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» Important: New Operational Guidelines In Effect


SECOND QUARTER, JUNE 2004 VOLUME 18, NUMBER 4

 

All members should read this, because it is important to be aware that our operational guidelines have changed in several areas in response to important fishery issues that have been raised by state and federal agencies, the local Native American tribe and various environmental advocacy groups.

As most members are aware, we pay very close attention to what is happening around us and to the important events occurring within our industry that could have an impact upon our activity. A federal court decision a year ago (United States Eastern District Court of California; US v. Ronald O. Lex and Kenneth Waggener; No. CR S-01-559 LKK; May 14, 2003) that was decided against the U.S. Forest Service on behalf of some miners on the South Fork of the Salmon River has caused substantial confusion about how prospecting and mining activity and related occupancy (camping) should be managed on the forest.

An ongoing group of lawsuits between the miners, Forest Service and environmentalists in Southern Oregon is adding to the confusion and uncertainty until such time as there is a decision from the federal Court in those cases.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has just confirmed a lower federal Court’s decision to withdraw the Coho salmon from the endangered species list in Oregon. There is a nearly identical lawsuit pending in the very same Court right now to eliminate the Coho salmon from the endangered species list in Northern California, which my advisors are believing will be successful very soon.

In short, there are many legal issues in flux at the moment; too many to review in this newsletter. And it is very difficult to predict how it will all come out, or how our program will be affected. In view of this, last September, we hired a very experienced consultant to begin helping us to coordinate with the Forest Service, the local tribe, various State agencies and local environmental groups to identify any critical concerns others might have about our activity, and try to find solutions that will allow us to continue operations with minimal negative impacts, while the bigger issues are being worked out in courtrooms across the west.

Because we have access to so much mining property, we are in a position to cooperate (rather than resist) when there are specific concerns that are important to others who have an interest in the forest.

Most of our active members prospect on a very small scale. Therefore, historically, we have negotiated formal mining programs with the Forest Service that covered all of the activities taking place along our claims within a published set of Operation Guidelines. You guys know them as “The Rules.” The Club then took the responsibility to generally manage our internal affairs so that all of the individual members were operating within the guidelines we had agreed to with the Forest Service and other State and federal agencies. These “group programs” have worked out well during the past 18 years. I am not aware of a single violation the Club has ever been cited for to this day.

It is important to understand that because we are a group of miners, we are not looked upon quite the same as a single, independent mining operation. On the one hand, we have substantial internal management that is very active in preventing abuse and/or negative impacts. The various agencies and groups we are dealing with all acknowledge this. On the other hand, the unknown factor of how many members could show up at the same time and pursue mining operations in a given area makes it difficult for the Forest Service to sign off on a blanket plan or program without setting some limits. There needs to be a balance set between allowing and limiting the activity.

Believe me when I tell you that we have spent countless hours during the past 8 months trying to work out solutions that are in the best long-term interest of our members. As it is time to move forward with the season, the following guidelines will apply beginning immediately:

Klamath and Scott River, Indian, Elk & Thompson Creek Properties: We continue to have group programs in place as before, with the following additional restrictions:

1) No more than 10 dredges per mile on our mining claims along the Klamath and Scott Rivers.

2) No more than 3 dredges per mile on any of our creek claims.

3) On Elk Creek, between the mouth of East Fork of Elk Creek to Cougar Creek (near the 10-mile bridge), dredge holes must be back-filled to approximately the original contour of the streambed when the dredging is finished, because this is a well-used spawning area by Coho salmon. This affects portions of E-3 & E-4.

4) To protect the (very) important cold-water refuges (the places where most of the fish go to escape critically high temperatures in the Klamath during the summer months) at the mouths of tributaries along the critically-warm Klamath River, between June 15 and October 15, there will be no dredging in the following locations:

A. Within 500 feet of the mouth of Dillon Creek on K-27.

B. Within 500 feet upstream and 1,500 feet downstream of Aubrey Creek (This area is not on our claims).

C. Within 500 feet of the mouth of Swillup Creek (This area is not on our claims).

D. Within 500 feet upstream and 2000 feet downstream of the mouth of Ukonom Creek. This is an inaccessible area (deep canyon) of rapids at the upper end of our K-25A claim.

