I have been asked several times, “What is the situation in the Morrisonite area relative to the possibility of future production.” The situation is very complex and involves many issues. I hesitate to write this because there will be controversy. Other events compel me to do this now.
First of all, I have to offer this disclaimer, I am not a lawyer and all the legal implications are from my experience and do not bare legal expertise. I am writing this in the sincere hope that it will contribute to more Morrisonite being produced.
There were five claims filed on the west side of Sheepshead Ridge between 1970 and 1975 over the Morrisonite deposits. They were called Big Hole, Big Hole II, Amy Ellen, Christine Marie, and Lacey. A jeep road was put in from the canyon rim and a dozer cut into the canyon side all the way to the Amy Allen claim. This road connected with the road constructed by Jim Morrison many years earlier from the Owyhee River below. Jim Morrison and other people used the road from the river to collect jasper and for hunting.
All of this was in existence before 1976 when Congress passed FLPMA - the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. This Act did many things, one of which required the BLM to investigate all the lands it managed for the possibility of inclusion in the Wilderness system. The BLM organized this by state forming what are called Wilderness Study Areas - WSA’s. Each WSA was to be 5000 acres or larger, be roadless and have minimal human impact on the land included within its boundaries. Each of these WSA’s was too then be studied for wilderness characteristics, have a mineral report done on the potential for mineral value on the land and be given a recommendation either for or against inclusion into the Wilderness system. The list of WSA’s, by state, was to be voted on by Congress before 1991. For example, Congress could vote to have 50% of the WSA’s in a given state become wilderness.
Needless to say many WSA’s were eliminated because they did not meet the criteria above. Also, not all states, like Oregon, had their WSA’s voted on by Congress. All the WSA’s in those states exist today no matter if they are recommended as acceptable or unacceptable for wilderness designation. More about this later.
The Blue Canyon WSA was formed north of the Jordan Craters WSA along with several others along the south and east sides of the Owyhee River Canyon. These WSA’s were separated by existing roads and the river. the Morrisonite claims and the road into the claims are in the middle of the Blue Canyon WSA. At the time of the WSA formation, there was intense pressure from environmental groups to include all the lands around the Owyhee River Canyon as potential Wilderness. There were other groups that wanted to make the Owyhee River Canyon a national park. The Blue Canyon WSA is on the far eastern part of the canyon and does not meet the criteria necessary for wilderness. In order to satisfy the pressure and to include the area in a WSA the following was done. First of all, the road, the cabins and the major mine workings were eliminated from the WSA land.They did this by having the boundary of the WSA go down one side of the road, around the cabins, around the major mining workings, and then out the other side of the road. So the road into the claims is not in the WSA, the cabins are not in the WSA, and the major workings of the Big Hole claim are not in the WSA. The EIS for the Blue Canyon WSA lists the amount of this land as 10 acres. So there are 10 acres of land inside the periphery of the WSA that are not in the WSA and do not come under WSA rules. The boundary of the Blue Canyon WSA follows Birch Creek Road down to private land along the river, goes along the river then up the far side of Blue Canyon until it hits the road on the lava plateau, then along one side of the road into the cabins, around the mine workings, and back out the other side of the road and then back to Birch Creek Road. The next thing that was done to make the area acceptable as a WSÀ was to declare the road that Jim Morrison made a “way” and not a road. What is a “way” and not a road was defined in a report to Congress called RS 2477. This document summarized the public right of way as it applied to trails, ways, and roads across public land and also provided diffinitions of each. Any rought traveled by the public that has been improved with equipment is a public road. The WSA criteria says that any natural area that has a road through it is not acceptable as a WSA. By calling this road a “way” (traveled rought with no improvement), there was no road through the proposed WSA.
The elimination of the road and mine workings from the study area (even though they are in the center of the study area) and the elimination of the road designations up from the river allowed for the Blue Canyon WSA to come into existence. Because of the private land along the river adjoining the WSA and the grandfathers rights of the five mining claims, the Blue Canyon WSA was given a negative recommendation for wilderness. In the 70's the old Morrison ranch was owned by a man named Marty Rust.
He used the ranch as a private getaway, built an airstrip, and he and his guests would fly in and out. Mr. Rust sold his land back to the government for about 3 million dollars of taxpayer money. After the BLM gained control of his land they changed the recommendation for the Blue Canyon WSA to a positive recommendation for wilderness.
As a part of the evaluation process for each WSA there must be a mineral study done to evaluate the mineral potential of the area. I was there when two geologists came to survey the area and I discussed the deposits with them. They were impressed with the extent of the Jasper bearing rock describing the Jasper as being zoned in the surrounding area rather than as an isolated deposit. I do not have the mineral report in front of me as I am writing this from memory, but I remember the report as being extensive. I also remember that the final EIS (environmental impact statement) made very little reference to the report.
