Miner released pending trial

MEDFORD — A gold miner charged with illegal mining in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest was released from the Jackson County Jail on Monday after promising a U.S. District judge not to visit the claim before his trial without the judge's permission.

Clifford R. Tracy, 37, of Gold Hill, had been in jail since Sept. 9, when he was arrested for mining without a permit. He had earlier refused to sign a court document releasing him if he promised not to continue working his 4.75-acre claim in the Sucker Creek drainage about a dozen miles southeast of Cave Junction.

Although he adamantly denied he was mining illegally throughout the Monday afternoon hearing for a temporary restraining order requested by the U.S. Forest Service, Tracy swore under oath before Judge Owen Panner that he would not visit his claim prior to his trial unless he had permission from the judge beforehand.

The civil trial is set for 9 a.m. Oct. 20. Panner postponed a criminal trial on a misdemeanor charge against Tracy of mining without a permit until after the civil trial.

During the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Evans said the mining activity was illegal because it was done without a permit, and described the environmental damage as irreparable.

"Bottom line, there was no permit," Evans said, adding that the agency had prepared a draft environmental impact statement on the plan of operation earlier this year. "We were working through the process."

But Tracy, speaking for himself during the hearing without his court-appointed attorney present, rejected Evans' description of the damage as "untrue in every way, shape and form."

He noted that he had originally filed for the permit in 1996, then resubmitted it in 2005.

"It became obvious to me that they were not going to give me a permit," he told the judge, adding that the agency is anti-mining as well as anti-miner. "They do not understand the mining laws," he said.

Panner said he was sympathetic to Tracy's frustration but stressed the defendant had to abide by federal law.

After Tracy expressed concern about his equipment unprotected at the site, the judge initially forbade the miner to visit the property at all before the trial. Panner later said Tracy may be able to visit the site after explaining to the judge in writing why he felt he needed to go there.

At one point, Evans offered to have Forest Service law enforcement officers escort Tracy to the claim to check on his equipment.

"I don't feel that is necessary," Tracy replied.

In documents filed with the court, forest officials stated that Tracy mined without a permit, then continued to do so after he was warned and later cited for the violation.

The documents indicated Tracy illegally cut more than 20 trees up to 40 inches in diameter near the stream, dug two large pits on the site, punched in a road and released sediment into the stream, a key watershed for coho salmon, chinook salmon and steelhead trout.

In his proposed plan submitted in 2005, Tracy stated that he would use an excavator, crawler dozer and dump trucks to excavate the placer deposit. The site consisted of previously worked material, an indicator that Sucker Creek has long drawn gold seekers.

The proposal called for mining to begin this year, and during the driest months of the year, ending within five years. Access would be via an existing, rugged road suitable for transporting heavy equipment.

In the draft EIS, the agency called for an alternative that would have more restrictions than requested by Tracy.

The miner sent a note to Wild Rivers District Ranger Joel King on July 1 announcing that he was withdrawing his application.

The agency informed Tracy by letter on July 21 that it considered his letter a withdrawal from his plan of operations and that any timber cutting or mining on the site would be illegal.

The court documents state that two forest employees and an Oregon State Department of Geology and Mineral Industries geologist visited the site on Sept. 2 and witnessed the mining operation, including the stream pollution. Tracy refused to stop mining after being informed it was illegal by the forest's mining administrator, according to the document.

Federal law enforcement officers visited Tracy at his Gold Hill home on Sept. 4 and issued him citations for cutting timber without a permit and mining without a permit on the mining claim, according to an affidavit submitted to the court by a Forest Service law enforcement officer.

The officer stated that he returned to the claim at noon on Sept. 9 and observed Tracy and another man using an excavator to remove material from the pit. Tracy was arrested late that afternoon and charged with cutting timber illegally and mining without a permit.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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