Convicted miner still out, hunting for gold
Start of his sentence was extended a year
A gold miner who was sentenced to a year in prison late last year for illegal mining is working a gold placer mine in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
Clifford R. Tracy, 40, is mining on the Runwet placer mine on Run Gulch in the Althouse Creek drainage in the Illinois Valley. The claim is in the Wild Rivers Ranger District.
Following a hearing on May 23, U.S. District Court Judge Owen M. Panner in Medford, who originally ordered Tracy to serve a year in prison, extended the date one year for the defendant to begin serving his sentence. He is now ordered to report to jail on May 23, 2013.
However, Panner stipulated that the government can request a hearing at any time before that date to address the defendant's conduct.
"If the court finds defendant has not followed the court's direction in complying with mining regulations, this court may shorten the time for defendant's surrender date," Panner warned in the court order.
Tracy, who could not be reached for comment, has been to court twice in the past three years to answer to charges of illegal mining on public land.
Noting he had an approved plan of operations for mining on national forest land, Tracy requested the extension before beginning his sentence to give him time to earn money to pay for fines he has incurred for what the court determined was illegal mining activity.
The U.S. Forest Service does not have the authority to deny a mining application because of prior convictions, said forest spokeswoman Virginia Gibbons.
"He submitted a plan of operation, and it has been approved," she said. "He has fulfilled the requirement to legally mine. He has a legal operation in place.
"We don't have any regulatory authority to deny someone the ability to operate a mining operation based on past practices," she said.
However, the agency plans to keep a close eye on his operation, she said.
"What we can do is monitor his claim very closely," she said. "If he is not in compliance, we will redirect him and give him a reasonable time to get back in compliance."
Moreover, Judge Panner has made it clear he will not tolerate anything less than full compliance with the law, she noted.
But George Sexton, conservation director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland, expressed astonishment that Tracy is back mining on public land.
"Frankly, I'm stunned that after two strikes he's still mining on federal lands," Sexton observed.
"We are concerned about the lack of justice for salmon, steelhead and those Americans who play by the rules on lands and rivers that belong to all of us.
"Mr. Tracy is a repeat offender who clearly believes he is above the law," he added. "We think it's wrong that he keeps trashing public lands and leaving taxpayers to clean up the mess."
The streams where Tracy was found to be mining illegally are both important for salmon and steelhead rearing, he said.
"The impacts on Sucker and Galice creeks were pretty extreme," he said, adding that he is concerned that similar mining practices will be employed on Run Gulch.
The plan of operations for the Runwet placer mine was approved by district ranger Roy Bergstrom on Nov. 18, 2011. The proposed plan complied with the mining and environmental laws, Bergstrom concluded.
Although gold mining is allowed on national forests under the federal General Mining Law of 1872, no operations can begin until the district ranger approves a plan of operations, according to officials.
In last year's case, Tracy was found guilty of illegal mining — a misdemeanor — but innocent of another charge of releasing a pollutant into a stream.
Both counts stemmed from a June 2011 mining operation involving the Stray Dog placer claim on Galice Creek in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District. The creek flows into the Rogue River about 20 miles west of Grants Pass.
Tracy, who represented himself in the two-day trial, repeatedly cited the 1872 mining law in his defense. He continually expressed his frustration with the slow pace of working with what he considered a federal bureaucracy opposed to mining.
In 2009, Tracy was convicted of illegal mining on Sucker Creek in the Wild Rivers district. Forest officials say Tracy cut down all trees within 25 feet of the claim on Sucker Creek, allowed sediment into the creek from a leaking mining pond and built a road and ford below environmental standards. Further, they say he mined without a permit and continued to do so after he was warned and later cited for the violation.
Tracy, who had argued that he followed normal mining practices, was placed on 12 months probation for his illegal mining and received a small fine in that case.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at email@example.com.