by Marita Noon
The World Championship of Cowboy Action Shooting is held each year in New Mexico. The event, incorporating a Wild West Jubilee, is a multi-day costume party where participants stay in character while competing in the old west town that has been created in the dust east of Albuquerque. I was there as Cookie Krumm. I even won two awards for my costume and character.
Having had fun there all weekend, it was difficult to go back to the “real world” of problems and politics when it was over. Little did I expect the real world would include visions of miners with picks, pans and mules.
I received an e-mail containing the approval for the “Plan of Operations” for exploration of minerals such as tungsten, copper, silver, lead, and zinc. The Finley Basin Exploration Project is in Montana in the Flint Range Inventoried Roadless Area.
Back in the 70’s Union Carbide had drilled 10 exploration holes on the site “which is rated as having moderate to high mineral potential for the majority of the area.” Now, an Australian company wants to invest in America, bringing outside dollars in and creating jobs by exploring the Finley Claims.
This should be great news with America’s economy in need of jobs and investment—except it really is back to the 1800s.
The Forest Service’s approval granted to Finley Mining states that they will “use a team of mules” and that “hand tools will be used to level the drilling pad and clear rocks, debris and any small shrubs.” Additionally, “all disturbances would be reclaimed using hand tools.” Can you say 1873?
Reading the Decision Memo, one gets the feeling that the Forest Service would rather not approve the mining proposal, but there are no real grounds not to. While explaining the “rationale” for the decision, the memo states that the company has the “legal right to conduct exploration activities” and that “The role of the Forest Service is to ensure that mining activities minimize adverse environmental effects. Congress has not given the Forest Service authority to unreasonably circumscribe or prohibit reasonably necessary activities under the 1872 General Mining Law that are otherwise lawful.”
Back in the 70’s Union Carbide did the original exploration with bulldozers and other mechanized equipment. But that was before the Roadless Area Conservation Rule was written and implemented in January 2001 by the Clinton administration.
Now to get approval, the plan had to incorporate mules. A Forest Service representative said that using mechanized equipment would have resulted in delays of multiple years as the proposal would have to go through Washington rather than being dealt with on the local level.
Mine operators will “camp” nearby on private property and “pack” into the site each day—walking on foot and using the mules whenever equipment weight requires their assistance. The Decision Memo also mandates that all equipment must be cleaned “prior to entry on the project area” and that they will use “certified weed free hay for the mule stock.” Additionally, they must remove all trash (“such as cans, bottles and other debris”) daily for “disposal in a state-approved landfill.”
How is America supposed to be competitive on a global scale when we are back to the 1800s, mining our natural resources by hand? This is environmentalism carried to an extreme. It doesn’t matter whether we are extracting tungsten, gold or uranium—or even oil or gas, current policies tie the hands of those who want to explore and make new discoveries, who want to create new wealth and provide real jobs for America. They’ve become like the bootleggers—an illicit business that has to be done under the cover of darkness.
If we want to move ahead in America and maintain our status as a world leader with a strong economic foundation we need to change our attitudes and encourage responsible extraction of our resources. Asking that mining be done with a pick and a mule is going beyond “reasonable”—it is punishment.
Modern methods can use equipment and machinery to extract the resource responsibly and then reclaim the land when the mineral is exhausted.
A crusty old miner with his pack mule is part of the charm of the Wild West Jubilee but they are no longer the real world. Today, we need a government that encourages, rather than punishes, those who are willing to take the risk of exploring, those who are willing to bring funds into the American economy and provide real, private sector jobs.
Marita Noon is the Executive Director at CARE (Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy), the nonprofit organization advocating for your right to energy. CARE is working to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom and the American way of life. Find out more at www.responsiblenergy.org.