Recently(7/17/2012) the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife Commission (WDFW) considered a petition brought before it by a number of stakeholders of Washington. The petition was seeking a rule change in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) as well as a rule change to the WDFW regulations which would allow recreational rockhounding activities by permitting the collection of 250 pounds P/P per day in aggregate, and 25 lbs per day for petrified wood. It would have allowed for the use of hand tools only( no mechanized/motor powered machinery or explosives) as well as stating that no material collected was or will be intended for commercial use.
In making it's decision to deny this petition and subsequent rule changes the volunteer commission of nine wasted little time in deciding what to do, relying on department staff to suggest their action based upon a host of unfounded and unproven concerns and baseless innuendos that are contradictory at best.
The justification for the commissions actions are enumerated in the following 7 statements.
The proposed denial of this petition is based on several concerns described below including mineral right issues, compliance with land acquisition grant agreements, and resource and cultural resource damage.
1) The state of Washington does not own the mineral rights on the majority of WDFW public lands. Each deed would need to be reviewed to determine if WDFW owns the surface minerals. Further, it is very common for mineral rights reservations to reserve fossils. There is, therefore, a concern about the unpermitted removal of minerals, including fossils, where they may not be owned by the state.
2) Resource impacts from digging would be in conflict with limitations stipulated in acquisition grant agreements where lands are purchased to protect habitat. Allowance of such activity could be in conflict with the funding source(s) and thus would put us into grant conversion
3) Resource damage is also a significant concern. Digging on public lands could degrade fish and wildlife habitat. Talus slopes, cliffs, riparian habitats, and other areas are critical for priority fish and wildlife species.
4) To comply with federal and state laws, WDFW is required to do an evaluation before disturbing soils for activities such as digging post holes for fencing or even digging holes for planting trees. This site specific evaluation typically includes consultation with federal, state, and tribal entities Although allowing individuals to dig on state lands does not in and of itself threaten cultural resources, the likelihood of cultural resource damage is very real. Tribal concerns may exist because of the potential for the exposure and damage of cultural resources.
5) The removal of non-renewable resources such as petrified wood and other minerals like columnar basalt can diminish the recreational, educational, and research opportunities for others
6) Other public land management agencies addressing this issue:
- National Parks for the most part do not allow this activity.
- Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife requires a permit to remove minerals, but cultural resource protections require surveys and consultation with tribes, so permits for this activity would be very difficult to get.
- Idaho Fish and Game does not allow removal of soils, gravel, or minerals
- California Fish and Game does not allow the removal of any humans, soil, sand gravel or rock on state wildlife areas
7) Inability to enforce rock collection activities as it's nowhere to be found on their priority list.
Of all the above reasons stated for the denial, the one most amusing was #7. They have always and will continue to excersie their inability to enforce rock collecting activities as it's nowhere to be found on their priority list.
Currently rules and regulations governing casual rock collecting in the state are as follows.
WAC 232-12-251 (Washington Administrative Code) Removal of minerals, wood and artifacts from department lands. It is unlawful to remove petrified wood, minerals, fossils, wood products or artifacts from department lands unless such removal is authorized by a permit issued by the director.
RCW 79.02.310 (Revised Code of Washington) Trespasser guilty of theft, when. Every person who willfully commits any trespass upon any public lands of the state and cuts down, destroys, or injures any timber, or any tree, including a Christmas tree as defined in *RCW 76.48.020, standing or growing thereon, or takes, or removes, or causes to be taken, or removed, therefrom any wood or timber lying thereon, or maliciously injures or severs anything attached thereto, or the produce thereof, or digs, quarries, mines, takes or removes therefrom any earth, soil, stone, mineral, clay, sand, gravel, or any valuable materials, is guilty of theft under chapter 9A.56 RCW.
Land open to public for fishing, hunting, and nonconsumptive wildlife activities. All state lands hereafter leased for grazing or agricultural purposes shall be open and available to the public for purposes of hunting and fishing, and for nonconsumptive wildlife activities, as defined by the board of natural resources, unless closed to public entry because of fire hazard or unless the department gives prior written approval and the area is lawfully posted by lessee to prohibit hunting and fishing, and nonconsumptive wildlife activities, thereon in order to prevent damage to crops or other land cover, to improvements on the land, to livestock, to the lessee, or to the general public, or closure is necessary to avoid undue interference with carrying forward a departmental or agency program. In the event any such lands are so posted it shall be unlawful for any person to hunt or fish, or pursue nonconsumptive wildlife activities, on any such posted lands. Such lands shall not be open and available for wildlife activities when access could endanger crops on the land or when access could endanger the person accessing the land. The department shall insert the provisions of this section in all new grazing and agricultural leases.