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The following correspondence has been initiated in response to an incident where rockhounds were surveilled and subsequently cited and fined $1000.00 ea for "Theft of Government Property" and "Destruction of Public Property" for collecting Staurolite "Fairy Crosses" in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest District in Georgia. This is I feel another attempt to scuttle the hobby altogether on "Public Lands". This may be the first in a series of fact-finding missions and attempts to help preserve our hobby for future generations. Comments are welcome!

EMAIL COMMENT HERE


1st Correspondence: 04/02/2009


Virgil G Richards

Oklahoma State Director

Rocky Mountain Federation of Mineralogical Societies

VP – Tulsa Rock and Mineral Society

26815 E 51st

Broken Arrow , Oklahoma 74014

PH. 918-640-9592 FAX: 918-660-0419

dws@dances-with-snakes.com

 

Forest Supervisor's Office
Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests
1755 Cleveland Highway
Gainesville , GA 30501

Phone: 770 297-3000
Fax: 770 297-3011

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to you for information regarding the status of casual rock & mineral collecting (otherwise known as “Rockhounding”) in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests. Naturally this inquiry excludes protected scenic areas, wilderness designated areas, and protected rivers and streams. My inquiry would include surface collecting of minor quantities of common rocks and minerals of insignificant commercial value for personal use, and possibly educational specimens for school age children. This collecting activity would be necessarily limited to surface collecting and possible shallow sub-surface collection (using only hand tools such as a trowel, geology hammer or geological pick, small hand rake or scratching tool) to a depth of less than 12 inches in any instance.

Rocks and minerals of general interest would be common surface rocks of sedimentary, igneous, or metamorphic origin, insignificant invertebrate fossil material if present, common plant fossils or petrified wood if present as allowed by federal law (including the recently passed Paleontological Resources Preservation Act in H.R. 146, with amendments).

Rocks and minerals of specific interest would be quartz, and quartz containing rocks such as pegmatite, gem material such as garnet, corundum, beryl, etc, if present, Staurolite (fairy crosses) and the like. One site of particular interest is in the Blue Ridge area, five or six miles outside of the Cohutta Wilderness where Staurolite has been collected for more than 30 years by area rockhounds and collectors across the country. This site has been known to produce some nice specimens of Staurolite (otherwise known as “Fairy Crosses”) with some minor scratching about of the surface. My research into the area has led to the following conclusion(s):

The forest plan shows a category 9H Management area, Maintenance and Restoration of plant associations. The forest plan states this area is suitable for timber production, OHV's are allowed, and mineral leases would be allowed. The forest plan in the mineral section says collection of a small amount of surface mineral materials such as in rockhounding would be allowed until unacceptable resource damage occurs and provided no power digging tools are used. On the two page recreation sheet for Georgia US Forest Service, for Rockhounding it states “Special permission, permits, or fees are not required to take a handful of rocks from the surface as long as specimens are for personal use and significant surface disturbance does not occur.”

I would however like to get a clarification of the phrase “and significant surface disturbance does not occur.”

Likewise I have researched federal regulations and codes to further enhance my knowledge of the law. The specifics researched are as follows:

36 CFR, § 228.1

30 CFS, 2, § 22

H.R. 146 W/Amendments, Subtitle D--Paleontological Resources Preservation

SEC. 6301. DEFINITIONS.

My proposed activity would be of negligible impact to the surface (perhaps equal to a black bear searching for grubs!) It would also include remediation of any minor surface disturbances resulting from the proposed activity (such as re-filling small holes and raking the surface, replacing any leaf litter removed, etc.) Any specimens collected would be used for personal collection, and for the purposes of education of school aged children. (May be used as handouts).

I would very much appreciate your response in this matter as I have a planned trip to Western NC and Northern GA toward the end of June, 2009. Your response will guide my plans for what parts of the state I may visit. Obviously areas favorable to my planned activities will receive first consideration. I hope that I may include your beautiful forest environs in these plans.

Respectfully,

Virgil G Richards

A reply may be faxed to me at 918-660-0419, or emailed to me at:

dws@dances-with-snakes.com

Thank you for your cooperation!

