Prospectors Fight for Rights in Black Hills

Forest Service cites fairy slipper orchid as reason to ban new mining claims

 

Prospectors fight for rights in Black Hills

By SARAH REIJONEN
For the GPAA

The U.S. Forest Service proposed nearly 18,000 acres of land in the Black Hills National Forest to be “withdrawn from mineral entry,” which means no new mining claims would be allowed.

 The proposal was recorded in the Federal Register on Sept. 24, 2015, but Sam Griner, a member of the Northern Hills Prospectors — a local chapter of the Gold Prospectors Association of America — said he wouldn’t have even known about the proposed withdrawal had he not scanned the Forest Service’s Schedule of Planned Action (SOPA) website.

 “They were surprised that anybody had caught it,” Griner said. “They expected it to just go through. The Travel Management Plan … just went through and nobody knew to comment on it. It went unchecked and nobody made any comments.”

 The Travel Management Plan that the Forest Service issued back in 2010 shut down roads, affecting area prospectors but primarily impacting hunters, Griner said.

After learning about the proposal to designate nearly 18,000 acres as new Research Natural Areas (RNA) and Botanical Areas (BA), Griner took action action, attending public meetings and sending letters of opposition to nearly every agency and public official he could think of. The public comment period for the proposed mineral withdrawal closed Dec. 23, 2015.

 Griner attended a National Forest Advisory Board Meeting on March 16 at the Mystic Ranger District to oppose the withdrawal. During the meeting, Deputy Forest Supervisor Jerry Krueger said that if approved, the mineral withdrawal would last for two decades. After 20 years, the Forest Service would have to reapply with the Bureau of Land Management for another withdrawal, according to the meeting minutes. Because BLM manages the minerals within the Black Hills National Forest, it — along with the Secretary of the Interior — must give approval for the withdrawal.

 In response to Griner’s land closure concerns, Former Black Hills National Forest Supervisor Craig Bobzien said, “What we are also doing is preserving. During the Forest Planning process in 2005, we found that a number of these areas should be preserved,” according to the meeting minutes. But, Krueger said the plan to withdraw the various sites from mineral entry goes back as far as the late ’90s.

 Northern Hills Prospectors President James Van Hout said the Forest Service’s response to the prospector’s concerns has been disingenuous, at best.

 “They just give us lip service, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll take your comments and concerns and we’ll discuss them,’ ” Van Hout said. “We know exactly where they went. They went into file 13 because they weren’t what they wanted to hear, and we know that. We’re not stupid.”

Van Hout said the Forest Service geologist treated prospectors with the same attitude during a meeting with the agency last October about the areas where mining would be banned.

 “Their geologist had the gall and thought we were just stupid. He made the statement that the U.S. Geological Survey says there’s no minable minerals,” Van Hout said. “I plainly asked him, ‘Have you tested it personally?’ He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Then how do you know there’s not?’ Boots on the ground is the only way you’re going to find out. Then, I asked him how old the report was. The ’50s? And, he didn’t deny it.”

Furthermore, the report related to commercial mining, not prospecting and small-scale mining, Van Hout said.

 “Basically, the report was saying there’s no commercially viable minerals there, meaning no large mining company is going to want to go in and mine it because it us such rough territory and terrain that it would be cost prohibitive for them to go in and mine,” Van Hout said. “But for the small miner, there’s lots of gold in there. Seventeen of 22 of the largest nuggets that came out the Black Hills came out of the major area they want to close.”

 At the same October meeting in Rapid City, Krueger said: “We need to take special measures to protect them [Black Hills] in terms of what can occur there, and so one of the concerns is commercial mineral withdrawal entry,” according to a news report by KEVN Black Hills FOX.

 Krueger later said that it was not the Forest Service’s intention to keep out the small-scale miner, but that because of the way the mining laws are written, there is no distinction between small-scale miners and commercial miners.

 “Initially, we thought that by doing the mineral withdrawal that it would not affect the recreational prospecting groups,” Krueger said. “When we pursued that —again through the public meetings — we were asked to take a look at that through legal channels. The mineral withdrawal covered any mineral withdrawal within these designated areas, and that included recreational prospecting.”

 Although prospectors may not feel like their voices are being heard, Krueger said they managed to get the withdrawal area down from nearly 18,000 acres to 11,000 acres by negotiating terms of the contract with BLM.

