back in the 1870’s and its primary mission was to administer the Federally managed lands for the people. Their motto is “Caring for the land and serving people.
Many of the Rangers back in the day were prior farmers, ranchers, loggers and miners. They were people who worked the land, understood the land and understood the public’s fundamental right to use their lands.
Fast forward to today and we find many within the USFS with starkly different attitudes towards just who’s land it is and how they interact with the public who pays their salaries. Now, mind you, we have many friends in the USFS and not all are bad people. My personal experiences with the USFS firefighters are 100% positive and I must say, I think they are actually tougher than us miners. There are many similarities the miners share with the firefighters. We typically carry heavy packs, it’s normally hotter than hell when we are hiking, we bust through brush and most of us are pretty adept at using a chainsaw. But these women and men are at a level above extreme and they should be recognized for that. Even some of the District Rangers today are still very approachable and respect the public and their use of our lands. We even know of one Ranger who owns a 4” dredge here in California. However, there seems to be a monumental shift about 8 years ago with the LEO’s (law enforcement officers) and even some Geologists and Forest Supervisors.
By now, most of you have probably heard of, or read about the incident three of our AMRA members had last year in the Stanislaus NF where two young USFS LEO’s approached the members panning and running a sluice in a creek near Coulterville CA on their validly held mining claim and verbally demanded to see ID so they could see who was “in their forest”. This incident ended up with one member saying he didn’t need to show ID as he was doing nothing wrong and the LEO pulling out a Taser and pointing it at his face demanding ID be produced or else. This then led to us uncovering about a dozen more incidents with these two LEO’s, and one additional one randomly stopping vehicles on gravel roads, telling the driver and passenger to get out, put their hands on the hoods (sometimes with very small children) and then proceeding to search the vehicles illegally. We still have a 4th Amendment don’t we? After presenting this evidence to the Mariposa County Sheriff, he pulled their LEO capacity from his county, and we believe rightfully so. This investigation and complaint was conveniently swept under the carpet by the Commander of the LEO’s.
Now we see the Supervisor of the Nez Perce NF in Idaho concocting a scheme to just ban suction dredging on the SF Clearwater where AMRA has stood up to the EPA for two years. This is over the EPA’s unconstitutional threats of citing miners $37,500 per day fines and literally a hundred years in jail if they dredge their mining claims, which they have been doing without harming one single fish for 50 years. The issue with the EPA and their authority has been challenged recently by many lawsuits and many of these suits have reigned in the authority, or over-reach of the EPA. The Nez Perce NF Supervisor has just decided to limit the number of dredges which can operate on the SF Clearwater to a maximum of 15 per year.
Factual science and accredited studies on suction dredging is ignored and flawed and faulty science by them is introduced. Hundreds of people oppose this idea, and just a dozen or so agree with it, but the Supervisor is jamming this proposal through anyway. Supervisor Cheryl Probert was asked in a public venue recently why she hadn’t arrested the suction dredgers for dredging last year and she stated “they haven’t done anything wrong yet”. Why is Supervisor Probert so focused on stopping the only effective and environmentally safe method to mine this river? Ideology? Political influence? This isn’t about fish, because if it was, they would ask us to dredge. Back in the 90’s, the USFS used to call around to local gold clubs and ask these people to “come and dredge to bring the fish back” after large fires because they knew back then that dredging creates habitat, not hurt it. There is not one single instance of a dredger harming a fish, other than an absurd study which intentionally tried to hurt fish by sucking them up a dredge hose….not one. The hose we use is the same hose the Department of Fish and Wildlife uses to stock ponds, rivers and streams. I’ve been dredging for 40 years and can honestly say I have not sucked up one fish, ever with my nozzle. They are too smart, too fast and are quite content with watching me work knowing a little morsel will be dislodged shortly they can quickly snatch up. Most of us dredgers know when we start a dredge hole, there are no fish. After the hole is punched, it seems most fish within a mile come and live in that hole. They like the cool water the hole creates and the safety the deeper water provides from overhead raptors. Not to mention the fact they get many, many free meals with the constant bugs which are stirred up from the activity.
Just a week ago, we received an email where a man was cited for gold panning on public lands. The facts are still rather cloudy, but this is the kind of thing we are now seeing almost on a weekly basis. From Montana to California, regulatory and management agencies paid for by the people, to manage the people’s land are turning against the very people who entrusted them to take care of their lands. The LEO’s, (law enforcement officers) are garnering an “us vs them” attitude and frankly, it is alarming.
This seems to be the norm with some USFS Supervisors and other Government regulatory agencies. If they don’t like something, regulate it to death. Sound familiar? Many of these agencies and members of our government cannot overcome congressionally passed laws protecting people like miners, so they revert to regulating it to death. Take guns and ammunition. We all know how one side of the political spectrum feels about guns and ammo. So what do we see? Increased regulation, taxing bullets, manufacturers, restrictions on lead, casings and brass. They are even attacking the primers for cartridges. Hillary Clinton is even backing the idea to allow for gun manufacturers to be held liable and face litigation for anyone who harms another using one of their firearms. What’s next? Sue the car manufacturers because some drunk kills someone? Sue Mattel because some kid clobbers his sister with a Barbie Doll? Are they going to allow someone to sue Ames shovels because someone buried a body after killing them? The absurdity of the ideology is nothing short of stunning.