 


The inquiry was sent via fax.


2nd Correspondence: 04/23/2009


Virgil G Richards

Oklahoma State Director

Rocky Mountain Federation of Mineralogical Societies

VP – Tulsa Rock and Mineral Society

26815 E 51st

Broken Arrow , Oklahoma 74014

PH. 918-640-9592 FAX: 918-660-0419

dws@dances-with-snakes.com

Forest Supervisor's Office
Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests
1755 Cleveland Highway
Gainesville , GA 30501
Phone: 770 297-3000
Fax: 770 297-3011

2nd Attempt

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to you for information regarding the status of casual rock & mineral collecting (otherwise known as “Rockhounding”) in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests. Naturally this inquiry excludes protected scenic areas, wilderness designated areas, and protected rivers and streams. My inquiry would include surface collecting of minor quantities of common rocks and minerals of insignificant commercial value for personal use, and possibly educational specimens for school age children. This collecting activity would be necessarily limited to surface collecting and possible shallow sub-surface collection (using only hand tools such as a trowel, geology hammer or geological pick, small hand rake or scratching tool) to a depth of less than 12 inches in any instance.

Rocks and minerals of general interest would be common surface rocks of sedimentary, igneous, or metamorphic origin, insignificant invertebrate fossil material if present, common plant fossils or petrified wood if present as allowed by federal law (including the recently passed Paleontological Resources Preservation Act in H.R. 146, with amendments).

Rocks and minerals of specific interest would be quartz, and quartz containing rocks such as pegmatite, gem material such as garnet, corundum, beryl, etc, if present, Staurolite (fairy crosses) and the like. One site of particular interest is in the Blue Ridge area, five or six miles outside of the Cohutta Wilderness where Staurolite has been collected for more than 30 years by area rockhounds and collectors across the country. This site has been known to produce some nice specimens of Staurolite (otherwise known as “Fairy Crosses”) with some minor scratching about of the surface. My research into the area has led to the following conclusion(s):

The forest plan shows a category 9H Management area, Maintenance and Restoration of plant associations. The forest plan states this area is suitable for timber production, OHV's are allowed, and mineral leases would be allowed. The forest plan in the mineral section says collection of a small amount of surface mineral materials such as in rockhounding would be allowed until unacceptable resource damage occurs and provided no power digging tools are used. On the two page recreation sheet for Georgia US Forest Service, for Rockhounding it states “Special permission, permits, or fees are not required to take a handful of rocks from the surface as long as specimens are for personal use and significant surface disturbance does not occur.”

I would however like to get a clarification of the phrase “and significant surface disturbance does not occur.”

Likewise I have researched federal regulations and codes to further enhance my knowledge of the law. The specifics researched are as follows:

36 CFR, § 228.1

30 CFS, 2, § 22

H.R. 146 W/Amendments, Subtitle D--Paleontological Resources Preservation

SEC. 6301. DEFINITIONS.

My proposed activity would be of negligible impact to the surface (perhaps equal to a black bear searching for grubs!) It would also include remediation of any minor surface disturbances resulting from the proposed activity (such as re-filling small holes and raking the surface, replacing any leaf litter removed, etc.) Any specimens collected would be used for personal collection, and for the purposes of education of school aged children. (May be used as handouts).

I would very much appreciate your response in this matter as I have a planned trip to Western NC and Northern GA toward the end of June, 2009. Your response will guide my plans for what parts of the state I may visit. Obviously areas favorable to my planned activities will receive first consideration. I hope that I may include your beautiful forest environs in these plans.

I would like to request a copy of the FS plan for the Chatahoochee – Oconee NF, as well as a Rockhounding Brochure, and other pertinent information be mailed to me at:

Virgil G Richards

28615 E 51st

Broken Arrow , OK 74014

 

Respectfully,

Virgil G Richards

A reply may be faxed to me at 918-660-0419, or emailed to me at:

dws@dances-with-snakes.com  

Thank you for your cooperation!


