From a major highway in Southwest Oregon, one can walk a few miles across public lands into an ancient desert-like, wilderness landscape.
Over 5,000 citizens wrote to the Siskiyou National Forest opposing the mine and many more signed petitions. Local opposition was overwhelming. In 1999, the Forest Service wrote that: "Juxtaposed with the deleterious impacts of road development and mining in an area of incredible natural values is a mining proposal that is seemingly uneconomical and speculative." The decision required Mr. Freeman to demonstrate his mining proposal was a "reasonable and prudent venture" before taking the bulldozers to Rough & Ready Creek.
Instead, in 2001 Mr. Freeman filed a $600 million "takings" case against the United States, alleging that the BLM delayed in granting his mineral patent application and the Forest Service delayed in approving his NICORE mining plan of operation. Siskiyou Project and Mineral Policy Center were granted "friend of the court" status in the lawsuit. Our attorney, Roger Flynn submitted briefs arguing, as he had earlier, that the claims were not valid and did not constitute a property right under the Constitution. The Federal Court of Claims required that BLM determine whether the claims were valid.
After a 3 year mineral review, the largest ever undertaken, BLM's mineral report determined that all the Rough & Ready Creek claims are essentially invalid! The contest states that: "Minerals have not been found on any of the 161 claims in sufficient qualities or quantities to constitute a [mineral] discovery. Any minerals could not have been marketed at a profit as of either 1994 or 2000 ... The lands encompassed by the 161 mining claims are non-mineral in character."
Despite this good news, the fate of Rough & Ready Creek remains uncertain. Mr. Freeman now has the opportunity to challenge BLM's findings. The case will go through a multi-year "claims contest" fight in the Department of Interior's court system and then perhaps federal court. And, since the Department of Interior did not act on the Forest Service and BLM's 2001 proposal to not allow the filing of new mining claims in the area, even if the claims are finally found not valid, someone else or even Mr. Freeman could soon file new mining claims on Rough & Ready Creek.
While there's still much work to be done to protect Rough & Ready Creek, we need to pause, give thanks for the good news and reflect on this very special and unique place and the commitment of so many wonderful people to it.
We thank attorney Roger Flynn of the Western Mining Action Project for taking the case in its early stages, sticking with it for so long and for continuing to represent us.
We thank the thousands of citizens, both local and across the nation, who have worked long and hard to keep Rough & Ready Creek wild and free, and the many organizations and individuals who supported the effort.