USFS Supervisor Probert doesn’t like suction dredging and doesn’t like miners, that much is abundantly clear. It is either that, or she’s so deathly afraid an enviro group will sue that all of her decisions are influenced and dictated by the actions of a very small group of people. Sound familiar? Perhaps this analogy will put it into perspective. In today’s environment, if I feel I identify as a woman today (which I most certainly am not), I can use the same restroom as a 12 year old girl in Target. An extremely small minority is dictating public policy. This is the state of our public lands, and the tremendous influence a bunch of agenda driven environmental groups have on public land policy.
We just attended a conference call with the Nez Perce NF which was supposed to give the public the ability to voice opposition to the draft proposal to limit the number of dredges to just 15 on the SF Clearwater. What we learned was this is just theatre intending to give the public the illusion they have power over the very agency who supposedly works for them. There were about 40 people, business owners, miners, ranchers and even State elected politicians in opposition to this proposal and two environmental groups in favor. I guess we will find out soon how the USFS decides to vote on this proposal based on a 20 to 1 opposition. Had we packed that meeting with 400 people, I guarantee this meeting would have had a different outcome.
So what can we do about all this chaos? You must get involved. Do not remain silent any longer. Think of a politician for a minute. What do they fear the most? Not getting reelected. Today’s US politicians become instant millionaires shortly after election to office. They have a huge staff, never buy meals and can spend your money like it is going out of style. They don’t want that gravy train to end, no matter what. They get insider information and literally make millions with this information, you, the lowly public doesn’t have access to. If a politician hears from 30 of his/her constituents and 28 of those are from environmental movement groups, what is that politician going to do with a particular matter? They vote where the wind blows. If that same politician had 200 calls and 170 of them were angry miners, hunters, hikers, fishermen and the like, that very well might influence their stance on a given matter. Ask any miner when the last time they called their Representative to oppose a bill. Better yet, ask them if they even know their Representatives name. This is the primary problem we, as a small mining industry face.
One of the reasons the environmental groups are effective is they are organized and they are well funded. They are constantly engaged in sue and settle litigation and get paid millions by our government in legal fees (yes, our tax money). We must be just as well organized and funded to combat this. Think of where you typically receive your information about a new bill to close a million acres of land you like to mine on. How do you hear about that? An email from a buddy who has forwarded it to you in which he received from a buddy of his? That is quite common and unfortunately, by the time it reaches many of us, it is too late. The window to oppose such a bill has timelines and all the government has to do by law is publish it in the Federal Register, which is nearly impossible to follow. We encourage you to join an active club or join a group on Facebook like AMRA, Miner’s Communication Network or another. We constantly post what is happening to your public lands and what you need to do to oppose bad bills. Get involved, get informed and get vocal.
A little over a year ago, my good friend Robert Guardiola, President of GPAA’s Delta Gold Diggers and AMRA hosted a large meeting in Sacramento called the “Miners Meeting”. We invited Presidents, VP’s and other management staff of every gold club in the state. We invited every manufacturer and retailer in the state and it was a huge success. We are in the final planning stage of another set of meetings, one in Sacramento and one in the Los Angeles area. These are likely going to be late July or early August. Our goal is to eventually take these meetings to other states, not just California, but Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and others. The meeting’s purpose is to educate the leaders of these groups, business and clubs on how to get involved, what they can do to help stop the insanity we are all witnessing. We will also accept some outside individuals if they are not a part of a club, association or business. Think of your last gold club meeting. How many times has someone brought up a new bill closing lands and what happened? It is likely people got angry and once everyone left, a few people may have written a letter in opposition. What if that same group used the first 15 minutes and passed out notepads for everyone to write a letter in opposition? Now you have something which has an impact. It is things like this we intend to focus on in the meetings. We also plan on addressing the legal aspects of what is going on in California with the Water Board and SB637, Brandon Rinehart’s case and mining law in general. An informed and educate industry is a powerful industry. Our goal is to give the miners the knowledge we all have. These meetings are costly, but we believe the payoff is significant.
Another thing we need to focus on is the propaganda coming from the opposition. Perhaps you have heard this saying from Joseph Goebbels, the man who is responsible for the deaths of millions of Jewish people during Hitler’s reign of terror:
If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth. Joseph Goebbels
This is precisely what we see today, lies and propaganda about suction dredging and mining. Because of television, most who don’t know anything about mining at all think all miners use D-10 Cats and rip up the lands. We all know that is not true and many of the TV shows are filmed in other countries which do not have the same strict environmental policies America does. Thankfully, most internet news groups and publications allow for comments and miners are pushing back by calling out the lies, propaganda and outright attempts to demonize mining. Publicly demanding a retraction is something most news agencies hate, but are forced to do if they are caught. Catch them.
We are at a turning point in America. Our government has become so large, so bloated and so powerful, they no longer fear the people. We have an important Presidential election coming up, and while we do not endorse any candidate in politics, we encourage you to dig through the clutter and read each candidate’s plan, then decide. Then get your entire family to vote. This next election will determine if America is converted into something it was never intended to be, or we hopefully have a return to our Constitutional roots, one where the country is for the people, by the people. Where people have rights, granted by God and cannot be taken away. It is long past time we remind them of our rights.
AMRA is a National 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Small Mining Advocacy Association based in Coulterville California. Donations can be made directly on their website and all donations are tax deductible.
AMRA offers access to their more than 60 exceptional gold claims all across the west for a small donation which is used for legal challenges, education and assisting small miners.