Southwest Oregon gold miner Cliff Tracy hit with second illegal mining charge

Southwest Oregon gold miner Clifford R. Tracy has been charged a second time with illegally mining near a sensitive salmon stream, this time on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property along Galice Creek. 

In 2009, Tracy was convicted for illegally mining on Forest Serviceland along Sucker Creek, like Galice home to Oregon coastal coho salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act. He has applied to mine that same spot again

The latest charge from the U.S. Attorney's Office of Oregon stems from Tracy's operations on the Stray Dog mining claim near Grants Pass. Tracy, 39, of Gold Hill, is due to appear in U.S. District Court on the misdemeanor charge this afternoon. 

In an affidavit backing the charge, William Finch, a BLM law enforcement officer, said Tracy filed a notice of intent in February to mine the claim as on operator for owners John Adams and Mike Swales. The BLM asked him to submit a more formal plan of operations in May, the affidavit says, but Tracy did not respond.

On June 16, two BLM geologists traced a sediment discharge upstream to the claim and found an excavator, a dump truck, a half-acre cleared area near the creek and a mining processing pond. They returned the next day with two federal officers in tow and found Tracy and three other workers moving dirt with the excavator. 

"Tracy refused to accept the suspension order, and said he had work to do," the affidavit says. "Tracy returned to the excavator and continued moving earth at the site and removing materials from the settling pond." 

Sediment discharge from the operation was visible 1 1/2 miles downstream, the affidavit says. BLM officials found Tracy mining again on June 19. 

Tracy had not received the required approvals or posted the required financial guarantee, the federal charge alleges.

Tracy, backed by the Southwest Oregon Mining Association, says federal agencies take too long to process mining requests on federal land opened to mining under the General Mining Act of 1872. Regulators also place onerous environmental requirements on placer or streamside mines, he says.

In an interview this morning, Tracy said his activities on a small portion of the claim were designed to explore the area prior to filing a plan of operations. 

Regulators are stalling mining, he says, at a time when gold prices have hit all-time highs of around $1,500 an ounce -- another mining plan Tracy filed more than two years ago on BLM land is still pending.

"Every acre that's good for mining is located on critical habitat (for coho and spotted owls)," he said. "They're basically shutting down the whole industry."

Last year, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Tracy's arguments after he appealed his conviction for illegally mining Forest Service lands. Tracy had tried to mine there since 1996, including submitting a new request in 2005. 

The panel said it was "sympathetic to Tracy's frustration" over the delays, but noted that he could have filed an administrative appeal or a lawsuit. 

"The law does not look favorably on self-help remedies," the court said. 

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