The Origins of the National Forests
A Centennial Symposium
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Vulcan's Footprints on the Forest: The Mining Industry and California's National Forests, 1850-1950
Kevin Palmer
Modoc National Forest

Seventeen national forests blanket 20 million acres of California comprising about 20 percent of the land area. The state comprises a complex series of eleven geomorphic zones; ten of these cover national forest land and embrace provinces ranging from the semi-arid, chapparal covered slopes of the Transverse Range to the North Coast Range's humid hills. Eighteen mineral types rest within national forest land and range from antimony, chromite, and gold to tungsten. However, only seven of these substances are historically significant with gold being Region 5's [California] predominant element.

Mining in California began 12,000 years ago with Indian use of volcanic glass flows. Hematite and other deposits served as the local Indian paint store for rock and body art. Ironically, gold's soft nature made it useless to Indians and it held little attraction for them.

European immigrant extraction of minerals on what would become national forest land [1] began with the Spanish Colonial Era, establishing a tradition of titanic footprints which can be seen today on any national forest in the state. Mountains and deserts, coupled with a lack of navigable rivers and natural harbors, isolated California and forced the Spanish to limit their colonization efforts to the coastal corridor. This insularity also concentrated Spanish mining activity on the southern coastal portion of the state. Spanish immigrants focused their mining efforts on extracting building materials and gold. The lack of easily obtainable wood in southern California forced the Franciscan padres to substitute building stone, asphaltum, and adobe earth in the construction of religious and secular structures.

Contradictory evidence abounds over which national forest the Spanish mined first—local "fakelore" abounds. The Angeles National Forest's San Francisquito placer deposits, Los Padres National Forest's Antimony Peak and La Panza gold district vie for the Spanish Colonial Era honor. [2] Following the end of Spanish rule in 1822, extractive efforts began to increase on national forest lands. Early mining centered on the southern forests, specifically the Los Padres, Angeles, and San Bernardino national forests.

Truckloads of popular and academic histories have been published on the 1849 Gold Rush to California. The influx of prospectors and miners forever altered the character of the state and its forested land. Americans seemed blinded by an urge to tap the rich resources and quickly rushed to the task. The Mother Lode lay west of the Sierra Nevada's spine, consequently funneling early placering away from current Forest Service lands. As the numbers of miners began to swell and the easy placer gold deposits shrank, a torrent of miners began to stream eastward into future national forest lands in search of unclaimed riches. Miners quickly found the task unpleasant and extremely laborious. Cooperative mining companies formed rapidly to divide the labor.

Vernacular engineering, a trait dominant in mining world wide, came into play after California's initial gold rush. Hydraulic mining, a form of extraction originally unique to California, was used to process large-scale, low-grade placer deposits. Edward Matteson, working with Eli Miller and A. Chabot, invented a prototypical hydraulicking system on the Tahoe National Forest's American Hill District during 1852. [3] This water cannon system eroded hillsides and carried the gold bearing silt into sluice boxes.

Hydraulic mining is based on the premise of mass production. Despite the initial high expenditure of capital, once established, the cost of staffing is very low in comparison to other forms of alluvial mining except dredging. [4] A crew of six-to-seven miners could process 2,000-5,000 yards of gravel in a ten-hour day. This does not compare to the 1.5 yards of gravel processed by a placer miner panning in the same time period. As with any mining system, hydraulicking left its signature on the land. Water companies and miners scratched out thousands of miles of water ditches on varied terrain. Flumes, dams, and pits pockmarked California's timbered lands.

By 1857 gold production slumped, inspiring miners to look elsewhere. Prospectors turned their gaze eastward and opened up new excavation districts on eastern California Forests such as the Inyo and Toiyabe. By 1860 this "Rush in Reverse" sent miners scurrying into east-central Nevada and Colorado.

The bulk of mining activity during this time shifted northward from the southern woodlands and tended to be confined to the west slope of the Sierra Nevada and northwestern forests. The Plumas and Tahoe national forests dominated gold production in this period. Few early gold rush mining areas became established in the southern Sierra Nevada range. Northwestern gold mines began contemporaneously with the Sierra Nevada gold rush.

