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Gold Hill man fighting latest illegal mining charge

Clifford R. Tracy, convicted of illegal mining on Galice and Sucker creeks in 2009 and 2011, says he's going to fight the latest charges against him.

The 42-year-old Gold Hill man was cited Oct. 22 for unlawful pollution by Oregon State Police after he was found operating a suction dredge on his mining claim on Sucker Creek, a tributary of the Illinois River about 12 miles southeast of Cave Junction.

That date was more than a month after the in-stream work period ended on Sept. 15. Sucker and Galice creeks have spawning populations of coho salmon, listed as threatened in the Rogue River basin.

On Wednesday, Tracy told the Daily Courier he'll represent himself at his next court hearing, Jan. 5 before Josephine Count Circuit Judge Lindi Baker. He appeared for arraignment on Nov. 19.

Now as then, Tracy steadfastly holds to the stance that the federal Mining Law of 1872 gives him the right to mine at will.

"I'm going to take them to federal court," he said. "I'm going to sue the Department of State Lands and the Department of Environmental Quality. The state has been overriding its authority on federal mining claims, it's as simple as that."

In this incident he ignored the work period designed to allow suction dredge work during the time of least impact on fish.

OSP troopers Brad Bennett and Josh Nugent, working from an anonymous tip, went to Tracy’s claim on Oct. 22.

Bennett said Tracy was in the water, the suction dredge running, when the troopers arrived.

“He knew what he was doing and what the in-water work period was,” Bennett said. “He was polite. His only concern was there wasn’t any fish there. That’s what they base the time period on.”

Bennett added it is not a criminal violation, but a violation of a permit.

The prosecutor in the case, Chris Morgan of the Josephine County District Attorney’s office, declined comment.

In his 2011 trial, a defiant Tracy recited Lincoln’s Gettysburg address of 1865, ad-libbing the final lines.

“Not by the environmentalists, for the environmentalists,” he said. And “not by the agencies, for the agencies.”

At the trial, Tracy said the BLM has a history of using paperwork to block legal mining.

“The real question is: Do I have a right to mine? Yes, I do,” he said.

Despite his rhetoric, the jury found him guilty of illegal mining and he was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Owen Panner to a year in prison, a sentence later suspended.

In 2009, Tracy was convicted of illegal mining, also on Sucker Creek. He felled trees, built a pond that leaked sediment, built an illegal road and mined without a permit, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

He continued to operate after warnings, was cited, and placed on 12 months probation with a fine.

Reach reporter Jeff Duewel at 541-474-3720 or jduewel@thedailycourier.com