Beach mining study bodes well for prospectors
1/3/2011 5:20 PM
Washington State director optimistic about pilot program
By BRAD JONES
GPAA Editor / Content Director
Beach mining has received favorable reviews in a two-year study conducted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Washington State GPAA Director Rob Matthews is pleased with the findings of a WDFW report, which suggests the department is satisfied that prospecting and smallscale mining on and near seven beaches pose no real threat to wildlife or the environment and that ‘beach mining’ should be allowed to continue.
At a subsequent hearing of the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, part of the WDFW, Matthews was even more encouraged by the willingness of the department to accommodate the land rights of miners under existing laws
“Because of budget crunches they are going to see if they can, through rulemaking, allow beach mining to continue in the state of Washington — and not go through the legislative procedure,” Matthews said.
In its report, the commission concluded: “During the course of the pilot project, no significant user conflicts were observed by Parks staff... A few local residents in the North Beach area had voiced some initial trepidation about the activity, but their concerns seemed to wane as the pilot project progressed. Overall, holes on the beach created by prospectors appear to cause no more impact than holes created by recreational razor clam harvesters
”The commission also recommended that further studies of the impact on fish and wildlife be conducted if placer mining is to be allowed in the future.
Based on the results of the two-year pilot program, the commission concluded “Parks staff is open to continuing allowing the activity.”
“I think that everyone concerned will be very excited and positive about the report because it was fair and accurate,” Matthews said.
“The possibility exists for beach mining to be extended to other areas of the state.” he said.
“We’re going to have to work closely with the commission staff of the state parks and Department of Natural Resources to get that accomplished,” he said.
Matthews expects new, less restrictive rules to be in place by late spring or early summer if all continues to go well. Several groups and individuals were involved in the study, including the Resources Coalition, Bedrock Prospectors, the Everett Chapter of the GPAA and the Western Washington chapter of the GPAA. Matthews applauded the efforts of several GPAA and non-GPAA prospecting groups for their participation in the study.
“Many individuals donated considerable time, effort and financial resources to secure this outcome,” he said.
Matthews strives to add local chapters
Matthews, 56, lives in Port Orchard, which lies across Puget Sound from Seattle. He became a GPAA member six years ago and has been actively prospecting for the last five years.
When he joined the GPAA, Matthews soon discovered, much to his chagrin, that there were no active local GPAA chapters in his neck of the woods. Not one who is easily dissuaded, he founded his own — the Western Washington GPAA Chapter and became its president.
He has since helped form the Everett chapter with president Vinny Grasso and is now spearheading an effort to recruit new members and volunteers with the aim of launching more local chapters in Spokane, Wenatchee, Yakima, Tri-Cities and Pullman. Washington GPAA members are looking forward to the 2011 Gold and Treasure Shows, and, in particular, the Puyallup, WA show, Matthews said.
In the meantime, Washington members are busy prospecting, treasure hunting and attending monthly meetings which always include speakers, hands-on training workshops and video presentations, And, of course, planning for monthly outings from February to October at various locations in the State of Washington and Oregon, he said.
Matthews considers it his mandate as state director to inform GPAA members of their rights and responsibilities when it comes to use of public lands.
In fact, he recently distributed a copy of an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court to help educate GPAA members about the issues facing prospectors and miners.
“I realize that it is fairly long and appears overwhelming but we must get a grasp of the issues. Only then, can we discuss and act on them intelligently,” he said.
“The biggest challenges we face are more restrictive state and federal legislation, rule making and court decisions further limiting the legal activities of the small scale prospector,” Matthews said.
Referring to the existing mining laws which allow people the right to prospect on public lands, Matthews said that it has become an uphill battle to preserve those sacred rights.
“The small-scale prospector is in a constant struggle with various authorities and courts, especially in the western states, concerning our mining rights given to us by the Congress of the United States,” he said.
“These issues are not going to go away and we must therefore become not only familiar, but competent, in these issues.”
While, Washington hasn’t faced the same degree of land rights issues and legal battles as some other states, Matthews said it is an ever-present and growing concern among prospectors and miners.
“I haven’t been hit in the face with any land rights issues in this state, yet. So, it is not on my radar screen, but we actively follow and from time to time financially support (GPAA affiliated) groups in Oregon and California taking the land rights issues to the courts,” he said.
“Our goal is to head it off before it spreads north to Washington State.” Although he hasn’t experienced any major confrontations with authorities or radical environmentalist groups, Matthews said the many opponents to prospecting have no clue what modern mining is all about and that miners are just, plain and simply, misunderstood.
“From our perspective, we feel that if the authorities and environmental groups had their way that a 10-foot high fence would be placed around all public lands barring any and all human involvement, because of their misunderstanding as to how we conduct our activities,” Matthews said.
“For example, when the Beach Mining Statute was originally introduced in 2008, we learned that some environmental groups had stated that we would proceed to the beaches with 18-wheel trucks and front-end loaders and strip the beach clean of all its sand,” he said.
“In reality, we left with tablespoons of gold and some five gallon buckets of sand.”
Rob Matthews can be reached at 360-329-6685 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.