Mining on the northern California Klamath, Shasta-Trinity, and Six Rivers national forests had one bonding element: gold-bearing rivers flowed through those lands. Unlike the Sierra Nevada, hydraulic mining never slowed on these forests. The vocal down-stream farmers in the Sacramento Delta's rich farmlands successfully retarded hydraulicking and its gravel debris by-product. However, the north coast's rugged topography discouraged settlement and agricultural development along the drainages.

The 1872 Mining Law: A Pernicious Legacy

The location and development of rich mineral deposits spawned permanent habitation in formerly isolated areas of California. This happened because the support needs of miners and mining operations aided the introduction of railroads and communication lines, in addition to other social and cultural accoutrements. In the spirit of Manifest Destiny and the Myth of Overabundance, westerners viewed miners as a positive settlement force. The Mineral Land Act of 1866 placed few restrictions upon miners and mirrored legislative efforts to incite mineral development which westerners perceived as tied to national expansion. This act established the mineral patent proviso, further augmented by the ensuing 1872 Mining Law. This legacy dotted national forests with countless recreation residences located on patented claims.

As "Magna Carta" of the mining trade, the 1872 Mining Law has essentially hamstrung all public lands agencies, including the Forest Service. In all fairness, the act reflected the mining industry's inherent risks and acknowledged the difficulty and expense of establishing a mine—often in isolated locales. This statute merely put the laws that miners had developed at the mining district level into a forum covering federal lands. The system seemed appropriate in 1872, although multiple-use of forested land never entered the minds of the mining law framers—profit and growth served as their guiding principles.

Preservation Conservation, Nineteenth Century Style

Initial environmental regulation in California focused on hydraulic mining and its debris discharge, which fouled downstream agrarian and navigational needs. The amounts of water used for hydraulic mining operations are staggering. During the early 1880s, the Spring Valley Mine located at Cherokee Flat (just west of the Plumas National Forest), consumed 36 million gallons of water in a twenty-four-hour period, three times the City of San Francisco's daily water requirement at that time. [5]

When hydraulic mining reached its height in the mid-to-late 1870s, massive quantities of silt introduced into watercourse systems flowed downstream ruining farm land in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. Farmers formed the Anti-Debris Association in an effort to shut down the destructive mining activity. The plaintiffs won the battle with the 1884 "Sawyer Decision" in the Woodruff vs. North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company case, which put severe restrictions on hydraulic mining.

The Caminetti Act of 1893 created the California Debris Commission, which allowed hydraulic mines to operate with dams to contain hydraulic effluvia. Hydraulic mining nearly disappeared in the Sierra Nevada region, consequently leading to the dominance of lodegold mining in succeeding decades. Placer gold production dropped until the turn-of-the-century, when placer miners found an answer to their problem, the gold dredge.

The Forest Reserve Act

Mining played a duet with the nineteenth century "cut and run" mentality that despoiled countless acres of California timberland. Western forests fueled hungry locomotive steam engines hauling raw ore to smelters. These forests also provided the timber to construct bridges and rail lines, to help supply mining towns, to line mine tunnels, and to drive steam boilers for crushing mills. Certainly the relationship of the resource-rich West and the immense needs of the post-Civil War eastern industrial Gilded Age (1865-1890) encouraged the disfigurement of California's forests.

Comstock Lode chronicler William Wright wrote,

The Comstock Lode may truthfully be said to be the tomb of the forests of the Sierras. Millions on millions of feet of lumber are annually buried in the mines, never to be resurrected. [6]

Devastating spring floods followed this pillage. Although it may never be known how much timber Comstock mining operations stripped off the Sierra Nevada, an estimate of 600 hundred million board feet, along with 2 million cords of firewood, has been suggested.

Ironically, this anti-conservation appetite for timber ultimately promoted a call for watershed protection and regulation of timber cutting by urban sophisticates, resulting in the 1891 Forest Reserve Act. The act halted the widespread disposition of public timberland and established reserves to slow erosion. Virginia City's thirst for timber exemplifies why the act came into being. Nineteenth-century miners ignored their tracks on the environment and set the tone for generations to come.

High Grading and the Rise in Low Grade Ore Mass Production Technology

By the time the 1891 Forest Reserve Act created a new public lands administrative system, demands from the post-Civil War industrial boom had pared away the bulk of western high-grade ore bodies. The last great nineteenth century American gold rushes took place when the forest reserves were coming into being.

