We got back from our hike up the 76 Trail in Spearfish Canyon...

Spearfish Canyon, viewed from Buzzards Roost, over Savoy. Black Hills, South Dakota, 2013.06.22.

Spearfish Canyon, viewed from Buzzard's Roost, over Savoy. Black Hills, South Dakota, 2013.06.22.

...just as that state-spanning storm front whacked Spearfish. Another big rain, big wind, a few big hail stones.

One Spearfish resident with a deep love for his truck but no garage took drastic measures to protect his baby.

Truck on porch, Spearfish, South Dakota, 2013.06.22

Truck on porch, Spearfish, South Dakota, 2013.06.22

Visitors, enter at the rear.


The U.S. Forest Service released its final Environmental Impact Statement for its Mountain Pine Beetle Response project Thursday. The current decade-plus pine beetle infestation has killed trees on a third of the 1.2 million acres of the Black Hills National Forest. The EIS leads forest supervisor Craig Bobzien to the conclusion that the best course of action is to treat recently infected trees on 248,000 "high risk" acres. "Treatment" is a combination of cutting trees down, applying insecticide to infested areas, and using "semiochemicals," pheromones that either attract or repel bugs.

Spearfish Canyon Forest Service Management Area 4.2, in purple

Spearfish Canyon Forest Service Management Area 4.2, in purple

After taking public comment, the Forest Service made three main modifications to its proposed plan:

  1. More landscape level thinning in advance of beetle infestation;
  2. Add treatments in Spearfish Canyon (Management Area 4.2A);
  3. More forest roads: 60 miles permanent, 160 miles temporary.

Several Spearfish Canyon residents, the Cooper's mountainsnails, would have kept the road graders, loggers, and sprayers out of the canyon. Cooper's mountainsnail is a sensitive species protected by Forest Plan Standard 3013. The Forest Service will thus amend 3013 to exempt the pine beetle project (but not other activities, including your four-wheeler) from that rule.

Below is a big map of the potential treatment areas for the Forest Service's preferred alternative, as well as where those new roads would be cut into the Hills:

Forest Service Pine Beetle Repsonse Alternative C Map Aug 2012

Forest Service Pine Beetle Repsonse Alternative C Map Aug 2012 (click to enlarge)

The individuals and organizations who filed comments on the scoping or Draft EIS now have 30 days to submit objections (see the DEIS public comment here). Then the Forest Service will fire up the graders and chainsaws for a project that will take five to seven years.


Charmaine White Face inspired my latest online column in South Dakota Magazine. Her public testimony to the Lawrence County Commission against the Deadwood Standard Project got me thinking about the intersecting lessons of our efforts to dig for more gold in Spearfish Canyon and Native American efforts to outbid developers for Pe' Sla, the sacred grassland just north of Deerfield Lake:

In Deadwood, a Native woman says we whites cannot own, let alone mine, the Black Hills. Just down the road, Lakota people believe that, to protect the holy land, they must buy that which is not for sale from those who do not own it [CAH, "Black Hills, Mining, Land, and the Lakota," SouthDakotaMagazine.com, August 22, 2012].

I invite you to check out my full column at South Dakota Magazine... and say hi to Bernie while you're there!

* * *
I would like to discuss Charmaine White Face's testimony in more detail here. She said that she had heard nothing so far about the impact of the Ragged Top mine on Native Americans. Indeed, no one else at Tuesday's meeting mentioned how white men digging for gold anywhere in the sacred Black Hills offend the Great Sioux Nation. The DSP attorney said at the hearing that the conflict boiled down to the company and the community seeking economic opportunity versus a couple hundred Spearfish Canyon landowners, with no acknowledgment of legitimate concerns of anyone else—Native Americans, environmentalists, tourists—not holding a white man's title to the neighboring land. On DSP's website, the history of Ragged Top begins with white gold mining in 1896.

DSP's conditional use application to Lawrence County also makes scant mention of the folks from whom we stole the Hills. DSP's cultural and archaeological assessment sites one study from 1983 that focuses almost entirely on remnants of recent Euro-American activity. That study mentions one pre-historic jasper flake. It says nothing specific about the Sioux, the Arikara, or any other pre-Euro-invasion inhabitants. The socioeconomic study by Michael K. Madden takes a similar Eurocentric view: Native responses to further desecration of the Paha Sapa are absent from discussion of social impacts. As far as Deadwood Standard Project is concerned in its permit application, Indians are irrelevant to the Black Hills.

