Sugar Pine Mine, OR (TFC) – A land dispute between the owners of Sugar Pine Mine in Oregon and the Bureau of Land Management has turned into a media circus due to the requested presence of a local chapter of the Oath Keepers, by the owners, to safeguard their property and equipment, while they seek lawful redress from the orders served to them in March and April of this year.
Rick Barclay and George Backes are the owners of the Sugar Pine Mine and all mining claims associated with it. On approximately March 26 of this year, the Bureau of Land Management served the two owners with a Notice of Non-Compliance. The Notice stated the owners were in violation of various sections of 43 Code of Federal Regulations and, stated in part;
- Placing, constructing, maintaining or using residences or structures for occupancy not meeting any of the standards of occupancy;
- Beginning occupancy before the filing, review, and approval of a plan of operation as required; and; that they have not filed a plan of operations as required;
- Preventing or obstructing free passage or transit over or through the public lands by force, threats, or intimidation and, placing, constructing, or maintaining enclosures, gates, or fences, or signs intended to exclude the general public, without BLM’s concurrence;
- You have placed gate and signs intended to exclude the general public without BLM’s concurrence;
The order further stated that the Sugar Pine Mine owners had 30 days from the date of service to comply with the “decision” which included the removal of all equipment and occupancy structures from the property in question.
Subsequent to that service, approximately 13 days later BLM again served Barclay and Backes with a “cease and desist order.” Also, during the same time period BLM personnel were caught on the property without notifying the owners before doing so.
So from appearances one could surmise that the BLM was enforcing against people who were breaking the law and that they were acting accordingly. Some media outlets, especially partisan progressive media, immediately jumped on the story due to the requested presence of the local Oath Keepers Chapter. Reporting the story of “gun-toting right wing extremists wanting a confrontation with the BLM.” Equating the actions here to the Bundy Ranch and Ruby Ridge incidents. A partisan conservative media outlet reported about the 2nd Amendment and government conspiracies. Meanwhile, there were few attempts to research the dispute and give an account that was responsible. I will let you, the reader, decide if I have accomplished this.
The first thing Rick and George did was to request via the Freedom of Information Act, any information contained by the BLM that supports the allegations outlined in the paperwork. Prior to either of these two order being delivered to Sugar Pines, Barclay and Backes had made twelve other previous FOIA requests. Not being lawyers, Rick and George did not know that they were entitled to that information as “defendants” in the action. They sought the information the only way they knew how. To date only two FOIA requests have been responded to. The reason they did this was based on two important factors. First, they knew that they had the authority and the right to operate and occupy Sugar Pine based on the laws governing Surface Rights. Second, having been served what was a punitive action they found it absurd that such an action could be done without affording them “due process” prior to any punitive determination being done by the BLM. They based that position on the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.
While waiting for an answer from their first FOIA request, as previously mentioned, BLM employees were seen and confronted by a Sugar Pine employee. They also remembered that in the ’60s and ’70s the BLM had removed persons from claims and even burned down cabins. When they received the “cease and desist” paperwork before the 30 day time limit had expired, without receiving answers from the now “two” pending FOIA requests, Barclay and Backes decided to protect their property more assertively and request a stay of the cease and desist and non-compliance actions.
In order to protect their property, the two owners approached the local chapter of Oath Keepers and requested their assistance. Members of the Oath Keeper chapter listened to the two owners who told and showed them the history of their ownership, the applicable law governing their claim and ownership, and, the actions of the BLM. Satisfied that Barclay and Backes had presented legitimate claims of ownership to them the Josephine County Oath Keepers’ Chapter agreed to help the owners protect their property from trespassers and help make sure that any attempt by any government official to enter, remove, or seize any of their property or equipment met proper due process and probable cause standards. The Oath Keepers were at no time asked to initiate any confrontation or violent act or promote any threatening behavior or incite any unlawful behavior. Nor would the Oath Keepers have agreed to any requests of that nature.
With their property and equipment protected the two owners turned their focus to proving that the actions by the BLM were not supported by the facts and history of Sugar Pine Mine nor the law that governs those facts.
The history of Sugar Pine Mine is extensive and well documented. Particularly in areas that directly dispute the basis for the actions taken by BLM. I spent a few hours interviewing local author and mining historian, Kerby Jackson. Kerby is working on two books about Mining and Oregon history.
Jackson has literally tromped through and mined gold in the same creeks, gulches and hills as the first old timers who came to Southern Oregon in search of gold in the 1850’s. He has also sought out and explored the remnants of their early towns, camps, cabin-sites, mines and old trails.
After chatting with him last night for the better part of three hours Kerby left no doubt in my mind that he knew what he was talking about and he gave me an excellent overview of why it is Sugar Pine’s owners and NOT the BLM who the law supports.