 “During the public meetings, which included members of your group, we received feedback that they would like us to pursue in terms of the legal description,” Krueger said. “We’re trying to capture a non-linear polygon with a square block legal description.”

Initially, BLM instructed the Forest Service to submit the proposed withdrawal using a minimum size of 40-acre blocks, so everywhere a 40-acre block touched the perimeter of the withdrawal, the Forest Service had to include that 40 acres. But, the Forest Service was able to negotiate the legal description down to 2.5-acre blocks, Krueger said.

 “It really helped us all out. We could much more accurately capture the research footprint of the Research Natural Area or Botanical Area using a much smaller legal description,” Krueger said.

 According to the Forest Service website, the RNA areas “were selected because of their relatively pristine nature and form part of a national network of ecological areas designated in perpetuity for non-manipulative research, education and biodiversity conservation. Botanical Areas were selected because of unique biological features and rare natural communities.”

 One of these “unique biological features” includes the calypso bulbosa, also known as the “fairy slipper orchid,” which has a G5 national rating and a S3 state rating, according to the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks website. The scale runs from 1 to 5 with 5 being the most plentiful and 1 being the scarcest. The flower has held a G5 ranking for more than a decade, according to the Forest Service website, which noted that the species is “secure, widespread and abundant” in the United States.

 Still, these Cinderella sounding flora are being used as a premise to ban new mining claims.

 “Among those are the lesser yellow lady slipper, which is one of my personal favorites,” Black Hills National Forest Botanist Chelsea Monks said in an interview with South Dakota Public Broadcast. “But, the neat thing about these areas is not just the species that are there, but the assemblage of species that are there, meaning there are species that are co-occurring that don’t normally occur together. So, that’s one of the values that we designated these areas to preserve.”

 Monks is responsible for taking public comments on the proposed withdrawal and oversees the Botanical Areas within the Black Hills National Forest. The orchids may not be endangered, but they are a favorite meal for deer, Van Hout said.

 “Deer love to eat [the fairy slipper] because of the vanilla aroma to it,” Van Hout said. “You can go down one draw, and there will be huge numbers of this flower. You can go over the next ridge into the next draw and you won’t find any or just a few, so they go into those and go, ‘Oh dear, this is a scarce flower.’ It’s ridiculous.”

 Krueger said there is no actual risk of endangerment for the plant life in these areas. Instead, the main purpose for withdrawal is scientific study and preservation.

 “So I guess, in the current management scheme there is no threat. All we’re looking to do with this is to remove the potential for development, which would disturb the sites,” Krueger said.

 The Forest Service currently has five Research Natural Areas and eight Botanical Areas in and around the Black Hills National Forest. Four of the five RNAs were designated in September 2011, including: Hay Creek in Crook County, Wyoming; Fanny/Boles in Custer County, South Dakota; and Canyon City and North Fork Castle Creek in Pennington County, South Dakota.

 Withdrawal means that no new mining claims can be staked, but creating RNAs and BAs have the added limitation of only allowing non-motorized transportation, meaning these areas can only be reached via horseback or on foot, according to the Black Hills National Forest’s online brochure titled “What are Research Natural Areas and Botanical Areas?” This problem with access also came up in 2010 when the Forest Service issued its new Travel Management Plan.

 “What really ticked me off is that they won’t allow disabled people to get to the claim. Everybody else can get to the claim, but it’s the disabled people who are a part of that club who can’t get to the claim, and the Forest Service isn’t doing anything about it,” Griner said. “That’s what really put me over the top and what really drove me.”

 However, Krueger said the proposed withdrawal to designate RNA and BA areas would not modify the existing Travel Management Plan.

 “I don’t have a map that overlays the current Travel Management Plan over the Botanical Areas or the Research Natural Areas, but I can tell you — knowing how many trails we have in the forest and how many roads we have — that I’m quite sure that there are existing trails or roads in those areas.”

 Griner has enlisted the help of the American Mining Rights Association to deal with this potential withdrawal. In fact, Griner was one of the first miners to call on AMRA for support three years ago when the Forest Service first started shutting down roads and access to mining claims in his area, said AMRA President Shannon Poe.

 “The Forest Service is trying to claim all these different flowers, and it’s all pushed by the environmental movement,” Poe said. “They just want to close all this land where these people have mining claims. They’ve been gating and locking and blocking. It’s the same story over and over again. It is frustrating, because he’s reached out to senators, representatives, and he’s not getting a lot of help or traction. Something we’re going to bring a lot more attention to moving forward is putting pressure on lawmakers to step up and help the people they’re supposed to represent.”

