Eastern Oregon gold miner, Forest Service clash over claim

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PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) -- A man seeking gold in Eastern Oregon has run afoul of the U.S. Forest Service.

The agency contends John Wasson does not have the right to stay year-round at the prospecting site near Ukiah because it interferes with the public's access to a scenic portion of the North Fork John Day River.

Robert Varner, the North Fork John Day District ranger, said the agency inspects mining sites to make sure miners are complying with state and federal environmental laws and regulations. Prospecting claims such as Wasson's are not for year-long residence, and most prospectors stay on a site no more than several weeks at a time.

Rather than take legal action, the agency wants to talk with Wasson and educate him on what he can and cannot do at the site, Varner said.

"We are trying to work with him on finding a solution that is equitable for all of us, to the extent that we can," Varner said.

Wasson, however, said he's not infringing on anybody's rights and this is just a government agency picking on the little guy.

"It's really about rights -- life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Wasson said. "I am happy there. I'm not infringing on anybody's anything."

Wasson said he caught the gold bug a few years ago when he tried small-time prospecting near Sweet Home. He later obtained maps from the Bureau of Land Management and decided on a small stretch in Eastern Oregon called Slippery Rock, a 12-acre site on the North Fork John Day River in the Umatilla National Forest.

He partnered with friends in the fall of 2011 and paid $189 for the rights to prospect. The Forest Service approved his plan of operation last April.

Wasson said he enjoyed the wilderness and found some gold. Life was good until a Forest Service representative visited in late September.

Wasson had two trailers on the site instead of one, as he proposed, and he and some partners had been there for five months, far longer than the intermittent stays he suggested.