The national monetary standard specie issue snowballed during this time between the "goldbugs" and "silverites," typified by William Jenning Bryan's 1896 "Cross of Gold" presidential campaign platform. Indeed, the deficiency of federal gold stores directly produced the Panic of 1893. The depletion of high grade, precious metal ore bodies promoted the development of low grade processing technology. Mining became increasingly sophisticated during this era to cope with the massive amounts of low grade ore that it was necessary to process to feed the eastern industrial boom.

For decades, California gold miners used the ancient mercury amalgamation gold recovery process, with its low efficiency rate of 75-80 percent. A conservation mentality simply did not exist within the mining industry because,

The backward state of the arts of mining and metallurgy in the United States was actually attributable to the fact that rich mineral outcrops were readily available. [7]

Mining engineers had to restructure their approach to one stressing the mass production of low-grade ore. Chemistry and new gold strikes worked to alter this lack of gold. The McArthur-Forrest cyanide leaching process, invented in 1889-1890, improved gold recovery significantly. [8] Demand for gold fostered yet another round of prospecting in previously unexplored regions, and this gold flood nearly doubled the world's supply by 1898. Previously worked out hard rock gold mines on national forest lands sprang back into production when miners began utilizing the cyanide technology.

Enter the Dredge

First developed in New Zealand in 1882, and introduced to California in 1898 at the Oroville gold deposits, the dredge greatly revitalized placer mining in the state. Dredging essentially strip mined river beds with a floating gold processing plant. A well designed dredge could profitably mine a gravel bar which carried nine cents of gold per cubic yard. [9]

Dredging in California concentrated in the upper Sacramento Delta and took place on Forest Service lands in northern California on the Scott, Klamath and Salmon rivers in Siskiyou County. The La Porte area on the Plumas National Forest served as the scene of Region 5's most intensive dredging activity, due to its proximity to the Oroville dredging fields. Dredge activity left a landscape behind which resembled the work of an elephantine burrowing mole. Dredging reached a peak during the 1930s and continued in California until 1968. [10]

Despite the hand writing on the wall that ore reserves had depleted, the mining industry did not make any attempt to conserve mineral resources other than improve ore processing and extractive techniques. Mining historian Duane Smith commented,

The mining industry would never be converted voluntarily to prudent use unless it could be demonstrated that the change would be economical. . . . This refusal meant that mining would pay the price of eventual public condemnation. [11]

The Organic Act and Pinchot's Forest Reserve "Chinese Wall"

While the Forest Reserve Act withdrew vast tracts of timber from former Government Land Office (GLO) holdings, administrative implementation required funding. Passage of the Forest Management Act in 1897, (now referred to as the Forest Service Organic Act) provided for the organization and management of the forest reserves. Lag time between the enactment of the Organic and Forest Reserve acts essentially produced a lock up of these tracts of land, resulting in an adverse reaction from traditional users of forested lands.

Miners became further antagonized by President Grover Cleveland's stealthy creation of the Washington's Birthday reserves—which established 21 million acres of additional forest reserves in 1897. Generally,

The mining industry, among others, watched with amazement and disgust this change in government philosophy, wishing to continue its business as usual with no interference, light or heavy. It did not like the way the wind was starting to blow off the Potomac. [12]

Corporations and prospectors alike girded to halt the trend and initiated a battle with the federal government which has endured for almost a century.

As a concession to miners' opposition to the creation of the forest reserves, the Organic Act

permitted mining entry on designated mineral lands of the reserves, it also directed the federal government to make and enforce rules and regulations which would 'preserve the forest thereon from destruction.' [13]

This proviso provided a component which has confounded the Forest Service for generations. The 1872 Mining Law forced the Forest Service into a subordinate relationship with the western mining industry. The Service has been harnessed with the duplicitous role of boosting mineral extraction while simultaneously preventing ecological abuses. Whether it liked it or not, the Forest Service entered into policing the mining business—an industry which held that it had a God-given right to pursue its business unimpeded.