On 05/20/2009 I received the following letter via mail from George M. Bain, Forest Supervisor, Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest:


United States Department of Agriculture

Forest Service

Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests Supervisor's Office

1755 Cleveland Highway Gainesville , GA 30501 (770) 297-3000

File Code: 2860/1600-112300-12860

Date: MAY 1 2 2009

                      

Virgil G. Richards Oklahoma State Director

Rocky Mountain Federation of Mineralogical Societies 26815 East 51st Street

Broken Arrow , OK 74014

Dear Mr. Richards:

Thank you for the letter you faxed to us on April 2, 2009 regarding the status of recreational (casual) rock and mineral collecting in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests. In the course of researching this matter, it has been brought to our attention by our regional and national minerals program managers, we have been operating under a widespread and long standing misconception about the casual collection of minerals in many of the national forests in the eastern United States . We believe this misunderstanding stems from the difference in the laws and regulations that apply to public domain land and acquired land. As you may know, public domain land has always been owned by the federal government from the very beginning of our country. Acquired land is land that was once privately owned and bought by the federal government under a set of laws and regulations different from those that regulate public domain land.

The conclusion we have come to is that on most national forest land in the eastern United States that is acquired land, we have no legal authority to allow collection and removal of minerals from national forests. We are keenly aware this is not a finding that will be easily accepted or popular with people who have collected rocks and minerals or panned for gold as a form of recreation or for educational purposes. We are studying our options to establish a clear policy for this activity in the future. But for now, we are not able to allow any collection of minerals or

-panning for-gold in the Chattahoochee- Oconee National Forests.

Sincerely,

(~

GEORGE M. BAIN Forest Supervisor

cc: Phil deHenaut

Caring for the Land and Serving People ,..

Printed on Recycled Paper          •• ,


Okay. Sooooo, contrary to the published Forest Service Plan, NO collecting of minerals, surface or otherwise, is permitted in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests according to Mr. Bain.

Soooooo, how is the public supposed to know this if there is no public information available on this supposed ban?

Read my response letter to Mr. Bain which was faxed on 05/21/2009. We will see how long it takes this time to illicit a response.


Virgil G Richards

Oklahoma State Director

Rocky Mountain Federation of Mineralogical Societies

26815 E 51st

Broken Arrow , OK 74014

 

George M. Bain

United States Department of Agriculture

Forest Service

Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests Supervisor's Office

1755 Cleveland Highway Gainesville , GA 30501

(770) 297-3000

 

Dear Mr. Bain:

I suppose I must be hard-headed or perhaps just confused in regards to your own Forest Management Plan. In your letter dated May 12, 2009 you state that your department has been operating under a “widespread and long-standing misconception”. I don’t believe this is the case at all. Rules have been established which govern these circumstances in regards to acquired lands and these rules are well known and published.

By acknowledgment, The Chattahoochee-Oconee NF has acquired mineral rights by default to more than 130,000 acres of the forest lands in the Chattahoochee-Oconee NF. That is nearly 18% of the 749,901 acres in Georgia encompassed by the Chattahoochee National Forest . Contrary to your statement that you have no legal authority to allow the casual collection of minerals from National Forests, I believe it to be the direct opposite on at least 130,000 acres of the Chattahoochee-Oconee NF.

Under the letter of the law, the public has the right to assume the opposite of what you have told me per your published forest plan. Do you plan to fine and/or arrest every individual who picks up a rock from the National Forest?

The information available to the public:

[1]CHATTAHOOCHEE-OCONEE NATIONAL FORESTS

LAND AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT PLAN

Chapter 2

Minerals

BACKGROUND

Congress has passed various laws providing for the exploration and development of mineral resources on national Forest System lands. Federal mineral resources are divided into three categories: (1) locatable minerals, (2) leasable minerals, and (3) salable (common variety) minerals. Locatable mineral exploration and development is authorized by the 1872 Mining Law that applies to Public Domain status lands. This Forest has no Public Domain status lands, which means that the locatable mineral program does not apply. However, locatable minerals (e.g., gold silver lead, iron, copper, etc.) become leasable on acquired status lands. All the Federal lands in the state of Georgia have been acquired; that is, obtained from private sector ownership. Leasable minerals are managed in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM is the federal agency that issues all mineral leases. Leasable minerals include the “locatable” minerals that occur on acquired status lands - the energy minerals (e.g., coal, oil, gas geothermal, oil shale) and phosphate, sodium and potassium. Salable minerals (e.g., sand, gravel, clay, stone, and rip-rap) are managed solely by the Forest Service on National Forest System lands. Currently there are no active minerals leases on the    