Ignoring Native Americans isn't unique to Deadwood Standard Project. It's how most of us occupiers of the Black Hills get through the day. It's how we sell most of our tourist attractions (I have a book review on that topic coming soon—you're still on my desktop, SDSHS Press!). It's how we avoid addressing the moral challenge of the original sin (think about that term) of our state and our nation.

And it's why a full meeting room was uncomfortably quiet when Charmaine White Face, Oglala Lakota of the Great Sioux Nation, questioned the right of Deadwood Standard Project and every other white person in the room to take anything (except themselves) from the Black Hills.


Here is the most impressive part of the Lawrence County Commission's decision yesterday to delay its approval of the Deadwood Standard Project:

The Lawrence County Commission is made up of five Republicans. Wealthy businessmen, including tourism icon and DSP partner Ted Hustead, told these commissioners that building this gold mine just over the rim of Spearfish Canyon is a matter of jobs, high wages, and economic development over the "ludicrous" (Hustead's word) objections of a very small minority of Spearfish Canyon homeowners. Proponents spoke from a position of strength, advocating an industry with a deep and cherished history in Lawrence County.

And those five Republicans said... not yet. Commissioner Daryl Johnson validated the environmentalists' Precautionary Principle, saying that if he had to make a final decision right now, he'd vote not to allow the mine, because the Deadwood Standard Project has not met its burden to prove the mine will not harm Spearfish Canyon. When the company reps pushed for a decision timeline so they could assure their investors, the commissioners dug in, saying they would decide when they felt they had enough information, not according to some arbitrary or rushed timeline.

The Lawrence County Commission made two formal decisions yesterday. First, it officially waived, per DSP's request, its own statutory requirement to act on any conditional use permit application within 45 days. Then it officially said that it would not make a final decision on the application until the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has studied the project and issued its report and recommendation... which DENR's Mike Cepak told the commissioners would likely take fourteen months.

Lawrence County Commissioners made a really hard choice between immediate economic gain and environmental protection... or maybe they didn't. At the beginning of the meeting, the commission indicated that, since last July's meeting on the mine, they had received 19 letters in support of the Spearfish Canyon mine and 243 against.

So maybe, technically, yesterday's vote wasn't really a great blow for environmentalism over the GOP economy-über-alles mindset. Maybe it was just five elected officials doing what the people want.

That's still a victory. Nice work, fellas.

Update 09:05 MDT: Here's Derek Olson's KELO report. Watch for the handsome blogger in the green shirt! ;-)


I'm at Deadwood City Hall, covering the Lawrence County Commission hearing on the Deadwood Standard Project proposal to mine for gold in Spearfish Canyon. I've been Tweeting public comment from proponents and opponents... Only to have Twitter go bonkers on me as we get to DSP's rebuttal time. Grrr, technology!

The mining company spent an hour this morning presenting data on its procedures and on environmental concerns. In a nutshell, the company says the mining waste won't get out, the noise won't be noticeable, and this mine won't make the mistakes of other companies. Local proponents say the Deadwood Standard Project will generate big economic benefits, with high wages, job opportunities for folks who've had to move away to make a living, and big local spending. Among the big business supporters is GCC Dacotah, which expects to sell truckloads of cement to the gold mine.

Spearfish Canyon homeowners following Lawrence County Commission's decision to postpone action on Deadwood Standard Project, Deadwood, South Dakota, August 21, 2012

These Spearfish Canyon homeowners oppose the Deadwood Standard Project's proposed gold mine in the canyon. The Lawrence County Commission decided this afternoon to postpone action on DSP's conditional use permit application until the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has studied the proposed mine and issued its recommendations. Pictured left to right outside Deadwood City Hall after the meeting: Beverly Shaw, Gene Shaw, Michael Goodroad, Roberta Noel, and Bob Noel.

Opponents have spoken passionately about the inevitability of accidents and the irreparability of lost water, wildlife, and beauty in the Canyon. Charmaine White Face of Defenders of the Black Hills noted the absence of any discussion of protection for sacred Lakota sites throughout the Canyon, many of which are kept secret to prevent exploitation. Rebecca Leas from Rapid City said she's seen in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere that mining and tourism don't go together. And the local Audubon chief Nancy Hilding said the commission should reject the application based on missing documents (and does yeoman debater work citing page numbers!).

