LOS ANGELES (CN) – In the heart of Sierra Nevada Gold Rush country, modern day gold miners have challenged federal agents who are trying to shut down unauthorized mining roads carved into the Eldorado National Forest, which takes its name from the mythical Spanish city of gold. Public Lands for the People claims the U.S. Forest Service violated the Wilderness Act and the National Forest Management Act by refusing miners access to the roads.
The road closures are hurting miners at the worst possible time, says lead attorney David Young. “People are being laid off, but if they can mine and get a few ounces of gold, that sometimes makes a difference between being able to put food on the table or buy medicine for their children,” Young said.
Miners and others using motor vehicles have always had free rein to create their own unauthorized routes, according to an environmental impact statement issued by the Eldorado National Forest.
“The number of such routes continues to grow each year, with many of these routes having environmental impacts and safety concerns that have not been addressed,” according to the report.
Citing the need to minimize damage to soil and wildlife and prevent complaints of vandalism from nearby landowners, Eldorado National Forest decided last year to establish a designated system of routes, and prohibit use of unauthorized trails.
But Young says gold mining has been a quintessentially American pastime since gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1848.
“This is a tradition that’s part of being a Westerner,” Young said. “There are an awful lot of people who want to pass this legacy on to their children.”
Miners have a right to seek the minerals, Young said, claiming the government has overstepped its boundaries and will continue to do so if unchecked. He said the closures are not limited to Eldorado National Forest, but are “part of a much larger scheme that affects every large forest and monument. We feel this is but the tip of the iceberg. You take a slice here and there and before you know it you’ve eaten the whole salami.
“There’s a difference between just valuing the land and using the land to preserve human life. If you want to strike a balance, you take it up with Congress. We are operating under federal law here, mining laws that go back well over a century without having to get huge government permission to do this and that. It’s part and parcel of how people live here in this country.”
Public Lands demands that the U.S. Forest Service be enjoined from closing the roads, as specified in its Eldorado National Forest Management Plan.