Forest . The Forest issues about 50 permits annually for common variety mineral materials, such as gravel or fieldstone. In the last five years, through legal procedures, the Forest obtained the surface mineral rights to approximately 130,000 acres located in 16 counties in Georgia through the Georgia Dormant Minerals Act. This Act allows the mineral rights to be obtained when the estate is split when the land is acquired and the owner of the minerals has not paid taxes nor worked the minerals in the previous seven years. The Federal government presently owns the rights to all minerals on about 98 percent of the Forest acreage. Mineral rights on the remaining 2 percent of the Forest acreage are privately owned (either reserved or outstanding minerals rights), and the owner has paid taxes on the mineral rights in the previous seven years. Outstanding mineral rights are property rights that were established and separated from the surface estate prior to the government’s acquisition of the estate. Reserved mineral rights are established when the Federal government purchases only the surface estate and the mineral estate remains with the seller. The Forest Service, as surface owner, cannot exclude entry by the mineral estate owner, either permanently or for an unreasonable amount of time. The mineral estate owner has the right to make such use of the surface as is reasonably necessary. Since the 1830s, gold prospecting and mining has been part of the North Georgia experience. Today it is limited in scope to recreational status. This is true on the Chattahoochee NF where commercial mining activities occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

And specifically:

FW-168

Collection of small amounts of surface mineral materials, such as in rockhounding, is allowed on the Forest, unless or until unacceptable resource damage occurs and provided that specimens are for personal noncommercial uses, neither hand nor power digging tools are used, collection does not conflict with existing mineral rights, and collection is not constrained by a more stringent standard at the specific location.

FW-169

Recreational gold panning is allowed on the Forest , provided that neither hand nor power digging tools are used; collection does not conflict with existing mineral rights; and collection is not prohibited elsewhere in the Plan.

Mr. Bain,

Your current assessment of the situation seems to me to be contradictory to the rules and regulations set forth by the NFS as a whole. Your assessment certainly doesn’t apply to Eastern NFS PUBLIC LANDS outside the state of Georgia . The majority of Eastern US Forests appear to have clear policy established and do allow recreational rockhounding / gold-panning, and prospecting. Many have established plans and areas specifically developed for such recreation. Therefore I am at a loss as to your conclusion. It would behoove the Chattahoochee-Oconee NF to inform the public of your seemingly recent decision to close the National Forest lands in Georgia to this type recreation for which the Federal Government appears to have clear guidelines.

You are correct in your assessment that this “decision” isn’t going to be popular with the public and/or the rockhounding , recreational gold panning, and educational communities. It seems to be a pointed effort to restrict our communities from using public lands for our recreation of choice.

You state that your department does not have the legal authority to allow the recreational collection of minerals on the NF. For at least 130,000 acres, you do have that authority. For the remainder, the BLM and/or the individual mineral estate owner appear to have that authority per the background information above.

It may seem that I am being confrontational on this matter. That is not necessarily my intent. It is however, my intent to have a voice in defense of my rights as a US Citizen to have access to public lands for which the NFS is a steward. Since the late 40’s, rockhounding has been an American pastime. In the 50’, 60’ and 70’s in became a common family recreation, and vacation highlight. I support common sense management and conservation of mineral resources as is appropriate. The NFS, BLM, NWS, USGS, and more support these values, and generally act appropriately in establishing guidelines that allow for this type of recreation, even to the point of developing areas specifically for the activities in question. The lines between public domain lands and acquired lands are clearly drawn and policies have been set forth governing both situations.

