Idaho Hearing Pits Gold Miners Vs. Geologists, Environmentalists

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Attorneys representing federal lands argued Tuesday that mining along the North Fork of Idaho's Clearwater River threatens fishing, camping and protection of Native American artifacts.

This morning's Lewiston Tribune reports that the testimony launched three days of public hearings pitting the U.S. Forest Service against miners who hold four claims totaling 160 acres between the Orogrande and Weitas creeks. Attorneys said dozens of mining claims along the Clearwater River were subsequently subdivided and sold on Internet auction sites like eBay.

But U.S. attorneys representing the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest on Tuesday called a geologist as their prime witness, who said that "there is little to no gold on these claims." Geologist Clint Hughes added that he believed the miners might think they had a "superior right to be there and other forest users would be pushed out."

One of the miners, James Young, pushed back against the geologist's findings:

"My contention is these figures are completely incorrect," said Young.

But Young was cautioned by Administrative Law Judge Robert Holt from the U.S. Department of Interior.

"I hate to say this but you are preaching now," Holt told Young. "You have a right to say that, but not at this time."

The hearings are continuing today at the Clearwater County Courthouse in north-central Idaho.

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