New Speak and Catch 22 in Idaho

 (Beware the humble gold pan in the state of Idaho.)

My Idaho pard Gary "Muskrat" Thomas recently sent me some info from the powers-at-be in the Potato State regarding small-scale gold mining. Like many other western U.S. states, Idaho has placed some pretty stiff parameters on mining activities, including panning. Yep, you heard right. Panning!

The Naked Truth

As a preamble to the heart of the matter, you readers and supporters out there already know how I feel about the increasingly restrictive rules and regulations placed on small-scale gold miners in the American West today. As each year passes we seem to get more and more of the shittier end of the stick in this regard. I think we all know who and what is behind this negative trend these days, so I won't go into my usual crazed rant about the neo-Socialist regime in Washington, D.C., the holier-than-though green cult members, the greedy and corrupt politicos who bow to the prevailing winds, or the petty bureaucratic clones who carry out their marching orders. Nope. They are what they are and they don't serve us well for the most part. That's the naked truth.

"Muskrat" is a very talented guy...a miner, trapper, and leather worker extraordinaire. He's also one of us, meaning his feet are planted firmly on the ground and he doesn't suffer fools gladly, if at all. He loves the history of the West and all that history entails. The info he's provided me concerning the BS regulations governing small-scale mining and prospecting in Idaho reflect all that I stated in the paragraph above. In Idaho, like many other places in the West and Southwest, our freedoms are being taken away bit-by-bit and step-by-step. Big Brother casts his "benevolent" gaze over Idaho just as he does in every state of the Union itself. Don't like it? Tough shit brothers and sisters. Try and do something real about it and guess what? You'll find the IRS auditing you, the local forest Nazis on your ass, or they'll lock you up in the Gulag for violating their rules. Sounds extreme, I know. But not that far from reality if you are honest enough to admit it.

 (Don't like it? How about a "tenner" in the Gulag?)

Here's a little printed brochure tidbit (quoted word-for-word) sent to me by "Muskrat" concerning Idaho's take on what they call "casual use" prospecting and mining:

Casual Use

One of the most common prospecting methods is panning. Although gold panning is considered casual use and does not require notification or approval on BLM-managed land, there are other (my emphasis here) legal considerations:
  • The Idaho Department of Water Resources lists the Salmon River and its tributaries as closed to recreational mining (including panning) in Lemhi and Custer Counties. BLM does not manage the river corridor below the high water mark.
  • The second bulleted blurb in this missive mentions the Endangered Species Act, their habitat, and steelhead, Chinook salmon, Sockeye salmon, and bullhead trout. I'll talk more about this in a bit.

 (Remember, it's all about the little "fishies.")
  • Recreational mining (including panning) is not allowed or recognized in the Salmon-Challis National Forest.
  • Above the high-water level on BLM-managed land, panning with human-powered equipment such as rockers, sluices, trommels, etc., are not considered casual use.
  •  The last bulleted item in this list deals with filling in your holes, something I don't take real issue with.
OK, let's take a look at this bull crap. The area containing the Salmon River and its tributaries is on a massive scale. Two entire Idaho counties in this area are off limits, even to gold panning. Remember, Idaho defined gold panning as casual use prospecting that did not require a notification to the "authorities." But there are legal considerations. Is it asking too much to question the authorities in Idaho on the specifics of just exactly WHAT those "legal considerations" are? That particular series of words is what I would term a "catch-all phrase" meant to obfuscate things and perhaps bring forth an implied threat of sorts. It's the written version of Pontius Pilate washing his hands in front of the the Pharisees.

Catch 22

Now let's talk about gold panning. The gold pan is the simplest and most basic prospecting and clean-up tool in any small-scale miner's equipment arsenal. Its "destructive" power is virtually nil. In Idaho, on one hand they're telling you it's a piece of "casual" gear that doesn't require any special considerations and in the next breath they're telling you that you can't use a gold pan in a vast swath of PUBLIC lands. Yes, public lands. Our lands, supposedly. So which is it Idaho? What a mealy mouthed piece of hypocrisy. In other words, what they're telling you is that it's OK to use a gold pan but then you can't use it, at least in the designated areas. It's like a passage out of Joseph Heller's famous book, Catch 22. A freaking gold pan hurts nothing, especially if you fill in your holes afterwards. There is NO adverse impact to endangered species, the water quality, or public lands caused by gold panning unless you had ten thousand small-scale miners doing it at the same time. That ain't the case though. The gold rushes in the United States are long over. I tell you one thing, from a small-scale mining standpoint I'd have my aging ass out of Lemhi and Custer counties in a heartbeat, if not Idaho as a whole.