Sugar Pine Mine was the first hardrock mine discovered in the State of Oregon. Records show it was discovered in 1858 by Cassidy, Simms, and White. The mine became well known after it was obtained by George and Dan Green in 1876. Up until 1900, the Sugar Pine was the most productive hardrock gold mine in Southern Oregon. The Sugar Pine Mine is also Oregon’s oldest active mining claim.
The current title to the Sugar Pine Mine originated on February 9th, 1876. This predates the formation of the Bureau of Land Management by nearly 70 years; and also predates the formation of the US Forest Service by 30 years.
It was originally recorded as entry #196 on page 134 of the Mining Record of the Galice Creek Mining District, which is currently housed in the vault of the County Clerk of Josephine County. It was later transcribed into the official Mining Records of Josephine County, in Volume #3, page 76. It has been continuously owned since. The mine has an unbroken Chain of Title that dates back almost one hundred and forty (140) years.
Sugar Pine Mine also includes several other neighboring claims – the Black Jack Mine, discovered in 1900 by Robert Jackson and Charles Moon, the Oregonian Mine, discovered in 1908 by Robert Jackson and mining engineer Claude Nobel, and the Golden Cycle Mine, discovered in 1920 by John Martin and C.H. Price. Current titles to these additional mining claims originate back to their discovery dates, all of which also predate the formation of BLM.
Under Federal Law, mining claims which have Chains of Title that predate July 23rd, 1955 have SURFACE RIGHTS, unless the owner relinquished them, or conveyed them back to the government, as outlined in the 1955 Surface Resources Act.
In November, 1969, BLM was required to obtain a RIGHT OF WAY EASEMENT across the Sugar Pine Mine. This is recorded in Volume #17, page 461 in the Josephine County Mining Conveyance Records. According to Jackson, and supported by the laws and regulations that govern these circumstances, the BLM was required to obtain this Right of Way because the BLM did not then nor does it now, have any SURFACE MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY. BLM has not produced any documentation at this time, that supports any other conclusion.
This information is key in this dispute, Jackson explained. The BLM has stated to the media that they were unaware of any mining activity underway at Sugar Pine. Jackson forwarded me evidence directly disputing this claim. Jackson further told me of a meeting he attended in the spring of 2014 in which Jackson spent some time speaking to officials at BLM clarifying the Right of Way and the roads associated with that easement. This meeting was amicable and informative. Not long after that the BLM office dropped off some paperwork at the Sugar Pine Mine and the picture shown here was part of those documents. As the pictures clearly show the BLM was completely aware of Sugar Pine, the gate and the equipment being used.
Jackson described the conversation they had with the BLM employee as basically an education of both the mining laws and the right of way easement obtained by BLM in 1969. As Jackson points out, the BLM would not have been required to obtain a right of way easement in 1969 if it had in fact owned the surface rights to the mine.
Jackson stated that also in the past year Backes had several meetings with geologist Diane Parry who is employed by BLM at the Medford office. Backes would also invite Parry to meet him at Sugar Pine Mine at her convenience.
“She is the head geologist at Medford BLM. Her job is to manage any mining operations inside their jurisdiction and ensure that all operations comply with their 3809 regulations”.
Jackson also pointed out that every year Barclay and Backes have filed yearly assessments, as required.
“Yes, every year, an affidavit of labor is required. That document is recorded by the county clerk and then filed with BLM. In Josephine County. And then filed with the Oregon/Washington State BLM office”.
Barclay was interviewed by a local station last week.
Sugar Pine has retained the services of local attorney Jim Dole. The stay was filed “in pro se” by the owners, as is common practice in BLM cases but they are being counseled. At press time, Attorney Dole was not available for comment.
On a final note, I am a member of the Oath Keepers. One of the reasons I wanted to write this story is due to the hyperbole that many media outlets have jumped in to. I also read a blog on a the Southern Poverty Law Center website that was completely inaccurate. Let’s be clear, the Oath Keepers do not break the law. That is not what we are about. We protect the law of the land. We do not advocate violence or confrontation with government officials regardless of the situation. We do advocate accountability and we do demand that when a government entity approaches a person with a punitive action in mind that it follows the law when doing so. People have the right to protect their property. Period. The way the right and the left are speaking about this situation, and, the Oath Keepers, has nothing to do with what the Oath Keepers are truly about. Further, we are not some racist extremist organization of any kind. I for one am tired of reading that we are “gun toting racist anti-government extremists.” Demanding that our local, state, and federal government abide by the law of the land is not partisan, racist or extremist. In responding to the request from the Sugar Pine Mine owners the Oath Keepers have not broken any laws nor have they advocated the breaking of any laws. Sugar Pine has the protected right from any punitive action without due process. It is that simple. From the evidence that I have seen, in addition to the law itself the BLM is the entity that is in the wrong here.
This is a developing story.