All 5 Morrisonite claims had what are called “grandfathered rights” because they were all in existence before 1976. This meant that mining can occur on them even though they were in the WSA. New claims can be filed in WSA’s but they cannot be worked as the BLM is charged with managing the WSA land as if it were wilderness. Until such time that Congress decides which WSA’s are to become wilderness and which are not, all WSA land cannot be mined without grandfathered rights. When WSA land is withdrawn from Wilderness consideration it goes back to the multiple use directive and mining can continue.
I first visited the Morrisonite area in 1984 or '85 at the request of a man named Larry Butler. He had acquired the Amy Ellen and one half of the Christine Marie claims and wanted me to evaluate them. I discovered at that time that the Lacey and Big Hole II claims had been abandoned. I filled over the same land as the Lanora Jane and Veronica Lee claims. I did not know or understand at the time that these new claims cannot be worked except on those portions of the claims that are not in the WSA. Because the ownership of the claimed land is not continuous from 1976 on, the grandfathered rights are lost and the claim cannot be worked while the WSA is in existence.
My friend Jake, leased the Big Hole claim from Lisa Caldwell after Tom Caldwell died. Due to an uncertainty in the assessment work the BLM recommended to Lisa that she file a new claim over the big hole claim to ensure her continued ownership. Not realizing that this would nullify the grandfathered writes, the Meadowlark claim was formed over the Big Hole claim. After assessment work was done on one claim but not the other I filed over both claims as the Jake’s place claim. This created a big mess with only one really important result. The grandfathered rights on the Big Hole claim we're lost.
Only the Christine Marie and Amy Allen claims have grandfathered rights today and can be mined creating new disturbance under an approved Mining plan. The Jake’s place / Meadowlark claim, the Veronica Lee claim, and the Lanora Jane claim have small areas that are not in the WSA and can be mined only on those areas under the general Mining rules. This applies only to the 10 acres of land that is excluded from the WSA even though it is in the middle of the WSA.
When Jake and I were working in the early 90’s the BLM tried to impose upon Jake restrictive WSA rules for his activities. Mining for him was very difficult until it was pointed out by the state BLM office that he was working on multiple use ground and not in the WSA. So the mining possibilities are anywhere on the Christine Marie and Amy Allen claims and on the small portions of land on the Jake’s Place / Meadowlark claim and even smaller portions on the Veronica Lee claim. Land that is considered in the WSA cannot be touched or disturbed or moved or covered. I will not go into the difficulties of mining under these conditions as I am only considering here what is possible. I also would like to say here that there is lots of Jasper left in the deposits. The deposits are not depleted and in fact the Amy Allen claim has never had a piece of equipment on it. The area has only been dug by hand and some say this is where the most exotic colored Morrisonite jasper is found.
Congress was asked to decide on all WSA’s by 1991 in the law passed in 1976. Some states have gone through this process and others have not. Arizona has, and there are no longer any WSA’s in the state. Those lands in WSA’s that were not designated as wilderness have gone back to land managed under the multiple use directive. I am not sure about this but I believe about one half of the WSA’s became wilderness areas in Arizona. After several states went through this process there has been considerable effort to prevent the process from continuing for other states. Since all WSA’s must be managed as if they are wilderness, (so that if Congress acts, they are suitable for inclusion in the wilderness system), environmental groups have worked to prevent the completion of the program envisioned in 1976. In their view it is better to have all WSA’s managed as wilderness rather than have only half of them actually become wilderness.
Morrisonite Jasper is considered to be the finest Jasper in the world. That is not my designation but a claim made by many others. The people who want this area to be part of a national park don't care about Morrisonite Jasper. To them the mining activity is solely an irritation to their goal and they do not understand or accept that a Jasper rock could be the best of anything, let alone the best in the world. The series of events that have led to the current situation can easily be seen from a minor's point of view as conspiratorial. The miner has enough problems trying to get the rock out of the ground and does not want to concern himself with whether the route he just traversed was a road or a way. The BLM says that the Blue Canyon WSA is pristine -That the road into the deposits and the work there is an illusion and not part of the WSA. The BLM says that an obvious road made with equipment was just some patch of land driven over a few times. Suggestions by BLM officials that result in the loss of Rights are just some unfortunate circumstance. All of these suggest a conspiratorial effort to prevent mining in the area. I have felt this way myself even though my mind tells me it is probably not true. The BLM has a difficult job managing public lands with multiple use desires. But, in the case of the Blue Canyon WSA, the BLM has tipped the scales so far in one direction that only an act of Congress can change it. If you have had the fortitude to read this to the end I encourage you to contact your congressman when the Oregon WSA’s come up for a vote in Congress. Do not let the Blue Canyon WSA become wilderness and the chances that the world will get to see more of God's greatest Jasper will increase. - Eugene Mueller 2-2-16