Medford BLM Destroying Evidence of Southern Oregon Mines

On October 4th, 2011, representatives of Medford BLM hosted a public event to "to discuss features and potential hazards of abandoned mining sites, and the role mining played in Oregon's cultural heritage". The presentation was well attended by members of the South West Oregon Mining Association and the Jefferson Mining District. Also in attendance was Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson.  BLM archaeologists Duane Ericson and Dennis Seipp led the presentation, but appeared to be under the direction of BLM Assistant District Manager Abbie Jossie (who was formerly Field Manager of the Grants Pass "Resource Area"). Ericson is the author of two books on narrow guage mining railroads near the Mexican border.

Ericson and Seipp laid out the basics of Southern Oregon's mining history, then spoke at length about their efforts to seal up old mine workings and to list key historic mines on the National Register in conjunction with the Abandoned Mine Lands Program (AML). Over the last two years, Medford BLM has "inventoried" over 400 hard rock mines in Southern Oregon and has managed to also seal up approximately 35 mine shafts, as well as one adit which was recently sealed neared the historic mining community of Jacksonville, Oregon. When asked if BLM was working with other agencies, in particular Oregon Department of Geology and Minerals (DOGAMI), Seipp stated that this was "just a Medford BLM program", when in fact, as far back as October of 2002, the radical anti mining group Mineral Policy Center, reported that BLM was actively working with not only DOGAMI, but also ODEQ, USFS and the EPA to "prioritize abandoned minesites for clean up and environmental restoration". Meanwhile, the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology reported that "In 1992, the USFS and MBMG entered into the first of these agreements to identify and characterize abandoned and inactive mines on or affecting National Forest System lands in Montana. In 1993, the BLM and MBMG entered into a similar agreement to identify and characterize abandoned and inactive mines on or affecting Bureau of Land Management administered lands in Montana". As well, contrary to the picture that Seipp attempted to paint, BLM and other agencies have actively been closing up old hard rock mines throughout the Western States. Some of their more notable "success stories" include sealing shafts at the Mammoth Spar Mine in the famous Wickenburg District of Arizona, sealing adits at the Lost Arch Mining Camp in California, and recently targeted the famous Davis Stamp Mill for "restoration" near Nevada City in the Mother Lode.

This sealed adit at Lost Arch in California is barely recognizeable as being part of a mine. Photo credit: BLM

As Seipp and Ericson described their program, there are two separate elements to what they are doing.

The first element is to identify and inventory "abandoned" mines, which they describe as mines which have not been worked or claimed since 1981. Despite this, more detailed descriptions of the AML found on the internet clearly describe two classes of mines, one fitting the above description of "abandoned" and the second being "inactive" mines which is applied to ANY mine without an approved Plan of Operations, regardless of whether they are claimed or not. As anyone who has ever attended our meetings at Pottsville is surely aware, there is NO LAWFUL AUTHORITY requiring that a miner of locatable minerals file a Plan of Operation with any agency under the Acts of 1866/1872. Following the assessment of these so-called "abandoned mines", mining shafts, adits and other workings may be sealed by injecting them with foam and capping them with several feet of soil. As earlier indicated, Medford BLM has sealed approximately 36 mine workings in Southern Oregon utilizing this method. While most miners would undoubtedly agree that hard rock mines can be dangerous places, the general concensus was that any safety issues in old mines can be handled by proper use of notices to the public (who should not be on active claims anyway) and the use of headframes to secure shafts and portals.

The second element is to identify and inventory "historic" mines, which Ericson described as any mine or mine processing site that is over 50 years old, which would account for almost EVERY mine in Southern Oregon. In particular, Ericson and Seipp are very interested in local claims that contain old equipment and old structures. In an accompanying slide show, they showed several examples of old mining equipment that can still be found on the Public Domain locally, including a Griffin Mill, two stamp mills and several buildings. They then added that the most exemplary examples would be added to the National Historic Register. Many in attendance quickly noted that they were familiar with the places shown and began to ask some hard questions. In particular, they were asked if the current claim owners had been consulted and if BLM had considered that these old pieces of equipment and varying improvements were property of those claim owners. Seipp admitted that they had not considered the legal ramifications of property law on mining claims, nor did Abbie Jossie, who seemed to be directing the two archaeologists when hit with hard questions, protest the fact that the varying improvements found on mining claims are the lawful property of the current claim holder. In particular, Seipp was asked if a National Register designation would restrict mining on the claims in question. He stated such designation would not restrict mining and admitted that at least one mine featured in the slideshow (which is one of the oldest hard rock mines in the Galice Mining District) was already slated to be added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Research since their presentation indicates that a number of mines and mining related sites in Josephine County, Oregon have already been added to the National Register, including the Cameron Mine, the Deep Gravel Mine, the Esterly Mine, Fry Gulch, the High Gravel Mine, the Plataurica Mine, the Waldo Mine, the "Old Placer Mine", the Osgood Ditch, French Flat and the Logan Cut, all located within the Waldo Mining District. These sites were added to the National Register over a decade ago, clearly indicating that contrary to Seipp's statement that their program has been active for "two years", Medford BLM has been placing mines into the National Register for some time.

Though it appeared that Ericson and Seipp feel that they are doing good things and seem to honestly believe that they are preserving local mining history, in reality, they are actively erasing the prima facia evidence of the mineral characteristics of the mineral estate. The two men stated that they had in fact assembled detailed data on the mines that they were closing, but could not answer if their data would be made publicly available. As well, based on the research we have conducted thus far, contrary to Seipp's statement, designation on the National Register would dramatically hinder mining, possibly halting it completely for a radius of 1/4 mile of the mine itself. Needless to say, this was either a dog and pony show put on to dupe the miners or Ericson and Seipp have been duped into believing that they are doing good things.

Throughout the presentation, Ericson and Seipp seemed to be actively looking to encourage local miners to assist them in their project, but needless to say, the local mining community was not very receptive to this idea and held the view that once again, BLM has no regard for mining rights and is utilizing the excuse of "history" as a way to covertly attack the property rights of claim owners.

In general, it is the opinion of this writer that the AML and the National Register represents two very real threats to the rights of miners and their property everywhere. Miners everywhere should make it a point to utilize the Freedom of Information Act to keep an eye on the AML Program in their area.

At the end of the presentation, members and officers of the Jefferson Mining District approached Ms. Jossie, presented her with a notarized notice of Jefferson's formation and issued a verbal request for co-ordination under 43 USC 1712 between the Jefferson Mining District and Medford BLM regarding the destruction of local mine workings, which will also be backed up in writing.

Related Links:

Abandoned Mine Lands Portal
Learn about history of old mines
Danger in the Mountains
Southern Oregon Was Built on Mining

Listen to Seipp and Ericson's presentation below (please excuse the lack of actual video footage and the emphasis on the audio only - it was intended this way).

Holes In The Hills: Part 1
Length: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Holes In The Hills: Part 2
Length: 38 minutes



Mining Rights (dot) org is copyright 2010 by the South West Oregon Mining Association