I feel that your statement: “we are not able to allow any collection of minerals or panning for gold in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests” is a direct contradiction to FW-168 and FW-169 of the Chattahoochee-Oconee Forest Plan as published, and until such a time as the public is appropriately informed of a complete ban, is technically un-enforceable.

In researching this issue I have come across an incident on the internet that describes two rock-hounds being surveilled and subsequently cited and fined $1000 ea for collecting Staurolite crystals in the Chattahoochee NF. My understanding is that the charges were Theft of Government Property and Destruction of Public Property. This is scary from my viewpoint, as the charges and fines are felony level offenses! Since when is rock-hounding a felony? The NFS governs the surface minerals, and if the area in question is within the 130,000 acres to which the NFS acquired mineral estates, they were not breaking the law! On the other 619,000 acres, surface collecting is certainly allowable per the published criteria. How is it that they were so mistreated by your employees, and why was this allowed to happen? Were they being made examples of? I would be interested in knowing the exact circumstances that led to this incident so as to better understand your stance on the matter. My intent is to help provide insight to the rock-hounding community’s interests in collectable rocks and minerals within the Chattahoochee-Oconee NF system. I would appreciate any correspondence and supporting documentation you can provide in this matter.

 

Sincerely,

 

Virgil G Richards

Oklahoma State Director

Rocky Mountain Federation of Mineralogical Societies

 

[1] Ref: http://www.fs.fed.us/conf/200401-plan/3-P-ch-2.pdf


BLM>ES>Minerals>Solid Minerals
Print Page
General Information:

Use authorizations for solid mineral activities are controlled according to the type of mineral involved, and by the type of Federal ownership on which they are found.  Solid minerals can be broken into four types: (1) coal, (2) leasable minerals, (3) hardrock (locatable) minerals, and (4) common variety materials.  Eastern States does not have any geothermal resources or oil shale resources.

Federal land and mineral ownership is divided into two types: Public Domain and acquired.  Public Domain lands have always been in Federal ownership, while acquired lands were purchased by the government from private individuals.  On Public Domain lands, where Eastern States has jurisdiction over both the surface and the mineral rights, the lands are managed according to multiple-use concepts.  On acquired lands, where Eastern States governs the mineral rights but not the surface, we work closely with the surface manager/owner (most often, the U.S. Forest Service) to encourage access to and development of the minerals.  In either case, Eastern States carries out the planned management, conservation, and development of its solid mineral resources in an environmentally safe and economically sound manner, so that current and future benefits for the public interest will be realized.

Before deciding whether to lease a particular parcel for mining, Eastern States conducts an environmental analysis.  If the area is deemed suitable and it is leased, we then review the proposed mine plan before any mining can begin.  Once development has begun, Eastern States inspects the operation of the mine to make sure that Federal regulations and lease terms are being followed.  This oversight also applies to proper abandonment of the mine.  In the case of coal, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement has reclamation responsibility.  The mine operator is required to comply with all Federal and state laws and regulations, especially those that pertain to the protection of air, water, and natural resources, and includes those involving mine safety and employee health.  The overall goal is to allow for the development of minerals and their contribution to the nation's economy in such a manner that other important resources are protected.

Coal:

At Eastern States, coal deposits are found on federally-owned, subsurface lands in Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.  In terms of use authorization, coal is treated as a leasable mineral whether it is on Public Domain or acquired lands, and all coal leases are sold by competitive, sealed bid.  Royalties must be paid on all producing leases.  The regulations governing coal management are found in the 43 CFR 3400.

Leasable Minerals:

The leasable solid minerals (other than coal) are generally minerals that are found in bedded deposits, which means that they lie in seams or beds which have lateral extent.  The main types of leasable minerals are: chlorides, sulfates, carbonates, borates, silicates, and nitrates of potassium (potash) or sodium and related products; sulfur; phosphate and its associated and related minerals; asphalt; and gilsonite.  These minerals are leasable on both Public Domain and acquired lands.  If deposits are known to exist and to be economically workable, leases are sold competitively. If deposits are not known, a prospecting permit can be obtained on a first-come, first-served basis, which allows the permittee to explore for the mineral.  If the mineral is then found in commercial quantities, a preference right lease can be issued to the permittee.  Royalties must be paid on all producing leases.  The regulations governing these minerals are found in the 43 CFR 3500 regulations.