Utilitarianism and Its Influence on Forest Service Minerals Policy

Gifford Pinchot, chief forester from 1898 to 1910 and architect of policies which have guided the Forest Service since 1905, had an approach to conservation with a twentieth century utilitarian bent. According to one author, Pinchot stressed

opposition to the domination of economic affairs by narrow "special interests" [a turn-of-the-century euphemism for large and often corrupt business firms] and a fundamental belief in rationality and science. [14]

This belief ultimately brought about Pinchot's downfall; his "trust buster" convictions fueled the Ballinger Alaskan coal field controversy. Pinchot had accused the secretary of the interior of improbity over Alaskan coal claims, and President Taft obliged the forester by firing him.

Pinchot strongly supported the position that mining fit into forest management. He held that the forest resources should be actively managed to satisfy the needs of those who would benefit most from their use. He said,

the object of our forest policy is not to preserve the forests because they are beautiful . . . or because they are refuges for wild creatures of the wilderness . . . but [the object is] the making of prosperous homes. . . . Every other concern comes as secondary. [15]

Following Pinchot's 1898 appointment as chief of the Division of Forestry, he addressed the American Institute of Mining Engineers at Atlantic City. He attempted to appease the mining industry by explaining the federal position. Naturally, Pinchot's primary concerns covered the use of timber and water by miners as well as fire prevention. He summarized the Organic Act's regulations and how they applied to mining.

Where timber in large quantities has been taken without charge in the past, some share of the cost of caring for and preserving it must hereafter be borne by the men who benefit by such protection. . . . [The regulations] give without charge timber to the value of one hundred dollars on the stump to prospectors and miners whose claims do not furnish sufficient material for their own use, and they provide for the sale of timber in large quantities to meet the demands of larger operations. [16]

Pinchot stressed the need for timber management to supply a reliable source of wood for miners and provided examples where Colorado miners had stripped the slopes making it difficult for other prospectors to obtain timber. He coined the term "fire follows the prospector" in this presentation, and claimed

Cutting has done but little harm in comparison with the great damage caused by fire. The government is the only agent capable of attacking this giant evil, and even the government is helpless unless it can permanently control the areas with which it must deal. This is the first and most important meaning of forest reservations. [17]

The Unerring Mining Industry and Early Relations With the Forest Service

In a case typical of the confusion following the Forest Reserve Act, the Homestake Mining Company cut timber from the Black Hills Forest Reserve without obtaining permission from the General Land Office. This action resulted in an 1894 lawsuit against Homestake in which the Federal government sued for $700,000 in damages. [18] Perhaps in a conciliatory move a few years later, the federal government auctioned off its first timber sale to the Homestake Mining Company in the Black Hills Reserve.

As the new kid on the block, the Bureau of Forestry (renamed the U.S. Forest Service in 1905) had to barter with two elements of the mining industry in addition to a parasitic third party. Mining consisted of two factions: large corporate entities and the small time "snipers" or itinerant miners. Pinchot's "trust buster" attitude led him to favor the "everyman" mining enterprise rather than large corporate cabals. In the words of one conservation scholar, protection of the small-scale producer at the expense of big business and efficiency was a principal governmental dilemma of the era. [19] Land grabbers played the third part in this trio by milking every legal loophole with their "strawmen" or "dummy entrymen" who functioned as front men for the would-be land barons.

One case in northern California depicted this predicament with precision. At the turn-of-the-century, Henry H. Yard, a sub rosa representative of the Western Pacific Railroad, filled 265,000 acres of placer claims along the Plumas National Forest's Feather River drainage. Under the guise of the North California Mining Company, Yard's men claim jumped a large number of established miners in an attempt to slash a right-of-way for a new rail line.

Reform minded California State Mineralogist Lewis Aubury, along with Gifford Pinchot, initiated an investigation of Yard's claims in 1906. A horde of Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and General Land Office mineral examiners uncovered Yard's plan to establish a series of lumber camps on the placer claims. These camps would ferry out the lumber once the Western Pacific Railroad line became functional. Indeed, government mineralogists ascertained no mineral value existed on 24,000 of 25,000 of the Yard claims. GLO officials dethroned Yard in the 1908 decision, United States v. H. H. Yard, et al. [20]

Coal Lands and Petroleum—a Stab at Pinchot

Following reports of front men staking spurious mining claims in Alaska, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered 84 million acres of western coal and oil lands withdrawn from mineral entry between 1905-1909. This was Roosevelt's attempt to stymie corporate monopolization of mineral tracts through antiquated land laws. It ultimately translated into the well chronicled Pinchot-Ballinger controversy, when Pinchot accused the secretary of the interior of improbity over Alaskan coal claims.