 Aside from getting AMRA involved, Van Hout said it is important to recruit fellow outdoor users.

 “We need to start getting the horseback riding groups and biking groups and hunters and fisherman involved,” Van Hout said. “Mining is the main target, but they’re a target, too. They started with the Travel Management Plan. The hunters used to be able to drive to their certain areas and then walk around and hunt, but now have to walk in two or three miles to get to their favorite hunting grounds. I don’t know if you’ve tried to drag a deer or elk three miles … They’ve hit the hunters a little bit, but they’ll hit everybody pretty soon.”

 According to the Forest Service’s Schedule of Planned Actions, a decision is to be made concerning the ban on new mining claims September next year.

 “September 2017 is two years from the date the Notice of Application for Withdrawal was published in the Federal Register and is the date by which the BLM should make a decision of whether or not to withdraw the areas,” Monks stated in an email correspondence with Griner on Aug. 25. “Right now the Forest Service interdisciplinary team is working on analysis for this project and does not yet have findings. Once we have completed our analysis, the Regional Forester will send a recommendation to the BLM and they will make the final decision.”

 The butting of heads with federal agencies has been rampant across the West in the past few years, but Van Hout said it has never been a problem in the Black Hills until now, and he definitely sees a shift in dynamics, he said.

 “We never had to deal with this … The Black Hills have always been pretty much conservative. You did what you want to do as long as you weren’t stepping on anybody’s toes or causing problems. They left everybody alone,” Van Hout said. “The new Forest Service — they’re starting to close us down now. They haven’t closed us yet, but they’re trying.”

 Griner said he feels stabbed in the back by an agency that is supposed to be representative of the people and working for the people.

 “With some people, you give them a bow and arrow for a present and they give you a T-shirt with a bulls-eye on it,” Griner said.

 Sarah Reijonen is a freelance writer based in California. She can be reached  at sarahreijonen@yahoo.com.

 BLACK HILLS NATIONAL FOREST

Rules & Restrictions

Activities allowed in Recreational National Areas (RNA):

• Dispersed Recreation: Non-motorized / Non-mechanized dispersed use including hunting and fishing is allowed without developments such as trails or signs

• Research: Research methods are non-destructive and non-manipulative.

• Education: Opportunities are available to learn about natural processes using methods that are non-destructive and non-manipulative.

• Transportation: Foot and horse travel only

• Vegetation Management: Vegetation management including livestock grazing is used only as needed to conserve the biological characteristics for which the RNA was established using methods with the least impact on desired RNA ecological processes. All lease applications will have “no surface occupancy” stipulation.

• No mineral material permits will be issued.

Activities allowed in Botanical Areas (BA):

• Non-motorized dispersed recreation

• On-road motorized vehicles use is authorized in some areas; however other areas are
designated Roadless Areas

• Minimal timber harvest only when necessary to maintain, restore or enhance ecological values

• Livestock grazing if it does not conflict with the ecological values

• No new mineral material permits

— Source: Black Hills National Forest website

Article as featured in the Pick & Shovel Gazette October-November 2016 edition 

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I Am Legion …

“And He asked him, What is they name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion; for we are many.” Mark 5:9.
“We communists are like seeds and the people are the soil. Wherever we go, we must unite with the people, take root and blossom among them.” Mao Zedong

The environmentalist attack on suction dredging is merely a symptom of the much larger illness. The environmental elitists and the intelligentsia reap the rewards while the citizens foot the bill. The environmentalists have a dream of socialism in which they control the land and the means of production, but they are paid to protect it, rather than people being paid to produce with it.

The lucrative business of endangered species provides an endless flow of money to people who are willing to study the species, but no money goes to those who lost their jobs, their land or their means to earn a living. Money flows to people whose value in the free market is exactly zero, yet they have created an industry entirely funded by taxpayers whereby they earn princely sums of money like $750 an hour for lawyers to sue the government, and $200 an hour for frog researchers. In a free economy who would pay a frog researcher even minimum wage, let alone $200 an hour? A recent six page paper which found mercury moves with each major flood cost taxpayers $50,000 per page. Yet no one blinks an eye at this.

