PLP president faces uphill battle
Group backs MMAC’s plan to reorganize mining districts
By SARAH REIJONEN
and BRAD JONES
Ron Kliewer bought his first dredge from a little gold mining shop in Azusa, Calif. in 1993.
The shop was called Azusa Gold, and the man who sold him that dredge was Jerry Hobbs, the founder of Public Lands for the People.
“Jerry would tell us about PLP and the importance of everybody joining up and helping to preserve our public lands so people could keep prospecting,” Kliewer said. “At the time, I didn’t think he was such a visionary — it seemed a little far-fetched that we would actually have to fight to keep the lands open and be able to prospect. Then, as time went on, I realized his vision was right on the money. If anything, he underestimated the magnitude of the fight that was coming down the pike.”
Fast forward 23 years and Kliewer has taken the helm as the new president of PLP to preserve the legacy and groundwork that Hobbs started back in 1990 with founding board members Patrick Keene and Barry Wetherby.
Hobbs, who passed away in 2014 after battling heart and kidney disease, made it his life’s work to keep public lands open for outdoor users, especially prospectors. He became a pro-mining and land rights legend—and a formidable foe of radical environmental groups.
Now it’s Kliewer’s job to keep up the fight.
Before he died, Hobbs passed the torch to vice president, Walt Wegner, who served more than a year as PLP president while the board picked up the pieces of such a devastating loss.
“I definitely feel the pressure filling in after Jerry and Walt,” Kliewer said. “Walt is still serving on the PLP board as Treasurer, and he is a mentor to me and newer board members. I also lean on Pat Keene and Dee Stapp.”
Stapp is a past PLP president and longtime friend of Hobbs.
“I call her up once in awhile and get input from her, because she and Jerry Hobbs won a lot of legal battles that most people have long forgotten about, but they’re still on the books. They’ve preserved a lot of rights that would have been gone a long time ago. We probably would have lost dredging in the early ’90s if it hadn’t been for Jerry and Dee.”
Kliewer started prospecting more than 40 years ago as a kid growing up just a bicycle’s ride away from the San Gabriel Canyon in Southern California.
“My dad was a deputy sheriff who patrolled that area and he knew some of the old-time hard rock miners up there,” Kliewer said. “I didn’t know people actually prospected up there, so after I read some books, I found a plan and built
a wooden sluice box with removable riffles and a burlap sack in the bottom of it. I took my homemade sluice box to the San Gabriel River, and tried to figure out how to use it. While prospecting, I met an old-timer who had a quarter-ounce gold nugget pinned on his old, ratty hat, and he said, ‘I found it down there in the turn in the river,’ so I thought, ‘Well, if he can do it, I can do it.’ I was hooked after that.”
After learning how to find gold, Kliewer started to get more and more involved, helping Hobbs by making videos and writing for PLP. In the early ’90s, Kliewer also met George Massie and joined the Gold Prospectors Association of America and Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association.
“I learned some of the finer points of metal detecting, drywashing, dredging. And, after awhile, I started helping and teaching others,” Kliewer said.
Since then, Kliewer has continued to influence the next generation of miners, which means raising responsible stewards of the land.
“For decades, I’ve been taking kids from my church youth group out in the desert to prospect for gold. Nowadays, we dry wash because dredging has been banned in California since 2009,” he said. “Stewardship is one of the things I always stress. Sometimes, I’ll do a contest such as ‘Whoever picks up the most trash over the weekend wins.’ I’ll give them a prize, a gold bag or something. I keep them in the habit of looking for trash and picking it up,” said Kliewer, who also noted the PLPs annual Super Canyon Sweep, in which PLP members pick up trash in the San Gabriel Canyon.
“That’s a big PLP project that’s been going on for a couple of decades,” he said. “It’s a never-ending, thankless job. They carry in the trash faster than we can carry it out. It didn’t used to be like that when I was a kid. There was no trash and no crowds.”
But the times, they are a changin’.
President Barack Obama declared about 350,000 acres of the canyon as the San Gabriel Mountains National Monuments in the fall of 2014. Because prospecting and small-scale mining are often eventually banned or restricted in national monuments, Kliewer said gold prospectors are not as welcome as they once were on the San Gabriel River.
This year, U.S. Forest Service has even declined the PLP’s volunteer offer to clean up trash, saying they have their own people.