Another Foreshadow of Environmentalism

Regulation of the California mining industry had its inception in the 1884 Sawyer Decision, and the Forest Service stance on this issue illustrates the Progressive Era's employment of scientific management principles. Californians had grown less tolerant of miners' impacts on their lands as the state's population diversified. Despite his reformist nature, state mineralogist Lewis Aubury typified the industry's haughty environmental stance when he wrote on fumes bearing sulphur dioxide wafting from a Shasta County copper smelter. In a 1905 report on California copper mining, Aubury noted that the vapors had killed vegetation over a large adjacent region, and this has given the company some trouble; but in justice to the industry it may be said that the destruction is less serious than it would be in many other districts, owing to the trifling extent to which agriculture is carried on in that particular neighborhood and to the small size and low value of the trees of the region. [21]

The Forest Service differed with Aubury over this position. Between 1910-1919 the Service prosecuted the Shasta Lake area copper smelters for smoke nuisance which denuded portions of the Shasta National Forest surrounding the mining towns of Kennett and Keswick. [22]

Industrial Needs in a Wartime Setting

The Panic of 1907 and ensuing financial depression became the primary economic issues influencing mining until July 1914. Increasing hostilities in Europe prompted the close of the London Stock Exchange, and financial institutions in the United States followed suit shortly thereafter. A recession precipitated by World War I in Europe combined with a labor shortage, which forced many gold mines to stop or reduce production. Gold mining remained at a relatively low level until the 1930s, when a surge in production occurred when Franklin D. Roosevelt set the price of gold, increasing its rate from $20 to $35 per ounce by 1935.

During World War I, formerly unprofitable American deposits became valuable when German U-boats began to sink merchant ships. This constricted the flow of foreign raw ore sources entering the United States via shipping lanes. As Grecian and Asia Minor sources became strangled, chromite mines across California forests opened to supply the demand for this steel-hardening mineral. The renewed extraction of chromite on the High Plateau, Copper Creek, Low Divide, and other Six Rivers National Forest districts during 1917 embodied this trend. These mines shut down immediately following the 1918 Armistice. [23] Chromite mines on the Los Padres, El Dorado, Shasta-Trinity and Plumas national forests mirrored this event.

The European conflict aided technological developments in radio technology and electronics, producing an additional requisition for copper. Shasta County copper production followed a steady course from 1907 to 1914 with a peak during World War I. The war effort called for tungsten, yet another steel alloy component used in armor plating, rifle barrels, high-speed tools, and radio tubes. The eastern Sierra Nevada area mines on the Sequoia and Inyo national forests opened in response to this need. With the halt in tungsten exports from British colonies in 1915, prices skyrocketed and encouraged domestic production until the war's end. Many of the mines operated intermittently until the onset of World War II in Europe in 1939, which stimulated a revival of the industry. Virtually all tungsten mining operations in California ceased after World War II. [24]

The Mining Claim Problem in the National Forests of California

A veteran Forest Service mineral examiner conducted an investigation of Region 5 during 1937. In a harshly worded report (which made no attempt to disguise its Forest Service bias) the Depression Era study devoted a major portion of its text to the placer claim tenants of the 1872 Mining Law—and the loss of surface rights which penalized the Forest Service and public. The writer had uncovered a high degree of mining law misuse on the southern California forests which contributed less than 1 percent of the gold production (in Region 5) and furnished 81 percent of the mineral locations contested (by the Forest Service). [25]

Apparently the demand for recreation residences in the highly urbanized area surrounding the Angeles National Forest resulted in a "local mining location boom," making this Forest "one of the leading mining claim forests of California". [26] Scenarios like this demanded intensive agency claim validation work, drained Forest Service coffers, and depleted the traditionally thin work force.

