Oregon miners call for peaceful protest after enlisting armed guards

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Owners of a gold mining claim in southern Oregon who enlisted armed activists to guard the mine amid a land dispute with the federal government plan a peaceful protest this week but want to avoid a standoff.

A co-owner of the Sugar Pine Mine, Rick Barclay, called in armed guards from the conservative Oath Keepers activist group after federal officials served him with a stop-work order last month for failing to comply with federal regulations.

Federal officials said in a letter to the owners they needed to file plans for the gold mining and equipment on the land or cease operations. The miners argue they have exclusive surface rights and do not have to follow federal regulations.

Mine spokesman Kerby Jackson said the miners were now calling for a “peaceful protest” at local Oregon Bureau of Land Management offices around Oregon on Thursday. Jackson said the owners were meeting with their attorney on Monday.

“We are calling on all miners, loggers, farmers/ranchers and freedom lovers everywhere who are tired of government abuse to tell the BLM ... that they are sick to death of the way that they have been conducting themselves,” the Sugar Pine Mine website said.

Neither Barclay nor the co-owner of the claim, George Backes, could be reached for comment. But the miners have made clear they are trying to avoid a high-profile standoff like the fight between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal government last year.

That standoff gained national attention as the BLM sought to seize cattle because Bundy refused to pay grazing fees. The federal agents ultimately backed down, citing safety concerns, and gave back hundreds of Bundy cattle they had rounded up.

Oregon BLM spokesman Jim Whittington said that while the agency dealt with a lot of non-compliance issues on land, the branch had never encountered a response on this scale.

“There are folks who are armed in the area and we’ve asked our employees to stay out of the area around the mine, just to be on the safe side,” Whittington said.

Statements on the Oath Keepers website discourage any threats against government officials.

“This is not a standoff with BLM,” it said. “Please do not make any type of threatening phone calls to the local BLM or USFS (U.S. Forest Service) as it undermines our mission, professionalism and is unwarranted.”