The DSP attorney just finished reiterating his recognition that the commission likely will not grant approval today and his concomitant request that the commission today either delay or grant a conditional approval pending state approval. Stay tuned: commission discussion and decision coming up!

Update: Note that this meeting was scheduled to run from 10:30 to 12:00. Proponent testimony alone ran past noon. Commision chair Bob Ewing now officially closes public testimony at 14:00. The Commission recesses to let the stenographer stretch her fingers.

--14:45 MDT: USGS expert now talking about hydrology of Spearfish Canyon: heavy science! Now's the time when you want really smart county commissioners.

Mike Cepak from DENR is now taking questions about the environmental condition of the Ragged Top area. He says we're not seeing major issues from the area now aside from sedimentation. Cepak says DSP has at least one year of baseline data it still has to get to get state approval; even if Lawrence County approves DSP today, no state approval for mining could happen until October 2013 at the earliest.

--Commissioners finally are discussing the issue. Much of the discussion is about unanswered questions and the need for more information from DSP amd state experts.

--And the official motion is to accept the applicant's waiver of the 45-day limit to act on the Conditional Use Permit. Motion passes.

DSP wants a hard date due for further commission action, like November, but commissioners are balking....

Now moved to postpone decision until DENR provides report and recommendation: passes 4-1, no from Flanagan. Practically, this means the county does not act on this permit for another year.


Last month, the Lawrence County Commission delayed action on a conditional use permit for Valentine Mining's Deadwood Standard Project, a gold mine proposed for just over the east rim of scenic Spearfish Canyon.

That month is up: tomorrow's (Tuesday, August 21) commission agenda includes continuation of the public hearing on the Deadwood Standard Project and board discussion and action from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. That portion of the meeting moves down Sherman Street from the Lawrence County Administrative Annex to Deadwood City Hall, likely in anticipation of a crowd.

The local press has been crowded with letters and advertisements urging the commissioners to vote one way or another. One missive that grabbed my attention comes from Jerry Boyer, a local author, photographer, and conservationist. The Spearfish Canyon Society, of which Boyer is a board member, supports the mining project for numerous reasons, including Valentine Mining's promise to give the 408-acre mining site to the public after the ten-year mining project ends. In a column published in last Tuesday's Black Hills Pioneer, Boyer argues that the Spearfish Canyon Owner's Association, which opposes the mine, are arrogantly blocking one form of exploitation of the Canyon just to protect their own exploitation of the canyon:

Is not this view the height of human arrogance? Is the view of hundreds of million dollar cottages scattered throughout the world-class natural landscape any less intrusive than a mining project out of sight? Is the potential for water degradation by fecal matter any less threatening than mining contaminants? Is the noise of lawn mowers, barking dogs, and chain saws in the canyon any less disruptive to the natural tranquility than backup beepers? Is the smoke from stacks of cozy fireplaces and auto emissions saturating the pristine canyon air any less offending than the dust of machinery? Is the wildlife any less stressed by residence of man and his beast than mineral extraction?

Mining impacts on the natural landscape have a short life of 10 years while homeowner impacts continue in perpetuity ... forever. The mining project will spend millions on government imposed conditions to prevent intrusions on the natural landscape while homeowners pay nothing for theirs. Mining impacts will be reclaimed to a natural environment better than it was found, and the land likely gifted to the public as a canyon legacy [Jerry Boyer, "Human Arrogance," Black Hills Pioneer, August 14, 2012].

I've exploited the Canyon frequently myself, sullying the air with my car exhaust and bike exhaust, tromping on the ground for my personal fitness and amusement. Our Lakota neighbors could argue that my ecologically light footprinting around the Hills intrudes as blasphemously and imperialistically as jackhammers and dump trucks wresting gold from the sacred earth.

I'm hoping to attend the county commission hearing tomorrow to hear other views on the exploitation of our natural treasure. But as I get ready for the meeting, I'd like to hear readers' thoughts. Is more gold mining no worse an exploitation of the Canyon and the Black Hills than our relentless colonization of the Paha Sapa by vacation house, restaurant, trail, and four-wheeler?


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