Gold miner arrested after illegal claim operation

A gold miner remains in jail in Medford where he has spent a week after refusing to sign a U.S. District Court release promising not to continue illegal mining operations in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Clifford R. Tracy, 37, of Gold Hill, was arrested Sept. 9 for mining without a permit near his 4.75-acre mining claim on Cedar Gulch in the Sucker Creek drainage about a dozen miles southeast of Cave Junction.

In documents filed with the court, forest officials say Tracy not only mined without a permit but continued to do so after he was warned and later cited for the violation.

He 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, according to the documents.

Although forest officials and Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Fong as well as Tracy's court-appointed attorney, Brian Butler, declined to talk about the case, the court documents reveal a miner apparently frustrated with the slow pace of an application that he originally filed nearly five years ago. U.S. District Court Judge Owen M. Panner in Medford is presiding over the case.

Tracy, representing five other claimants, submitted a proposed plan of operations in mid-January 2005 for the site, located in the Wild Rivers Ranger District. The agency initially began an environmental assessment but decided to do a more in-depth environmental impact statement after concerns were raised about potential violations of the Clean Water Act and the potential impact on threatened coho salmon and the northern spotted owl, both listed under the Endangered Species Act.

In his proposed plan, Tracy noted 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, beginning back in 1853 shortly after gold was discovered in Southern Oregon.

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.

Although gold mining is allowed on national forests under the Mining Law of 1872, no operations can begin until the district ranger approves a plan of operations, officials noted. The draft EIS was issued early this year.

But Tracy sent a note to district ranger Joel King on July 1 announcing that he was withdrawing his applications.

"I, Cliff Tracy, rescind my signature on all applications I have applied for through USDA Forest Service," he wrote.

No reason was cited in the court documents for that action.

Tracy wrote King again on July 13.

"You need to let me know what the Forest Service wants done with the timber that is incidental to my mining, like what lengths to cut them and where to put them," he wrote. "You have 10 days to reply. If no reply is received, trees will be left out of my way until you decide what you want to do with them."

The agency informed Tracy by letter on July 21 that it considered his July 1 letter a withdrawal from his plan of operations and that any timber cutting or mining on the site would be illegal.

At some point, Tracy posted a hand-written sign near the entrance to the site: "Warning. Placer mining. For those who may be offended take heed and proceed no further. For if you violate the sanctity of my sanity, know everything you say can and will be held against you personally in a competent court of law."

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 U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer Sean Thomas.

"Mr. Tracy was told to cease mining until he obtained an operating plan," Thomas stated. "Mr. Tracy admitted causing the previously mentioned ground disturbance and also admitted cutting down the large diameter tree. Mr. Tracy indicated that the Forest Service officers had no authority to tell him to stop mining, and that he would not cease his mining operation unless directed to do so by a judge."

Thomas stated that he returned to the claim at noon on Sept. 9 where he observed Tracy and another man using an excavator to remove material from the pit. He watched the activity for about 20 minutes before leaving, Thomas added.

Late that afternoon Thomas arrested Tracy on a forest road near the mining claim. He has been charged with both cutting timber illegally as well as illegal mining, and faces both criminal and civil charges based on his actions at the mining claim.

"Defendant remains in custody today because of his failure to agree to the condition that he stop mining on Forest Service land that is subject of the civil action," according to a request for a temporary restraining order filed Monday in the court.

A hearing on the case is planned Sept. 21 in the U.S. District Court in Medford.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

Share This Story