The review concluded that 10 percent of Region 5 mining claims showed performance of their required $100 annual assessment work, and argued that

submarginal gold deposits located along mountain streams, often occupy lands of high recreational value and while there is no reason for preventing individuals from obtaining the small returns from these gravels, it likewise is not good management to permit individuals to destroy the higher values that may exist there nor to prevent the public use of these area through the exclusive control of the surface allowed by the mining law. [27]

From Depression to War

The catchword for this wartime era became "new uses for old metals." The World War II effort demanded enormous amounts of copper, tungsten, magnesium, and aluminum for hardened steels, aircraft construction and electrical devices. As with World War I, Axis Power submarine warfare severely curtailed the bulk shipment of raw ore to manufacturing centers. Again, the United States found itself cut off from foreign sources and suddenly low quality ore ignored in peacetime became highly desirable. Supplies of chromite from Rhodesia and New Caledonia were choked off, sending extraction at the Del Norte County mines on the Six Rivers National Forest spiraling upwards. Manganese, critical to steel production, also flowed out of mines located on this forest. Tungsten mines on the Inyo and Sequoia national forests, shut down after the end of World War I, leapt into productivity.

While this was a time for war, it was also a time for increased governmental regulation of mining. The war effort birthed new federal bodies such as the Metals Reserve Corporation (MRC) and the War Production Board. The MRC mission centered on obtaining foreign metals rather than developing domestic sources. A scholar wrote:

Throughout the war years western miners and mining associations complained about the MRC's import policy, the ambiguities of federal policies and increasing bureaucracy, the labor shortages in the mines, the lack of access roads, and the seeming dominance of the large corporations in the industry. [28]

If this was not egregious enough, War Production Board Order Limitation Order L-208 shut down non-essential gold mines in 1942 and slapped miners in the face who had enjoyed the Depression Era surge in price. This directive "had a decidedly negative effect on the West while having virtually none at all on its supposed prime goal—increasing the production of other metals." [29] Like it or not, this action served as a portent for ensuing decades, particularly for the small miner.

The account of Charlie Brown, a chromite miner on the Tahoe National Forest in search of an access road to his mine, painted a representative tale. In Brown's words

We called in the service of our Tri-County Chrome Association, which got busy with Washington and San Francisco authorities. Investigation showed there were so many agencies concerned in the expenditure of this small sum that the project was bogging down in red tape. The Tahoe National Forest office was concerned, also the forestry departments at Washington, their Salt Lake headquarters, and their San Francisco Office. Then the Bureau of Mines in Washington and the Bureau's Salt Lake and San Francisco offices were concerned. But not one of all the officials of these agencies knew what had become of the matter. . . . The red tape and delay . . . caused us to shut down for the winter and quit making deliveries of chromite. [30]

In contrast to Brown's experience, the Forest Service entered into partnerships with several mining corporations in the Access Mine Road Program, initiated in 1942. This project involved collusion with major mining corporations such as Anaconda and U.S. Vanadium due to the wartime labor and equipment shortage. [31] Certainly, this must have further alienated small-time miners such as Charlie Brown, increasing the rift between this special interest group and the Forest Service. Following the war, the GLO which had administrated mining procedure on Forest Service land was merged with the Grazing Service into the Bureau of Land Management.

Epilogue—Multiple Use and Environment Reaffirmed

By the 1950s, mining law that authorized desecration on Forest Service land persisted. Greedy individuals propelled a flow of events which drove the Service into the legislative forum to correct this matter.

Secretary of Agriculture Charles Brannan commissioned the National Forest Advisory Council to undertake a study of this problem in 1950, which the council released two years later. The expose rang with reverberations of the prior 1937 review and contained much of the same finger-pointing relative to the 1872 Mining Law. The Advisory Council's primary concern stemmed over how the surface rights problem made it impossible to achieve a balanced multiple use approach, for mineral uses take precedence over all others. The authors computed that western mining claims held 2 million acres of national forest land hostage, blanketed by 7 billion board feet of merchantable timber valued at $57 million. The Advisory Council concluded

Prospecting and mining continue to be important in the national forests as elsewhere but there is an imperative need that they be given their proper place in the pattern of multiple use management which has been established for the national forests, the balance of which has been and continues to be upset by the inability of the Forest Service to administer non-mineral resources on mining locations. [32]

This conservation conflict involved two opposing factions. The National Wildlife Federation, the Izaak Walton League, and the American Forestry Association gathered on the Forest Service side, while the Mining Congress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Western Mining Council lined up in opposition. The American Forestry Association (AFA) served as an intermediary force between the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture and the mining interests.

