The Friendly Federation

Founded to Serve

Southeast Federation
of Mineralogical Societies, Inc.

"PUBLIC LAND ACCESS ISSUES"
Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest - GEORGIA
THE CURRENT FOREST SERVICE PLAN FOR THE NATIONAL FOREST  LOCATED WITH IN GEORGIA

Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests
Land and Resource Management Plan
and
Final Environmental Impact Statement
(The Land and Resource Management Plan, commonly referred to as the "Forest Plan", was released in January 2004.)

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.

GOALS AND OBJECTIVES:


GOAL 52
Meet demands for energy and non-energy minerals consistent with Forest
Plan management prescriptions, multiple-use objectives, and in accordance with existing laws and regulations.

GOAL 53
Acquire mineral rights that were reserved, but for which there has been no
minerals activity; that is, the right has not been used.

STANDARDS:

FW-167 Using a metal detector without ground disturbance to locate minerals is
generally allowed unless a more stringent standard applies at the specific location. See related standards in the Recreation section.

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.

FW-170 The right of development of private mineral rights will be recognized and
allowed, subject to the terms of the deed of separation, appropriate state and federal laws, and Forest management direction.

FW-171 Lands staff will complete necessary environmental analyses in order to
provide the BLM with a consent decision on mineral prospecting permit applications within 90 days and mineral lease applications within 180 days.

FW-172 For all BLM issued permits and leases, the mining and reclamation plan
agreed to between the Forest and the miner will consider opportunities to enhance the desired future condition of the particular management area prescription.

FW-173 Common variety surface mineral materials authorizations will continue to be
issued on a fee basis where appropriate on the Forest.

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          •• ,


It appears that the Chattahoochee-Oconee NF has removed the relevant information from their website in regards to recreational gold-panning and rock-hounding. The following reference is now no longer available:

Gold Panning and Rock Hounding: Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests
Usually no more than a few cents worth of gold can be panned in an hour; however, there's always a chance of finding a stray nugget or odd pocket of finer gold. Gold ...
http://www.fs.fed.us/conf/rec/gold_panning.htm

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

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

MENU
Previous page...
Copyright All rights reserved.
The Southeast Federation of Mineralogical Societies, Inc.
  Send e-mail to: sfms@amfed.org
Return to the SFMS Menu Page