E. Within 500 feet of the mouths of Elk, Little Grider and Indian Creeks on K-22.

F. Within 500 feet of Cade Creek at the upper end of K-20.

G. Within 500 feet of the mouth of O’Neil Creek at K-10, except that dredging is allowed below the major rapids that are downstream of the mouth.

Now let’s please put this into the proper perspective. We are in a position to make concessions that help to protect important fishery resources, because we have so much mining property that is available to our members. We possess the mineral rights to 35 miles of mining properties along the Klamath River, not to mention what we have on the Scott & Salmon Rivers and Elk, Indian and Thompson Creeks.

As we move forward in trying to find our way in harmony with ever-increasing environmental concerns, it is a reasonable strategy to spread ourselves more carefully over a larger area. As we identify the areas that we should avoid disturbing in order to protect important resources, we can acquire more mining property in other areas. That is what we have been doing. This is a win-win strategy that allows our members increased opportunity to mine in a manner that is more user-friendly to the environment.

We have already added 3 miles of new claims for our members to work this year. More will be available soon.


Salmon River Properties

There are too many issues along the Salmon River for us to put a group program in place for motorized mining activity this season, without having to make so many concessions that members would end up with less mining opportunity than independent miners on the river. That is unacceptable. Believe me when I say that everyone involved (dozens of people from State and federal agencies, tribal, local groups and our organization) have tried very hard to work out a group program similar to what we have along the Klamath River. But we could not come up with any program this season that would work nearly as well as allowing members the freedom to file your own individual Notices with the Forest Service.

The issues are too complex to explain in this newsletter. Let me just say that because of them, it is much, much easier for the Forest Service to approve an individual dredger along the Salmon River, than it is for them to give a blanket approval to some unknown quantity of dredgers that could potentially all show up at the same time.

Therefore, the Club is not going to manage a group mining program along the Salmon River this season. Members do continue to have the right to keep any and all of the gold you recover from the claims we possess along the Salmon River.

However, the methods by which you locate and extract the gold along the Salmon River will be a surface management relationship directly between you and the Forest Service. This is something new; because always in the past, the Club negotiated a group program for all members who were prospecting or mining within a specific set of guidelines.

It is difficult to say, because we are breaking new ground here; but my guess is that the operational guidelines that will be acceptable to the Forest Service along the Salmon River for individual miners will probably not be much different than what they have been for our approved group activity. Those are reasonable guidelines that have been worked out over the years. We still use them as part of our program along the Klamath and its other tributaries.

As the Club will not manage a group program along the Salmon River this season, it is important for members to understand that if you intend

to mine for gold along our Salmon properties, you are on your own in the requirement to meet the regulatory requirements of the Forest Service. If you would prefer to avoid this relationship, then I suggest you prospect on the 53 miles of mining property that is available to you through the Club along the Klamath & Scott Rivers and Indian, Elk and Thompson Creeks, where we have group programs in place.

For those who will mine along the Salmon River, a Notice of Intent to conduct mining operations is the method of letting the Forest Service know what your intentions are. There is not any specific format that is required for a Notice. It can even be accomplished in the form of a letter to the District Ranger who manages the area of forest where you wish to mine.

As with any government regulations, each different person you talk to (even within the Forest Service) has his or her own interpretation about what the regulations mean. This is particularly true concerning the threshold level of when a prospector or miner is required to give any notice whatsoever to the Forest Service about his or her activities.

If you would prefer to avoid this relationship, then I suggest you prospect on the 53 miles of mining property that is available to you through the Club along the Klamath & Scott Rivers and Indian, Elk and Thompson Creeks, where we have group programs in place.

Therefore, I am enclosing some source materials that are distributed by the Forest Service concerning the requirements and thresholds whereby Notice is required. You can read them and make your own interpretation. This is the best way.