The mining districts
With an onslaught of federal land grabs and restrictions on prospecting, small-scale mining and other outdoor uses on public lands, the PLP has shifted its strategy.
A couple of years ago, the PLP decided to back the Minerals and Mining Advisory Council, which aims to reorganize the historical mining districts of the western states
“Recently, two MMAC representatives, Clark Pearson and Joe Martori, went to Washington, D.C. They had several meetings with the Natural Resources Committee and senators,” Kliewer said.
“We plan to submit proposed legislation as a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to reduce the redundant regulations and put the miners up at the level of the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service so that these federal agencies will no longer be allowed to change land uses and designations without the permission of miners and the mining districts,” Kliewer said.
The mining districts already exist under the mining laws and are reasserting their authority under the law, he said. In fact, a mining districts were once the law in many regions of the western frontier.
“So basically, all the mining districts would form a union, much like how the states formed the United States,” he said. “All the mining districts would be grouped together under MMAC, but would still remain autonomous. The MMAC wouldn’t be taking anything from them, but would actually be giving the mining districts a louder, more unified voice in Washington. So that’s our big, big project.”
Changing the political climate
While Kliewer is aware of the changing political climate — much of which has to do with the extreme environmentalist agenda — he said the main goal for PLP is simply getting people involved.
“So many people think, ‘Well, everybody else is doing it, I don’t need to do anything.’ But, that’s not true,” Kliewer said. “That’s how I got involved. I was talking to Jerry for years and he said, ‘Oh, can you come help us?’ I gave money, but as soon as I started interviewing him and putting out videos and writing, the next thing you know I was on the board. The rest is history, just because I cared. It doesn’t get done by itself. We really need people to step up. If we all do a little bit, a lot gets done.”
The next step up from individual involvement is maintaining communication with prospecting clubs, Kliewer said. PLP is working on designating liaisons within each GPAA chapter and each prospecting club for that very purpose.
“We’re going to have one or two people from each club or organization and have meetings or conference calls to tell them what strategies we’re working on and have a two-way conversation about what’s happening in their areas,” Kliewer said.
PLP is also working alongside other pro-mining groups, such as Western Mining Alliance and the New 49ers, Kliewer said.
“All the groups are doing some of their own projects, but from time to time there are things we collaborate on, as well,” said Kliewer, whose non-profit organization is in court alongside the WMA and New 49ers in the California dredging cases. These court battles have been put on hold until the Rinehart case reaches a verdict. PLP is also actively fundraising for the Rinehart legal fund.
“Not everybody can do everything, but we try to concentrate on what we do best, which is litigate. We’re basically the main mining rights group in court fighting the legal battles, and that’s what we’ve done for 26 years,” Kliewer said.
Aside from supporting pro-mining groups, PLP also reaches out to the other public land users — most recently at Steve Blackwell’s Ultimate Outdoor & Gun Show in Cortez, Colo.
“We went to Colorado last month and set up at a huge RV, hunting, outdoor show to try to build bridges with those groups and see if we can get more
support that way,” Kliewer said. “These outdoor groups are recreational; they don’t have rights like miners do to access public lands.”
As well, PLP will have a booth at both GPAA Gold & Treasure Shows in Denver, Colo., and Boise, Idaho, in June. And, PLP has also committed to hosting the annual Oktoberfest event near Randsburg, Calif., this year.
Use it or lose it
Land rights are exclusive to miners, and that’s what PLP plans to drive home.
“As far as what PLP is fighting for, in general, it boils down to private property rights. Those are the foundation of our mining rights and those rights come from the U.S. Constitution, and the framers of our Constitution believed those rights came from God,” Kliewer said. “Those guys aren’t around to fight today, so it’s our turn. We’ve picked up the torch and we’re gonna fight.”
Because, like a muscle, a right isn’t strong if it isn’t exercised, Kliewer said.
“It’s up to us to assert our rights, because if we don’t assert them, we don’t have them,” Kliewer said. “We know they’re on the books, but even though they’re there in writing, if we don’t actually grab a hold of them, they won’t do us any good.”
Sarah Reijonen is a freelance writer based in California. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Brad Jones is the Managing Editor/Communications Director for the Gold Prospectors Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Article as featured in the Pick & Shovel Gazette June-July 2016 edition.