PLP fights for access rights in Eldorado National Forest
11/24/2010 12:20 PM
By Brad Jones
GPAA Editor / Content Director
Public Lands for the People, spent a day in court this week in support of its lawsuit against US Forest Service road closures that are preventing miners from accessing their claims in the Eldorado National Forest.
The Eldorado National Forest stretches from Lake Tahoe on its northeastern border to within an hour's drive of Sacramento on the southwest. Following the discovery of gold in 1849, miners who entered California and crossed this land called it el dorado for the fabled Spanish "land of gold."
PLP President Jerry Hobbs said the roads were closed under a project called the "Travel Management Plan," which the US Forest Service has adopted in all national forests.
Hobbs and attorney David Young attended the hearing before Federal District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton on Monday, Nov. 22. in Sacramento.
About two years ago, the US Forest Service filed a motion to dismiss PLP's initial complaint. The PLP then filed an amended complaint, which was met with a second US Forest Service motion to dismiss.
Since the Nov. 22 hearing, the case is under consideration, pending the judges's ruling on whether or not the case will go to trial.
"The basic arguments are whether the US Forest Service can require a Notice of Intent or a Plan of Operation for a miner to access their claim," Hobbs said.
PLP contends that the US Forest Service cannot require either one in accordance with their own regulations, 36 CFR 228.4 A 1 (i).
Hobbs said it is crucial for PLP to win this legal battle because losing it could set a precedent and pave the way for the US Forest Service to implement the Eldorado Travel Management Plan as a template for every national forest in the United States.
"Our hands are tied. We can't compromise," said Hobbs, adding that over the years miners have made too many concessions and that's why they are having to fight so hard to keep their rights today.
A compromise would mean selling out the rights that miners already have under the law to access their claims on public lands, he said.
Forcing miners to submit a Notice of Intent or a Plan of Operation is unnecessary government bureaucratic red tape and deliberate interference, Hobbs said.
"It may take 10 years and you can't mine during that time," he said. "That's the game they play."
The PLP has been inundated with calls from all over the western United States, including Alaska, from disgruntled miners who were shocked to discover that access to their mining claims had been blocked overnight by the Forest Service and they were required to submit a Plan of Operation to access their claims.
"Miners realize that to file a Plan of Operation is a very lengthy process and could be very costly if a bond is required," Hobbs said.
Hobbs said miners and prospectors who are confronted with this arbitrary application of power are encouraged to fight back by presenting the following US Forest Service mining regulation to enforcement officers:
36 CFR 228.4 A 1 (i)
(1) A notice of intent to operate is not required for:
(i) Operations which will be limited to the use of vehicles on existing public roads or roads used and maintained for National Forest System purposes.
"The Forest Service argues that the road is closed," Hobbs said. "But, we say that just because a road closed, doesn‘t mean it does not exist, just like their regulation states — existing roads."
While the US Forest Service argues that closed roads are not Forest Service authorized roads, the PLP counters that these roads are authorized under the Mining Law of 1872 and 1866, Hobbs said.
"The roads have been used for years," Hobbs said. "Why all of a sudden or overnight are they now a disturbance?"
"We won't give a Notice (of Intent) or a or Plan (of Operation)," he said.
During the course of negotiations, it was suggested that miners may be required sign in and out in order to access roads to their claims — much the same as hikers do in some Wilderness areas for safety reasons or in the event they need to be rescued if they do not sign out when expected, Hobbs said.
GPAA President Brandon Johnson said he is hopeful the judge will uphold the law and the rights of the miners to access their claims.
"People have a right to utilize those public lands. It's going to be hard for any organization that stands against PLP to really stand up and say we should impose safety concerns and things like that because this country has a rich history of people going out on their own accord and using public lands," Johnson said.
"They know what they are getting themselves into. It's not as though the government is taking on some sort of liability to the extent where people should have to sign in and out when they are going out to public lands. It's their right," he said. "So, as long as it's done responsibly and its not affecting others and it's got a reasonable effect on the environment with no longterm impact, then in my opinion it would be criminal to shut that down or to prevent people from doing that."
Johnson encourages all GPAA members and other prospecting groups to join efforts to protect property rights.
"Ultimately, I believe that the court will find that it is a right of the people to use public lands. It's theirs." he said. "I think a lot of that will come to the forefront in this case and in a number of other cases the PLP is pursuing."
By becoming a member of the GPAA, you are supporting property rights and supporting existing laws that allow everyone to be able to access and use public lands not only for mining claims, but for metal detecting, treasure hunting and all other types of outdoor recreation including camping and hunting, for example.
The GPAA is the single largest contributor of funds to PLP for the purpose of fighting legal battles to protect land rights. To donate funds to the PLP to help in this legal dispute and others, please visit the PLP website or donate now.