From: Nicholas K. Geranios, Associated Press
Published October 14, 2004 12:00 AM

Environmental Group Draws Attention to 1872 Law by Threatening to Mine Posh Subdivision

SPOKANE, Washington — An environmental group has staked claim to 20 acres of public land next to a posh subdivision to show just how antiquated the nation's mining laws are.


As allowed under the Mining Law of 1872, The Lands Council drove a stake near the Canfield Mountain subdivision in Hayden Lake, Idaho. Nearly one-fourth of all the land in the United States — more than 270 million acres — is open to mining, according to Westerners for Responsible Mining, a coalition of environmental groups that includes The Lands Council.


"Hardrock mining trumps all other uses and values associated with America's public lands," said Mike Petersen of The Lands Council.


The Lands Council now has 90 days to pay a $165 fee to file the claim, which would allow it to mine for gold, silver, copper, or other minerals, he said. Regardless of whether the claim is filed, the group doesn't intend to do any mining, Peterson said.


"We are trying to show that people can go into a rich neighborhood that happens to be on a national forest boundary and tear things up," Petersen said.


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Other environmental groups across the West will be staking similar claims next to neighborhoods, ski areas, and hiking trails to demonstrate that the old law must be amended, Petersen said.


Staking such claims is perfectly legal, said Celia Boddington, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management in Washington, D.C. There is no major effort under way in Congress to amend the mining law, she said.


The National Mining Association contends a reliable supply of minerals is essential to the nation's economic health. The group supports reform that provides a fair economic return to the federal government for mining on public lands, while protecting the economics of U.S. mining.


Environmentalists have long criticized the act, saying it gives public resources to private companies for a small fraction of their real value.


Petersen said one resident of the subdivision came out of his house when he saw the group staking the claim.


"The guy started to freak out a little bit until we told him it was a stunt," Petersen said.


Conservation groups for years have sought to amend the old law, which sets mining as "the highest and best" use of public lands. They contend the law allows mining companies to grab huge swaths of land for a pittance and extract minerals without paying royalties


"We value our watersheds and our communities in the West too much to allow mining to supersede all other uses of our public lands," said Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks in Missoula, Montana.


Mining companies and their allies say the expensive and speculative nature of mining justifies the low fees for developing some public lands into job-producing sites.


Source: Associated Press


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