Hardrock (Locatable) Minerals:

Hardrock minerals are typically metals that have a unique or special use.  Examples include, but are not limited to copper, lead, zinc, magnesium, nickel, tungsten, gold, silver, bentonite, uranium, barite, feldspar, and fluorspar.  In terms of use authorization, hardrock minerals are leasable on U.S. Forest Service (USFS) acquired lands and locatable on Public Domain lands.  A claim can be staked for locatable minerals. There is no legal access to hardrock minerals on non-USFS- acquired lands.  On USFS acquired lands, if deposits are known to exist and to be economically workable, leases are sold competitively.  If deposits are not known, a prospecting permit can be obtained on a first-come, first-served basis, which allows the permittee to explore for the mineral.  If the mineral is then found in commercial quantities, a preference right lease can be issued to the permittee. Royalties must be paid on all producing leases.  The regulations governing these minerals are found in 43 CFR 3500.

On Public Domain lands in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida, mining claims may be staked (located) for hardrock minerals.  Public Domain lands in other states under Eastern States' jurisdiction are not open to the location of mining claims.  If a deposit is found in commercial quantities, a patent or deed to the land may be issued for the claim.  Regulations for the Mining Law Administration Program (locatable minerals on Public Domain lands) are found in 43 CFR 3800.

Common Variety Minerals:

Generally, these materials are sand and gravel and other common variety building materials.  Mineral Material Disposal regulations are found in 43 CFR 3600.  On acquired lands, the Federal surface management agency has jurisdiction over the disposal of common variety materials.

 

Ref: http://www.blm.gov/es/st/en/prog/minerals/solid_minerals_in.html


August 18, 2009

What's the latest?

It seems things are somewhat stagnant in Georgia. There doesn't seem to be a lot of concern from the Georgia Rock and Mineral clubs in regards to the developments on the NFS. Now it appears that the the GA Dept of Parks and Recreation are being browbeat to keep the public in the dark about GA minerals. 


"Hi Virgil

 I presented Our North Georgia Story to the Southeastern Federation meeting in Young Harris about 6 weeks ago. They were very interested in our problem with the Forest Service but thus far no strong effort is occurring. The American Federation meeting in The North West USA held the last weekend in July discussions as to our next step were to brought up. I intend to call Dave Pinkey California  the president of ALAA and let him know what happened in Ga. I met John Wright from Mississippi in Young Harris. He was very committed to fighting for our rights. He is a member of ALAA. A very knowledgeable GA member Kim Cockran was to give a talk at a State park in North GA on the minerals of GA about 4 weeks ago. Would You BELIEVE THAT ONE WEEK BEFORE THE TALK A STATE PARK REPRESENTATIVE CALLED HIM AND ASKED HIM NOT TO GIVE THE TALK. The reason given was that a holistic doctor had collected buckets of Staurolites in the North Georgia US forest so now they are upset and don't want him to give his talk!

Overall I'm a little disappointed that a group of GA mineral club presidents have not gotten together and met with the GA Forest Service.

If we had a little activity like the town hall meetings occurring now on health care we would be making progress. I'm still hopeful however.

I just sent a letter to Obama and some GA Congressmen telling then that horseback riding and rockhounding and gold prospecting are excellent exercises which should be encouraged not discouraged like The GA Forest Service is doing.

Keep in Touch

Bob Madden"


UPDATE! March 23rd, 2010

After several months have gone by I just checked the Chattahoochee-Oconee website and found that the rockhounding information page is back up! It looks like there has finally been some leniency shown by the Forest Service and the Forest Supervisor in favor of rockhounding! The page has been re-written and clarifications made so that perhaps in the future there will not be any misunderstandings with Forest Service personnel. The page can be viewed here:

Chattahoochee-Oconee NF

Regards,

Virgil G Richards

 

 

 

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VIRGIL G. RICHARDS

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