This exchange resulted in the passage of the Multiple Use Mining Act (or Common Varieties Act) on July 23, 1955. Reformist amendments filled some of the 1920 Mineral Leasing Act loopholes. The most critical revisions pertained to the misuse of "common varieties" such as sand and gravel, upon which land grabbers had established claims for the purpose of "mining" timber. The new act enabled mineral managers to sell cinder, pumice, and gravel at their will and prohibited any activity other than mining to take place on unpatented claims. Perhaps most importantly, the act handed back control of nonmineral surface resources (timber and water, etc.) to the Forest Service.

Changes in the American psyche attacked extractive industry during the 1960s. As Duane Smith summarized,

Miners could usually count on the public eventually to lose interest; that expectation no longer seemed viable. Now the miners were reaping the consequences of their indifference, insensitivity, expediency, and gross exploitation. [33]

Criticism of the Forest Service by environmental and recreation interests promoted enactment of the 1960 Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act (MUSY). "The bill was an important victory for the Forest Service, which thereby maintained its discretion over the national forest management. . . ." Even though the questions raised by the Sierra Club were ignored by others in 1960, their challenge to Forest Service assumptions about conservation dominated the discussion of forest and range policy in the next fifteen years. [34]

Despite its utilitarian orientation, stirrings of Thoreau transcendentalist-style conservation interjected itself within the agency. Under the stewardship of Aldo Leopold and Bob Marshall, the 1929 "L-20" and 1939 "U" regulations created an evolving wilderness emphasis within the Forest Service.

"Injury to wilderness," Roderick Nash wrote in his classic work Wilderness and the American Mind, "is best understood as injury to people who value wilderness". [35] Miners' appreciation of wilderness centered over the mineral values locked within high mountain peaks, and they hotly debated the creation of wilderness areas as untouchable preserves. As the smoke cleared, neither mining nor wilderness advocates had won a clear cut victory. The Multiple-Use Act allowed mining in wilderness areas; however, legislators inserted important provisions governing miners. Again, the mining lobby's muscle allowed it to bend environmental policy. [36]

Influence of the sixties bridged the 1970s with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and baptized the mining industry with a plethora of ecological legislation. If Tahoe National Forest miner Charlie Brown felt he had been tripped up in the leviathan bureaucratic labyrinth during the 1940s, the ensuing regulation would have turned him pallid. The tide continued to turn against the industry and threatened it as never before. Generally,

larger companies took most of the blame for the problems, but they also had most of the resources for making the changes that the times required. The financial impotence of the small miner threatened him with extinction. [37]

The 1973 Arab oil embargo and resulting energy crisis brought home the magnitude of California's thirst for petroleum products. Prior to the Energy Crisis, oil and gas exploration and development on Region 5 land had been primarily limited to the Los Padres National Forest's Sespe oil field. Indeed, the legacy of being the birthplace of the freeway still has a powerful influence on California—current figures reveal the state is the third largest consumer of petroleum in the world. A 400 percent price increase in foreign oil stimulated a new interest in geothermal and domestic oil exploration and development on national forest land.

In 1974 the agency adopted regulations to directly monitor mining operations. Although not a Forest Service inspired piece of legislation, the Surface Mining Reclamation Act of 1977 ensured that national forest lands would be restored in a fashion that would allow multiple use to rebound. In Region 5, thousands upon thousands of acres with boulder-strewn riparian settings made unproductive by placer mining testify to the need for this sorely needed mandate. In retrospect it seems strange that the agency did not press for such a regulation long ago.

As the "invisible gold" boom blossomed during the eighties with the heap leach cyanide system which captured microscopic gold particles, mining came under further federal and state regulation centering around hazardous waste and environmental issues, trimming profits.

Over the years the Forest Service has been forced to serve a duplicitous deputation—one which requires it to serve as a promotional deputy for the mining industry while safeguarding the land against environmental degradation. The American public continues to regard miners as environmental vandals. However, the bottom line is that the public wants to have its aesthetic cake, and yet eat a nice slice of minerals-exhausting consumer goods.

America's nineteenth century bequest of the myth of superabundance still plays a major role in the nation's collective consciousness. Conflict will continue until the public decides how much it is willing to sacrifice when it comes time to pay the piper—electric toasters, gold jewelry, or Vulcan's footprints on the forests?


1. Forest Reserves/National Forests did not exist until after 1891. In this paper, lands that would become national forests are so-called.

