Gold Hill man sentenced for mining violations

Clifford Tracy gets a year in prison after his second conviction in two years

By Mark Freeman
For the Tidings
Posted: 2:00 AM February 08, 2012

A renegade miner whose outlaw placer operation tore up portions of a Rogue River tributary will spend a year in prison after his second conviction in two years for illegal mining on public lands.

Clifford R. Tracy, 40, of Gold Hill, on Monday received the maximum prison time allowed for his conviction of unlawful mining on public lands for his Stray Dog claim on Grave Creek in Josephine County about 20 miles from Grants Pass.

At a Monday sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Medford, federal prosecutors asked Judge Owen Panner to sentence Tracy to four months in a federal prison for his Dec. 9 conviction.

But Panner — who sentenced Tracy to one year’s probation without any fines or restitution following a similar conviction in 2009 — tripled that recommendation while also ordering Tracy to pay $4,360 in restitution for reclamation costs.

In February 2011, Tracy proposed to the federal Bureau of Land Management that he open his Stray Dog claim on Galice Creek, but BLM officials told him he must first post a bond and submit an operations plan because the claim was within an area designated as critical habitat for wild coho salmon, which is listed as a threatened species in the Rogue River Basin.

Tracy ignored the requirements and began mining in May, prosecutors said. By the time dirty water in Galice Creek alerted BLM geologists to the activity, Tracy had used heavy equipment to clear vegetation, had dug a holding pond and had begun processing soil — while damaging the creek’s riparian zone.

Tracy continued to operate despite being served with a cease-and-desist order, court records show.

Tracy was convicted of unlawful mining on Dec. 9 after a two-day trial, during which he acted as his own defense. The 12-member jury, however, found him not guilty of discharging a pollutant into a stream.

Tracy’s previous conviction, in November 2009, for unlawfully conducting mining operations came after he ran an operation on Sucker Creek in the Illinois River Valley without waiting for permit requests to clear.

The damage in that case cost the government nearly $31,000 to correct, court records show.

In a pre-sentence memorandum filed Friday in federal court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Wong called that one-year probation sentence “a huge break” that “clearly sent the wrong message” to Tracy.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at [email protected].

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