The Multiple Use and Sustained Yield Act of 1960 brought the term “multiple use” into common use, but it is used differently by different users. Commercial interests tend to use it as meaning “development” instead of protection. The Act lists five multiple uses: outdoor recreation, range (grazing), timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes.

Under the Wilderness Act of 1964, all of these uses are allowed except timber. Grazing that was taking place before designation as wilderness is allowed until bought out or retired. And mining is allowed if the leases were in place before the designation.

The legislation that regulates mining was signed into law by President Ulysses Grant, and reflects the 19th century view that natural resources are there for the taking. However, a legacy of pollution and defacement at tens of thousands of abandoned mines across the West clearly flies in the face of wilderness values and has prompted challenges to new mine proposals and caused some to fail or be delayed.

The US Forest service is asking for public comment on plans to build a road and begin drilling in a remote area of Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. The lease holder, American Independence Mines and Mineral Company plan to mine gold near Big Creek in the wilderness. Clearly, roads and mining machinery are out of place in wilderness, and the potential for habitat destruction and lasting pollution must be considered.

The Multiple Use and Sustained Yield Act states prominently (on the first page):

“Multiple use means the management of all the various renewable resources of the national forests so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the needs of the American people.”

Mining is not a renewable resource; once the ore is gone, it is gone forever. There is no multiple use with mining. Ever hiked through a retired open pit mine? Ever even seen cattle grazing in a strip mined piece of land? Is there any hunting, fishing or wildlife hanging out on tailings? Single use or abuse of public land has no place in wilderness.

Wilderness is truly multiple use — we can all enjoy it whether we explore it or not. We can be amazed at the scenery, marvel at the quiet solitude, appreciate the wildlife living as they were meant to live in natural surroundings where man is just a visitor. Breath the air, drink the clear water — and feel great about a small part of the USA remaining free.

The Multiple Use and Sustained Yield Act doesn’t list mining as a use, but it does mention wilderness (in the last sentence of Section 2 (16 USC 529):

“The establishment and maintenance of areas of wilderness are consistent with the purposes and provisions of this Act.”

The public comment period ends February 23rd. If you, like me, don’t want this wonderful wilderness  invaded and degraded by a gold mining operation, send your comments to:
Jim Egnew, 800 W Lakeside Ave, McCall, ID

This post is the opinion of the writer.
The photos above were from the 2014 WV project in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, taken by Steve Jones.