2. Raymond W. Rossiter, Statistics of Mines and Mining in the States and Territories West of the Rocky Mountains (Washington: GPO, 1872b), 108; Bennie W. Troxel and Paul K. Morton, Mines and Minerals Resources of Kern County, California. County Report 1 (San Francisco: California Division of Mines and Geology, 1962), 56; William Irelan, Jr., Eighth Annual Report of the State Mineralogist for the Year Ending October 1, 1988. Report 8 (Sacramento: California State Printing Office, 1888), 531; Herbert A. Franke, "Mines and Minerals of San Luis Obispo County," California Journal of Mines and Geology 31 (Sacramento: California State Printing Office, 1935): 422; William B. Clark, Gold Districts of California. Bulletin 193 (San Francisco: California Division of Mines and Geology, 1970), 179.

3. Phillip Ross May, Origins of Hydraulic Mining in California (Oakland, California: Holmes Book Company, 1970), 40-42; William S. Greever, Bonanza West: The Story of the Western Mining Rushes, 1848-1900 (Moscow, Idaho: University of Idaho Press, 1963), 50-51.

4. C.S. Haley, Gold Placers of California. Bulletin 57 (Sacramento: California State Printing Office, 1923), 38.

5. May, Origins of Hydraulic Mining, 10.

6. Duane A. Smith, Mining America: The Industry and the Environment, 1800-1980 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1986), 12.

7. Harold Barger and Sam H. Schurr, The Mining Industries, 1899-1939: A Study of Output, Employment, and Productivity (New York: No. 43 of Publications of the National Bureau of Economic Research, 1944. Reprint, New York: Arno Press Inc., 1972), 99.

8. Greever, Bonanza West, 308; Otis E. Young, Jr., Western Mining (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970), 284.

9. Ibid., 132; Lewis E. Aubury, The Copper Resources of California. Bulletin No. 23 (Sacramento: California State Printing Office, 1905).

10. Clark, Gold Districts of California, 6-8.

11. Smith, Mining America, 57.

12. Ibid., 56.

13. Gregory Randall Graves, "Anti-conservation and Federal Forestry in the Progressive Era," Ph.D. diss., University of California, Santa Barbara, 1987: 156.

14. Paul J. Culhane, Public Lands Politics (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1981), 4.

15. Glen O. Robinson, The Forest Service: A Study in Public Land Management (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1975), 55.

16. American Institute of Mining Engineers (1899), 343.

17. Ibid., 345.

18. Graves, "Anti-conservation and Federal Forestry", 308.

19. Ibid., 142.

20. Ibid., 110-128.

21. Aubury, The Copper Resources of California, 72.

22. Philip A. Lydon and J. C. O'Brien, Mines and Mineral Resources of Shasta County California, County Report 6 (Sacramento: California State Printing Office, 1974), 29, 33, 34.

23. Kathy Heffner, History of Mining in Del Norte County, California, 1850-1950 (Six Rivers National Forest: USDA Forest Service, 1984), 43.

24. L.A. Norman and Richard M. Stewart, "Mines and Mineral Resources of Inyo County," California Journal of Mines and Geology 47 (1951): 85-98.

25. USDA Forest Service, The Mining Claim Problem in the National Forests of California (San Francisco: USDA Forest Service Region 5, 1944), 24.

26. Ibid., 34.

27. Ibid., 47.

28. Gerald D. Nash, World War II and the West: Reshaping the Economy (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990), 19-20.

29. Ibid., 27.

30. Ibid., 23.

31. USDA Forest Service, The History of Engineering in the Forest Service (A Compilation of History and Memoirs, 1905-1989) (Washington: USDA Forest Service, 1990), 406-422.

32. National Forest Advisory Council, Report on the Problem of Mining Claims on the National Forests (Washington: USDA Forest Service, 1953), 2, 6, 10.

33. Smith, Mining America, 140.

34. Samuel Trask Dana and Sally K. Fairfax, Forest and Range Policy: Its Development in the United States (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1980), 204.

35. Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), 271.

36. Paul W. Gates, History of Public Land Law Development (Washington: Public Land Law Review Commission, 1968), 763; Harold K. Steen, The U.S. Forest Service: A History (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1976), 313-314.

37. Smith, Mining America, 156.

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