Conflicts between activists and those they disagree with are nothing new but alleged threats to shoot members of Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild) and their fellow hikers stirred up fears in southern Oregon recently.
According to George Sexton of KS Wild, the conservation group found out about the threats to shoot at them, which appeared on an Internet discussion forum for miners called Oregon Gold Hunters, after their hike was completed.
KS Wild works to protect public lands, waterways and wildlife in southern Oregon. One of their campaigns has been to end suction dredge mining in rivers. Sexton says suction dredge mining, which stirs up sediment and sometimes toxic substances like mercury, arsenic and cyanide, is harmful to native fish such as threatened Coho salmon as well as to water quality.
Sexton says the mining “leaves taxpayers on the hook for cleaning up the mess.”
Conflicts between miners and other public lands users, Sexton says, have gone on for years, but sentiment has been aroused recently by a ban on suction dredging in California that may drive miners up into southern Oregon.
In response to an email about a planned KS Wild hike, one of the miners, under the name “spilsnthils” wrote on the Internet forum: “Out in the woods on their own, hmm sounds like disaster. If a guy was pissed off enough he could sit up in the woods with a high powered assault riffle and put an end to the whole group in one swift action.”
After law enforcement officials were alerted to the posts, Sen. Ron Wyden wrote a letter to AG John Kroger and U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton asking them to “use your authority to ensure the safety of community groups on public lands.”
Wyden also cited the instance of Gregory Graybill who was riding his four-wheel drive vehicle when he was shot by a miner who felt he was too close to his federal mining claim. Graybill’s arm had to be amputated.
The full Internet thread can be viewed here though it has been modified since media attention came to the site. Forum participants have cited their First Amendment right to free speech on the issue.
According to Tony Green, director of communications for Kroger’s office, “The Department of Justice looked at the website in question and determined that the comments were protected First Amendment speech. As a result, there is no basis for a criminal investigation.”
Sexton says KS Wild has no plans to stop its hikes on public lands, “The best way to respond to this stuff is by shining the light of day” on it, says Sexton. “You can’t let thugs determine public policy with threats.”
For upcoming KS Wild hikes, go to the KS Wild website
This story is an updated version of the news brief that appears in the April 8 issue.