Gold mining claims sought on NF Clearwater and Kelly Creek

Kent Lufkin

Remember when you could remember everything?
An email is being circulated by the Kelly Creek Flyfishers stating that earlier this year someone posted notices at turnouts, ad hoc camping spots, and access points along the NF Clearwater and Kelly Creek. The notices stated that those areas were now mining claims and asked the public to 'Please Respect Our Private Property'. The wording suggested that the locations were posted and closed to fishing or other public use.

In a call to USFS Regional Geologist Clint Hughes, he confirmed the account in the email about the notices. He went on to describe interest by unknown people or groups in obtaining suction dredging mining claims, but since none has filed a formal application their identities are unknown. Mr. Hughes personally removed the notices he could find along both streams and replaced them with his business card.

According to Mr. Hughes, the fact that gold is currently trading at over $1600 an ounce has motivated people to stake claims not only along these two streams but in other locations in national forests as well.

But any legitimate mining claim grants only mineral rights, NOT property rights or the title to any land. Even when permits are granted, the owners of the permits cannot keep other users from accessing the rivers (although the public can be prohibited from 'materially interfering' with legitimate mining operations.) Mining locations cannot be posted as No Trespassing, simply because a claim was granted.

It gets even more complicated though.

Mr. Hughes told me that the folks who posted the original notices appear to have no intentions of actually working the claim themselves. Instead they or someone acting on their behalf have posted their nonexistant claims for sale on eBay and Craigslist. The USFS and BLM have succeeded in shutting down those posts, but apparently it's like a game of Whack A Mole.

Both agencies are required by law to grant any legitimate mining claim. But before doing so, they need to present their position to an Administrative Law judge who will decide not only the validity of the claim, but weigh the claims of superior use by others, such as fishermen.

Mr. Hughes stated that the USFS is required to prepare a report for the judge that presents competing claims and an evaluation of the commercial viability of the mining claim. Mr. Hughes stated that the USFS won't be able to begin preparing their report until next year and that part of their report will include results from actual test dredging to determine the viability of the claim. Their report will also evaluate competing interests such as recreation and the degree to which those interests use the same area.

Only after the judge rules on the legitimacy of such claims can the agencies then accept and grant applications. Any applications for a claim must be accompanied by a detailed plan that identifies environmental risks, pollution, mitigation etc. USFS and BLM have the right to reject applications that are not accompanied by such a report.

It could be 2 years or more until the case is presented to the judge. In the meantime the USFS is interested in hearing from individuals and groups who may be opposed to granting any such mining claims.

If you feel like sharing your opposition to granting mining claims on the NF Clearwater and Kelly Creek, please contact USFS recreational specialist Adam McCrory at the Potlach-Palouse Ranger District, North Zone, at 208-875-1734.

This is an important issue. Suction dredging can have disastrous effect on the aquatic invertebrates that live in the stream bottom gravel, and which form the base of the food chain for trout.

I've been fishing the Clearwater every year for many years now. I generally don't talk it up much on line, because I don't want to increase the pressure on a sensitive native westslope cutthroat fishery. However, this is one time when support from a broad community of fishermen who appreciate what is one of the finest remaining native westslope fisheries in the Rockies might be needed to keep it as one.

Thanks for the info Kent. I've seen these "claims" up on the Lochsa as well. In addition to "respect our private property rights" these notices also state " you've been warned" or words to that effect. These notices are not only somewhat misleading but also threatening in a vague non-specific sort of way. The "recreational" suction mining has been bad enough over the years, but the thought of large scale placer operations is extremely disturbing.

I think this is something we all need to get involved in. I'm going to call Mr. McCrory Monday morning.

Derek Young

Emerging Rivers Guide Services
I found what appeared to be placer equipment on the St. Joe last weekend, as well as observed active mining activity on a Sky trib a couple of weeks back. Similarly, signs were posted at these locations on the trib, but did not contain any threats, only notifications. I didn't bother to interrupt them. If they are suction dredging, which I've also seen people do on the Yakima, I can't imagine permitting being done that allows it.


Joe Streamer
Just this past weekend, I was fishing with someone on the Hancock tree farm. On the way out we stopped on the bridge over the NF Snoqualmie closest to the Hancock gate. We saw what appeared to be a piece of mining equipment in the river under the bridge. It was some kind of conveyor system that appeared to funnel gravel for sorting. I saw a similar contraption on the Beckler River half a decade ago. It's amazing that it's allowed given the ratio of ecosystem damage to economic benefit.


Active Member
thanks for the FYI.

Write a Letter this weekend and get the neighbors to write

See if the local fly shops sporting goods store allow me to post something.

Every time the wife and I go to this area we both say how special it is.
I say lets watch the operation, but let them be. If they're willing to work for some gold, more power to them, at least they ain't sitting back waiting for a handout. This is the land of free enterprise after all.
After I read this, the little winged fella on my right shoulder said, through tiny tears, the usual things about peace, free enterprise, and the rule of law. Meanwhile, the cloaked little guy on my left shoulder was saying,
"Remember when we used to deal with shit like this with an immediate public lynching?"
There are a lot of suction dredgers along Blewett.

The Idaho claims are different than Washington because of the Clean Water Act, which is administered federally in Idaho and by Washington State DOE. So, I think each individual dredger must obtain a non-source pollution permit from the feds in Idaho, which they don't have to do other words, individuals gold mining in Idaho is a lot more complicated. Unfortunately here, it isn't.

The irony of the suction dredgers on Blewett, as well as the Wenatchee, is most of that watershed is closed to fishing, yet the suction dredgers can get in there...if you haven't seen the plumes of sediment they leave when they are done, PM me and I can send you pictures.

Ok, I found the pictures on my laptop:


And here is one thought...these pictures were taken on the upper reaches of the Pershastin, a stream that is closed to fishing to protect salmon and bull trout.


Kent Lufkin

Remember when you could remember everything?
Notwithstanding the environmental impacts of the suction dredging process itself and the thinly-veiled threats of retaliation by claimants against perceived 'trespassers', I guess what bothers me most about the claims on the NF and Kelly Creek is that they appear to be made by shadowy people or groups - speculators - who seem more intent on turning a profit by selling their dubious claims to others on eBay or Craigslist who are dazzled by the prospect of cashing in on the high price of gold.

As Clint Hughes noted yesterday, the USFS has no way of knowing whether there's any gold at all in either stream. While further testing can reveal the possible viability of the streams as mining resources, there's no such confusion over the area's rich value as a destination for flyfishers. Let's err on the side of protecting the area for what it is, instead of possibly compromising the resource so it can provide a quick buck to speculators.


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