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Rock and Gem Hunting and the Land We Love

Rock and Gem Hunting and the Land We Love

Today I have an issue I really want to address.  This is an email I received from a member of RHS1.  I am keeping his identity private – but this is the issue he hit me with.  I want you to read it and understand this.  Every one of you who ever goes out looking for that special rock – read it.   If you are an RHS1 member, I will be posting this link in the forum for discussion.

For those of you who can’t read an article without pictures – here’s the obligatory pretty rock pic for you:

Now onto important business.

Here is the letter I received today, in full minus the signature.

Hey Sal, I didn’t want to post this on the forum, actually I debated posting it on the forum but I don’t want to seem like a constant downer negative ned on there. So I thought I’d mention this issue.
I spend a lot of weekends roaming the hills west of Succor Creek, in the 3 fingers, Leslie Gulch, and Macintyre Springs area because I love it so much, not only for rockhounding, but also for just hiking, photography, biking, and just an escape.  So this weekend was no exception, I wasn’t really going for any big rockhounding trip so much as just to explore some other areas and possibly find some new sites to check out in the future.
Last spring, I discovered the blue opal deposit off McIntyre Springs road for the first time, after hunting for it unsuccessfully over several previous trips. It was one of my best collecting finds. I took home a few really nice pieces from there.  From reading the posts, I know you and a few other members had done well there a couple weeks earlier.
When I stopped there this time, I discovered a sign: “Federal Mining Claim- removal of minerals will result in fine, imprisonment, etc” basically everything short of the death penalty, for the “Crime” of removing any rocks- rest assured that no such signage was there last spring, and what was once a happy pastime (albeit as well kept? secret) is now a crime- and no longer a well kept secret. I’m guessing this happened over the summer.
This is the kind of thing which saddens me- areas being closed not through onerous government bureaucrats, over hunting, or careless people trashing them, but rather one person being greedy and deciding to shut everyone else out.  I always use good rockhound ethics when I go hunt in the field- take no more than you need, leave something for other people, leave the site better than you find it, respect private property, etc. So I didn’t get anything this time,  and it appears this site is now on the “closed and former hunting sites” for everyone.  I don’t know who filed the claim, whether it was a RHS1 member or some outsider trying to cash in on our hobby, but either way the blue opal site is closed- no more for us peons.  Basically, things like this are why, more and more, I find myself adamantly in agreement with you and the website’s policy of keeping areas secret, so this kind of thing doesn’t happen to more of our favorite sites.  I’m pretty sure none of us blabbed about the location of the blue opal deposit (I certainly didn’t) but it does make me sad that someone found it nonetheless, and basically took it from the rest of us.
I do really enjoy participating on the site, and the only reason I thought I’d email you was not to sound so negative on the forums. (and I apologize for sounding negative here, too.) On the off chance it was an RHS member who filed the claim then hopefully there are no hard feelings, although hopefully he will still allow other members to collect there with permission.
I did have an otherwise good day out there yesterday though.  Found a couple small but beautiful pieces of neatly patterned brown/tan picture jasper from elsewhere in the area, and enjoyed some spectacular scenery.  Sorry for the long post.
First of all, I have to inform you that the area you are talking about has been claimed land since I first lived out in that region.  We were permitted on it via the generosity of the owner/claimant.    People, and even corporations, in the past were generous in allowing rockhounds onto their land to hunt.   Unfortunately, some people don’t know how to behave like anything but cannibals when they are allowed off the sidewalks.
When land is generally known to produce now, which much is thanks to the people who made their own living from making guidebooks, and others who carelessly post directions or coordinates on websites, it gets hit hard by hunting enthusiasts.  Not only do they wipe out anything laying on the surface, they dig holes and leave without covering them back up, they throw trash, set fires, breach posted private property boundaries, root trees.  You name it.  When a site becomes popularly known, people will destroy it with very little thought about respect for the land.
