Begins with presentation from Gila National Forest on current activities

[Editor's Note: As this was another lengthy meeting, the report on the Grant County Commission work session of Feb. 23, 21 will be broken into several parts. This is part 1.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

After approval of the Grant County Commission work session agenda for Feb. 25, 2021, the first presenter was Beth Ihle, Gila National Forest Silver City District Ranger. She announced that the forest would be reopening campgrounds and recreation areas, including Gomez Peak, in the Silver City area on March 15. "We will begin putting our sites on recreation.gov for people to reserve camping or other recreation uses, so they will be able to do it from their computer without having to walk into the office to do it. We will have more information coming out on it."

She said the forest would begin doing fuel projects "today, as we speak, with one pile burning near the Tadpole Fire site and Bear Creek. So, don't worry if you see smoke north of town, if you're on highway 15. We also have plans for two prescribed burns, one, the Bar 6 Burn in the Burros (Mountains), north of Redrock Road. We have been in dialogue with the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, because we will have trails closed, but we will have reroutes and it will be pretty short term. The second will be the Sawmill burn, south of Oak Grove subdivision. Pile burnings will also take place in the Wilderness District at L Bar T East near the North Star Road. They've been doing some pile burnings and I think they aren't quite done. The forest also has trail work planned. We got funding from the Great American Outdoors Act to do trail maintenance work, and we have been working with partners like Backcountry Horsemen and the Heart of the Gila, as well as other partners we are developing. We have a big focus on the Gila Wilderness, because a lot of those trails are in various conditions. This was instigated at the forest level by Christa Osborn and Matt Schultz. We also continue to work with Santa Clara on the facility at Fort Bayard ensuring they have a good plan for working on those buildings."

She noted that a mineral exploration project near Knight Peak in the Burros is in the early stages. "We are also continuing to evaluate the piece of the Tyrone Little Rock Project, which is mostly on BLM and private land, with just a little bit on forest land. We are also doing our primary activities and usual spring fire season preps."

District 3 Commissioner asked what a mineral exploration well consisted of.

Ihle said it's core drilling. "They will sample the surface and then will drill 3-inch or less diameter holes and pull out a cylindrical rock sample to evaluate the subsurface. They are called bore holes. The state has a role in permitting and guidelines for the holes, and they must be plugged after the cores are pulled and they will be bonded for it. It is the next step in exploration. There is an open forest road to most of the area. We will plan together for minimum impact on the pad sites. The country is pretty mild terrain, but if they go cross-country, they will have to rehabilitate it. No one is proposing any new permanent roads, nor are we interested in considering it."

Edwards asked what "beyond exploration" looks like if they find whatever it is they are looking for.

Ihle said she couldn't speak for them on that. Her impression is this stage is what they must do to determine if they would want to put more resources in to keep going if the cores show enough of what they are looking for. "It would be quite a bit of investment before they would come in with a mining proposal. They are trying to define an ore body. It's an old mining district, but it wasn't heavily deposited. If it's not good, they would be done."

Edwards asked if there is an example of a current mine on forest land.

Ihle said the Little Rock Mine of the Tyrone operations is on a piece of forest land. The closest active mine is a quartzite mine, the KB mine near Santa Clara. "Quartzite is a very hard material. When they mine it and crush it, they use is as bedding material at Chino Mine. They don't take a lot of material out of it, maybe a couple thousand yards a year. "

Edwards said she didn't want to take all day, but she had another question. "You said it would be up to the company to make the proposal, but there is a Forest Service side to this. I assume there would be a lot of Forest Service input on what would happen to that land. Would there be a benefit to the Forest Service?"

Ihle said, unlike leasable lands, the Forest Service would not get a mineral royalty. In the case of hard rock, where it's metallic minerals, the Forest Service has regulations to evaluate the process and "we would have to follow NEPA. For hard rock projects, we are bound by regulations on what our responses to a project would look like. We would be looking at mitigation. Some companies are receptive to that kind of thing. I don't know what the circumstances would be yet."

Edwards if there are no royalties, "what you're saying is there is no benefit to the public for use of our public land to have a mine on our public land."

Ihle said: "We have to follow our regulations. They are tied to the 1872 Mining Law. When an entity locates unpatented mining claims on the federal land estate, it is asserting its right to the minerals against the government. That's in law. It's one of those things that comes with public land administration."

Edwards said: "So the public gets no benefit, other than maybe a benefit to our iPhone 25 years from now. No direct benefit to the Forest Service."

Ihle said : "That's for the public to provide in their comments."

District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce asked what company is doing the exploration.

Ihle said: "Bronco Creek Exploration out of Arizona."

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne said he wanted "to compliment Ihle on her diplomacy. She mentioned the Mining Law of 1872. It's part of manifest destiny. The whole meaning of the law was the public benefited from opening the west to European colonization. This was part of it. Giving away public land that was taken by conquest and giving it to miners was considered a benefit all by itself, because the public was narrowly defined as Europeans on the East Coast. In addition to the fact that we don't get royalties, when a company makes a viable discovery and patents the land, there is very little anybody can do. The law wants to give it over to private owners. They pay between $2.50 and $5 per acre, which was the value established in 1872 under Ulysses S. Grant. That has not changed in 150 years. It's completely absurd. That law has needed to be reformed for many years. Thanks for allowing me to rant. The company will look for investors and develop the mineral. Other than state regulations, there is no other recourse."

Ihle said if it progresses to development, the forest will be doing a NEPA process and there will be decisions made. "We also have to coordinate with the state on the bond."

District 2 Commissioner Javier "Harvey" Salas asked for more information on where the site is. Ihle said it is off Mill Canyon Road.

"Remember, if you see smoke north of Silver City," Ihle reminded them. "It's pile burning."

The next article will address the next presentation by Grant County Community Health Council Emerging and Infectious Diseases Task Force and perhaps others.

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