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BLM Idaho Management Plan to Prohibit Hobby Rock Collecting

Free Range Report

Approximately 3 million acres are targeted for withdrawal in Idaho. Affected areas include much of the land in and around the Lost River basin between Challis and Arco as well as huge swaths of land around Carey. This area is prime rockhounding country. It would be a shame to effectively shut down recreational rockhounding in this mineral paradise.

Post Register

March 3, 2017

Rockhounds may lose access in Gem State

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By Gerald Gibeault

Rockhounds, technically categorized with miners, may lose access to their beloved hobby in the BLM’s proposed Sagebrush Focal Area Withdrawal, writes Gerald Gibeault.

Rockhounds find hidden beauty in nature’s mineral marvels.

As president of the Idaho Falls Gem and Mineral Society, I am concerned that the actions considered in the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Sagebrush Focal Area Withdrawal could be bad news for recreational rockhounding in our Gem State.

Specifically, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) intends to ban the use of shovels and other hand tools for rockhounding in withdrawn areas. Only surface collection will be allowed. The draft EIS can be viewed on-line at http://tinyurl.com/BLMRockhound.

The draft EIS presents plans for protecting the greater sage-grouse and its habitat from future mining operations. Under the proposal, the BLM will withdraw about 10 million acres from “location and entry” under the Mining Law of 1872, subject to valid existing rights. Basically, no new mining claims will be allowed in the withdrawn areas for 20 years. Information and an interactive map are available on BLM website, http://tinyurl.com/BLMSageMap.

On pages one and two, the EIS states, “The proposed withdrawal, if approved, would not prohibit any other authorized uses on these lands, such as grazing, recreation, off-highway vehicle use, […].”

My impression is that BLM is not telling the whole story about impacts to recreation. Briefly, recreational rockhounding has been considered “casual use” under mining law. When lands are withdrawn from the mining law the term “casual use” goes away leaving the BLM free to do whatever it wants in that regard.

I learned of the “casual use” problem and BLM intentions by chance at a public meeting. I had not expected the BLM to ban hand tools in withdrawn areas as deliberate policy. I discussed my concerns with Adam Merrill, a geologist from the BLM Washington D.C. Office. Mr. Merrill gave permission to use his name. He confirmed that it is BLM’s intention to restrict the use of hand tools when rockhounding in the withdrawn areas.

Interestingly, fossilized wood and invertebrate fossils have their own regulations and may be collected in the same area using hand tools. (A definition for “casual use” can be found by searching the BLM Colorado Office website for “Locatable Minerals.”)

Approximately 3 million acres are targeted for withdrawal in Idaho. Affected areas include much of the land in and around the Lost River basin between Challis and Arco as well as huge swaths of land around Carey. This area is prime rockhounding country. It would be a shame to effectively shut down recreational rockhounding in this mineral paradise.

For rockhounds, the problems raised by the draft EIS can be solved by expanding the “casual use” definition used to collect fossilized wood and invertebrate fossils to also cover recreational rockhounding.

This column was written to address the concerns of rockhounds. So, while no more public meetings are scheduled the public still has until March 30 to submit comments.

If you think you could be impacted by the proposed land withdrawal I suggest you check out the following website and submit a comment as recommend by the BLM: https://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/Dear_Reader_Final.pdf


Gibeault is president of the Idaho Falls Gem and Mineral Society.