New Speak

You know, back in the day when I was mostly suction dredging underwater in Norther California the Sierra Club was on our asses because of their distorted assumptions that we dredgers were harming fish habitats in the gold-bearing rivers and streams of the Northern Motherlode region. I never once saw a trout roll belly up and give up the ghost when I was dredging. In fact, as a counterpoint they'd cluster just downstream from where I was dredging, all excited and zipping back and forth gobbling up the goodies like hellgrammites that I was uncovering. Trout love those nasty looking bugs! But nooooooooooooooooo. To the greenies I was committing the genocidal equivalent of Hitler's SS at Buchenwald. What a crock. Instead of spending all your time obsessing over the fishies and saving the whales, why don't you assholes save yourselves first? Want to really save Tibet? Sell your Priuses or your Subarus or your Range Rovers, cash in your big 401k's, list your outrageously expensive homes in Petaluma, or Scottsdale, or Beverly Hills, grab the thousands upon thousands from your trust funds, and then buy AK-47s and RPGs for the Tibetan revolutionaries. Better yet, why not fight right alongside them? Oh, I forgot. That'd mean missing your Starbucks caramel machiottos each morning or getting uncomfortable or even dirty. Hell, you actually might get shot or blown up, God forbid. Talking the talk and walking the walk are two different things, after all. Right, you nest of vipers?

(Oh ye nest of vipers.)

Idaho's new speak is really something. You can mine above the high water mark but you can't use trommels, rockers, or even the humble sluice box. Notice how they say "panning" using these items? WTF over? What dumbasses. They don't even understand the difference between a gold pan and piece of mining equipment! Moreover, what small-scale guy or gal in their right mind would break out that sort of gear above the high-water mark???? Hell, there isn't any water to run that equipment up there anyway. What craziness. What madness. These people obviously don't know their asses from a hole in the ground, pure and simple.

I Feel Your Pain

Gary my friend. I feel your pain brother. I know Idaho is a beautiful state with many fine and decent people inhabiting it, and you're one of them. But from a small-scale miner's point of view, you can have it and welcome to it. Ditto for California and Oregon if you live there. Mining's dying out in these states, both commercially and from a small-scale point-of-view.

And you know who to thank...

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2016

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. JR, like I have said before, at least in my area, if you are a prospector, you are an outlaw. I live in Lemhi county on the edge of the Salmon/Challis National forest. Anyplace within about a hundred miles from here is illegal. In the early days of the Old West, prospectors had to keep a close eye open for Indians and outlaws....we still have to today, only the outlaws are legal and work for the government!
    You get used to ducking for cover at the sound of a passing car, but I prefer to get back away from the road as far as possible. Still, keep your eyes open and bring a dog.
    What really gets me, is that the hardware store in town has a pretty good supply of mining equipment. Sluice boxes,rock hammers, picks & shovels, gold vials,claim notices, and even those evil gold pans! Yet nowhere is there any notice that you can't use them in this area. The BLM/Forest Service building, I consider enemy territory, but I went in there and asked about that. They said "It's not illegal to sell those things, only illegal to use them" about setting someone up. In all fairness though, I have never heard of anyone getting into trouble over it here. I even caught our retired State Police officer panning one time. I told him he was illegal and he said "I know, but some laws are just too stupid to follow." he's a good guy!
    Back to the BLM / Forest Service building,...They built it on one of my best Muskrat trapping swamps! They drained the swamp and pounded 40 foot pilings into the ground to keep the building from sinking. If you or I, or some rancher fills in a mud puddle, they say we are "draining wet lands" and give us a huge fine! Yet it is OK when they do it. OK, I'd better quit before I get too worked up.
    One more thing before I do. This terrible job I took as water master of all things for the Department of Water Resources it turns out... It has it's roots in gold mining I have since learned. I will save telling you about it until another time though, but I think you will find it interesting, I know I did. Thanks Jim, Gary

    1. You speak loads of truth here Gary. They make you feel just like an outlaw these days...even in selected locations in New Mexico.

  2. Pretty soon Nevada will be all that's left.New Mexico and Arizona will hold out for awhile but AZ is constantly under attack by the Feds and New Mexico is turning into California. There is nothing more useless than our government these days. We'll except maybe environmental wack jobs and Cop haters, none of which I'd lose sleep over if they happened to fall off a cliff or got run over by a fed up taxpayer. The whole damn thing is upside-down and backwards. I feel for Gary and the great people of Idaho. Living in California I understand the frustration and nonsense. At some point the kettle will boil over and it won't be pretty. God bless this great country and God give us the courage to right the damn ship!

  3. I agree about the kettle boiling over Jeff. It's a mess out there these days...


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