I blame this attitude of “if I can find a great rock I’ll get rich instantly” vein of hunting we’re now seeing on that show Cash and Treasures, where you will see the host going different places then telling all about how much her find was worth.  People might not notice, for one, that she doesn’t find some of those things – claim owners find them and trade her for all the junk she finds, then make her a bauble from it that has a good price tag on it commercially.   People actually think it’s that easy to strike it rich in the field – the exact mentality that destroyed more lives than you could count during the gold rush era.  Anything for a buck.
People with this kind of mentality will completely destroy an area to get at what they want.  The side effect of this craze is that anyone who owns land will shut it down.   Anyone messing with the ecology of a BLM  area will get the area shut down by government.
You can’t go digging holes in streams or toss dirt from a hole in them without getting land shut down.
Anything that could cause the alteration of water flow and nutrient content is strictly forbidden.
Rooting trees is another common destruction.  You can’t dig all the rock out from under live trees.  It’ kills them. Period.  If you dig under a tree at all, you better be willing to put all that dirt back in the hole when you’re done, or that land is going to get shut down while there’s still forestry on it.
You can’t toss garbage at a site and not get it shut down.  Do you know that some of that garbage is very dangerous to wildlife.   If it piles high enough it’s just a general toxic health hazard.   Even in small doses that probably won’t threaten life by being there — it’s pathetic.  It’s ugly, it’s not what people go to see.  It’s a statement that the selfish, lazy, thoughtless pig that was just there has an attitude about our natural lands that should be an embarrassment to every one of us in this country.
Then you have the really hardcore opportunists that will actually take commercial equipment to a site and completely wipe it out.  Nuff said already on this issue.
As far as land being claimed – if you find land worth claiming, it’s work and money to find it, claim it, and work it.  You deserve that claim.  Just because someone else can’t work it without your permission, it doesn’t make you evil for having that claim.  Claiming can actually have great benefits – especially now during the federal land grab era.  Clubs can claim land that would be otherwise shut down and keep it open to the public or those in their clubs so that someone still has access to it.   Clubs can also sometimes contract stewardship of some areas and keep them open by maintaining the damage that rabid hunters are doing.
Some people get a little pissy with me about being so stringent about posting directions to rock sites.  I won’t allow it on my forums.  Those forums are public and anyone can cruise that information, then go and clean a spot out or completely destroy it and get it shut down.
A good case in point is the particular area that the letter was addressing.   I know that was claimed territory at one time and am not sure who owned the claim or if it had dropped back to federal/state land status, but we were allowed to openly hunt the area for a long, long time.  It seems that people must have started causing some sort of problems up there.  It’s closed now.
Grassy Mountain?  It’s gone corporate.  The last time I was up there, there were signs that designated who had the ownership, or at least the stewardship of the land – I didn’t read it that well to know which, but it was not posted “keep out” ….yet.  It will be very soon so if that area was on your bucket list, you might as well scratch it off.
Lolo Pass?  I just found out from a member the other day that the whole East side of the mountain has been shut down to hunting.   I have no idea what the situation is – whether it’s claimed, privately owned, or public land under shutdown (they call it GOV land now, at any rate – “public” is no longer a term applied to land in the US).    BLM no longer “manages” land, it “owns” it, according to new maps and signs.
These are just a few of the really great hunting areas that have recently been closed to the public. It’s not going to get any better from here on in.
If you are one of those people dropping by RHS1 just to see where you can find to go and loot – you’re out of luck.  If you are a member in good standing with other conscientious members, you will find you have the ability to send private messages back and forth or even rent a private forum if you have a meet or business you want to be able to discuss in private and a board is the easiest way for you to do it.  If you are just cruising looking for that coordinate to just one more site for you to drop trash at, root a tree, or dig the streams up and get the land shut down though………please move along.  We do not, and will not cater to you here.  You can call me any name you want for that.  I’ll wear it.