Only your government can afford to force the taxpayers to pay this. How much did you receive last year to study endangered species, to prepare six page research papers or to sue the government? If you’re like us, it was zero.

They’re All In It Together

The interconnected web amongst environmental groups, universities, corporations and the government runs deeper than we think, or would like to think. In July of 2015 the Western Mining Alliance published an article challenging the statements on mercury of a small environmental group with deep ties in the California legislature. In the article they quoted the California Office of Occupational Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) where the OEHHA web page stated no person in California had ever been sickened from mercury in sport fish. A statement which had been on their website for two years.

A mere two weeks later the website was changed. The statement was gone and it was replaced with dire warnings about the hazard of pregnant women eating mercury contaminated fish. This despite the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issuing new guidance on fish consumption which recommended eating more fish. Another recent study published in the January edition of the Journal of Epidemiology showed an increase in the IQ of children whose mothers ate large amounts of fish finding the benefits to the child outweighed any perceived risk of mercury. But, these studies are ignored by the environmentalists who reap millions from studying mercury. No dire threat – no cash.

Take for example a recent front page article in USA Today highlighting some third rate research from the University of California Sanata Barbara. The Sacramento Bee and the Huffington Post screamed headlines of “Toxic Legacy of the Gold Rush.”

Did anyone bother to actually ask if it was toxic? In over 150 years not a single person has been sickened by this mercury yet suddenly it’s “toxic?”

Only Environmentalists Hold the Truth

The Singer Study, which costs taxpayers $280,000 to tell us major floods move sediment and with that sediment the mercury travels down hill, is a study in bilking the taxpayers. Why did we need to spend $280,000 for a six page paper to tell us mercury travels downhills during major floods?

When the Western Mining Alliance made this exact same argument to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board they said we were wrong, afterall how could we know, we didn’t have PhDs. When a person gets paid over a quarter million dollars to tell them the same thing, but in less pages than we explained it, they wring their hands in worry over what will become of the valley with all this mercury.

How much mercury? About .001% moves each flood, or as the paper estimates it will take about 10,000 years for the Gold Rush era mercury to purge from the system. The leading mercury researcher in the country, Dr. Nicholas Ralston of the University of North Dakota states at those levels there is no concern, but that doesn’t make headlines nor does that position receive grant money.

The Truth is Flexible

Two weeks after the Western Mining Alliance released an article based on a California Water Board study which found all fish in gold mining areas were well below US EPA thresholds for mercury the Sacramento Bee ran a story with the headline “Study finds unsafe mercury levels in fish from Delta Watershed.” This report was actually good news, yet there is an amazing ability of the environmentalists to make lemons from lemonade. The Water Board study did find some fish in the Delta were unsafe to eat because mercury travels downhill, collects in low lying, warm areas and transforms into a harmful type of mercury which can be collected in the food chain. However, the good news was virtually all fish from areas where people fished, or swam, or boated had fish which were perfectly safe. Good news? Or the sky is falling?

Four billion dollars per year goes to environmental groups. That kind of money buys the headlines. Who decides at USA Today a six page paper from an obscue researcher is worthy of a headline? Who decides at the Sacramento Bee to report the dire warnings of unsafe fish in the Delta and ignore the vast majority of fish were perfectly safe? Four billion dollars buys a lot of propaganda. It’s clear the environmental groups aren’t doing a whole lot to save the environment such as planting trees or repairing eroding ditches, so where does the money go? It buys this kind of headlines which then prompts yet more grant money to “study the problem.”

While the leftists complain about a country run by capitalists, and the inequality of the free market, they are plotting for a system whereby they control the decision making and the power. It will be their doctrine and their ideology forced upon you. It’s a system of top down planning, sustainability and rationing where everyone is universally miserable. Well, everyone except for the planners. The lessons of the Soviet Union are completely lost on these people, they just think they can plan better.

Yet we have hope. We now know the name of our enemy and it is Legion. Like running into a nest of hornets you rarely know they’re there until you stir them up. This fight is about power, control and money – big money. This country was founded and built by people who asked only for the freedom to pursue their own lives yet now we are faced by those who wish to control your lives for you.

The environmentalists hide their money in the shadows. They twist the truth to ensure a continued stream of grant money to study problems which may not exist. It’s a racket, it’s an industry, it’s corruption and greed. It’s time to shine the light of day and watch them scurry.

Source:  Western Mining Alliance