While we are on that subject, let me just quote from a section of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations:

“Notice of Intent Requirements; 36 CFR 228.4(a) – Locatable Minerals: Sec.228.4 (a) (2) “A notice of intent need not be filed: (iii) For operations which will not involve the use of mechanized earthmoving equipment such as bulldozers or backhoes and will not involve the cutting of trees.”

The Federal Court in Lex & Waggener (case site above) recently spoke on this subject:

“It was uncontested at trial that, at the time the appellants were camping, neither their mining operations nor their camping activities incident to those operations involved any earthmoving equipment or cutting of trees. Thus, under the regulations, until appellants determined that their operations would involve the use of earthmoving equipment or tree-cutting, they were under no obligation to file a notice of intent.”

Lex & Waggener involved a citation the Forest Service (Salmon River) issued to some miners who were camping on their mining claim. They were cited because they had exceeded the regulatory 2-week camping limit the Forest Service imposes upon normal visitors in the forest. The Federal Court spoke very clearly on this subject:

“As the regulations are currently structured, so long as no earthmoving or tree- cutting is involved, a miner can camp on his claim indefinitely, despite the environmental impact that such activity may have.”

Lex & Waggener is a published federal decision that was not appealed by the Forest Service. As I understand it (although I am not a licensed attorney), it is controlling case law on these subjects within the Klamath National Forest. In view of these circumstances, we are in the process of putting this important recent decision up on our web site – and our office will send out a copy to any member wishing to do some homework on your own.

This having been said, I should advise you that each person you speak with within the Forest Service will continue have his or her own (and often different) interpretation of what it all means, especially from one Ranger District to the next.

It is the interpretation of the District Ranger in charge of each District that is the most important to understand. Because, while you and I and the Ranger might each disagree about what the Notice threshold ought to be, I believe we can all agree that we would like to cooperate with each other to make your time in the forest an enjoyable one, rather than one of dispute and confrontation.

The Club’s management strategy has always been to try and find a compromise that everyone can live with.

Since your prospecting or mining operations along the Salmon River are something to work out between yourself and the Ranger(s), I cannot tell you how to manage these affairs. All I can do is suggest that you make contact in advance and do your best to cooperate with their requests. I suppose if there are major disagreements over what is required that cannot be worked out through compromise, it will ultimately be necessary for a judge to make the final determination. In that event, you can expect the Club to put our resources behind the effort to preserve the rights of miners. That would be our duty.

Whatever else they might require Notice for, I know from previous discussions that the Rangers are requesting Notice from independent miners along the Salmon River who:

1) Operate suction dredges or mechanized earth moving equipment.

2) Use a motorized water pump to process materials outside of the existing waterway.

3) Camp for longer than 14 days within a single District.

The Salmon River involves two separate Districts. As members, you have access to mining claims on both of them. If you decide that Notice is required for what you intend to do, the Notice should be sent to the District office which manages the area where you intend to operate:

Orleans District; P. O. Box 410, Orleans, CA 95556 (530) 627-3291
(Mining claims within Orleans District: SA-1, SA-2, SA-2A, SA-3 & SA-4)

Acting District Ranger, Joyce Thompson:
Minerals Officer, Leslie Burrows

Salmon River Ranger District; 11263 N. Hwy 3, Fort Jones, CA 96032 (530) 468-5351
(Mining claims within Salmon River District: SA-5, SAN-2, SAN-4 & SAN-6)

District Ranger, Chance Gowan
Minerals Officer, Carmen Brownell

All of our mining claim locations and individual maps are accessible from our web site. In the event that you do not have Internet access, the office in Happy Camp can provide you with individual maps to support any Notices you decide to file with the Forest Service.

All of the operational changes listed above will be incorporated into the Club’s Operational Guidelines, claims guide information, and the other written materials we publish. Before starting your prospecting or mining activity along any of the Club’s claims, please contact the office for the latest claims guide information about the areas of your interest. They are updated on a regular basis to reflect any changes as they occur.

Kind regards,

Dave McCracken,
General Manager

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