Ashland police have stepped up patrols around KS Wild, following threats identifying an employee of the environmental organization as a possible target and posting his picture and home address on websites of gold miners and in a store in the Applegate.
The threats began with circulation of a poster at the Roseburg Gold Show, sponsored by the Douglas County Prospectors Association Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, said Joseph Vaile, director of KS Wild in Ashland.
The flier was posted on several social media sites, including the Facebook page of Kerby Jackson, an officer of the Galice Mining District, an organization of gold miners. Jackson, a historian and author, was a speaker at the gathering.
Using anonymous handles, others joined with threatening posts, according to screenshots provided by Vaile. One suggested the employee better move out of the area. Another said, "Hey miners! Here ya go! Open season."
One suggested putting a cross (hairs) on his face. Another said "eco-wacs" and politicians should be "shot on sight."
The flier posted in the Applegate and since taken down named the employee's wife, called her "also a radical environmentalist" and gave the couple's address and phone number. The couple has an infant in the house.
"We're not scared," Vaile said. "We are confident only a small minority of the miners resort to these tactics. We hope it's a lot of bluster, but we take the threat very seriously."
The language of the poster is troubling, Vaile said, because it indicates miners "may have cased the home" of the employee.
Jackson's poster, titled "This man has helped steal your chance for prosperity," charged the employee and KS Wild with taking funding from disreputable sources, suing to block scores of timber sales and closing thousands of acres of public lands to miners and ranchers in Oregon.
The poster shows the employee wearing a crown and cozily flanked by an owl and rabbit.
"They (KS Wild) may perceive this as a threat ... I wouldn't call it a death threat," said Jackson. "People post their angry feelings. People get hot over this subject in the spirit of the moment.
"They no longer have jobs, the ranchers, miners and timber workers. They have a right to free speech, as long as they don't go out and kill someone. ... At the same time, people shouldn't make stupid comments. They should think before they talk."
The "bullying," as Vaile called it, prompted KS Wild to do an emailing to 3,000 members and 7,000 other supporters asking for signatures on a petition saying they support healthy rivers and fish runs, as well as a "civil dialogue" on how to arrive at best management policies.
The petition notes, "The miners' threats to harm conservation advocates and their families are unacceptable and reflect poorly on those who are encouraging and promoting violence. I pledge not to let intimidation and threats determine what happens on public lands that belong to all Americans."
More than 6,000 people signed on and many donated money, he said, noting KS Wild is a small organization on a lean budget.
The petition will be sent to elected officials and mining organizations, he said.
The Oregon Legislature in 2013 put a cap of 8,500 permits for suction dredge mining, which will cut the practice by a third. Miners vigorously protested the bill. KS Wild worked for its passage.
Vaile believes such mining of rivers and banks increases turbidity of rivers, harming salmon, trout and the river itself.
California placed a moratorium on suction dredging, resulting in an influx of miners to Southern Oregon, he said.
Suction dredges resemble rowboats, essentially housing a large vacuum cleaner that sucks up dirt, gravel and bits of gold from river bottoms.
Jackson contends such mining is not harmful to fish and "might be more ecologically sound than not."
KS Wild contacted city and Oregon State Police. City police gave KS staff tips on being careful, Vaile said.
Ashland police Deputy Chief Tighe O'Meara said extra patrols are being done in Ashland and another town (he asked it not be named) where the staffer lives. The police chief of the unnamed town said he is patrolling the staffer's neighborhood.
That chief contacted the District Attorney's Office and was told the Internet postings and fliers are protected by free speech, the chief said, adding, "As long as there's no action taken (on the threats), they're not breaking the law. They're just running their mouths on Facebook. But we're keeping a close eye on them."
Communication between the mining and environmental communities has been attempted in the past but, Jackson said, "There's not a hope for a meeting of minds. There will come a day when mining, timber and ranching are over."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.