Tahoe National Forest
Metal Detectors Found Excellent
For Locating Schizoid Bureaucrats

  by Steve Miller
  copyright 1996, Electric Nevada

"I'm still worried about those guys. They just frighten the daylights out of me."
The man talking was a retired Reno schoolteacher. A fellow member of the Silver State Treasure Hunters, a psychologist, describes him as "one of the most law-abiding, nice, people I've every met... He's very conscientious."
Because of his continuing fears of reprisals from U.S. Forest Service officials, Electric Nevada agreed not to divulge his name. This report will call him "John."
"I don't feel comfortable talking to anybody about it," he explains. "At one time I did, and I was talking to everybody, and they sort of blew me out of the water."
It all began, for John, on a day last year in late November. His hobby is gold detecting -- searching for gold nuggets with a metal detector he owns. On that particular day, he'd driven out on a road up above Verdi.
"When I got to an open spot where I could pull my truck off, I just stopped there and got out," he says.
"This whole area was being bulldozed and trees were being cut down..
"There were loggers all over the place. I didn't think there was any problem at all. They had bulldozed roads and drug trees, and they were out there working at the time."
So John put on his gear and set out looking for nuggets in the area.
"I had a small bucket, and I had my metal detector, and I had a geologic pick, and a little hand trowel, and I had those on a belt, sort of like a carpenter's hammer-holder."
Later, after having been "detecting along" for some time, he says, he was making his way back to the truck, ready to call it a day.
"I was just detecting along, and this car -- a Waggoneer-type green Department of Agriculture car -- came zooming around [the bend], real fast, headed toward Reno.
"They got about 200 yards past me, and ...slammed on the brakes, and turned around, and came back real quick and parked maybe 50 feet behind my truck.
"They looked over at me, so I walked over to them."
A woman was behind the wheel and a man was sitting next to her. The woman rolled down the window, says John.
"They asked me 'How are you doing?'
"I said, 'Not too good -- all I found was a piece of glass and a Seven-Up can.'
"They wanted to see the piece of glass, so I showed it to them. It was a piece of that pink glass, about an inch and-a-half long, like the top of a whiskey bottle.
"The lady turned to me and said, 'Do you know it's a felony to pick up anything in a historic site?'
"'Felony?' I said. 'What are you talking about? What historic site?'
"She said, 'Well, you're near one now.' And one of them -- I forget which -- said I had to put it back where I found it."
After he turned around and tossed the piece of
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broken glass back into the forest, says John, he asked, "What do you mean by a felony?"
"She said '$5,000 and six months in jail,' or something like that.
"They really scared me, at that point. I said, 'Well, what are you going to do?'
"She said, 'Well, we're going to report it to our law enforcement officer.'
"What historic site are you talking about?" asked John. "There's nothing here."
The answer was straight out of Joseph Heller's darkly satiric novel, Catch-22.
"'We can't tell you where the historic sites are.'
"I said, 'Why not?'
"She said, 'Then people will know and they'll come and destroy the sites.'
"I guess that logic kind of evaded me," John told EN.
But John, over the course of the next year, was to become much more familiar with Forest Service logic.
Because a little over two months later, a large, certified, manila envelope arrived in the mail. In the corner was a Truckee, California highway return address, but nothing else.
Inside was a citation and a cover letter saying, "Mandatory Appearance Required in Court." After giving the number of the "United States District Court violation notice," it informed John he was being cited "for removing any prehistoric, historic or archaeological resource, artifacts or property from National Forest system lands. -- Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations, 261.9 (h)."
"On November 30, you were observed removing artifacts with the aid of a metal detector from National Forest lands by two Forest officers," said the letter. "This is in violation of the afore-mentioned section. You are required to appear in United States District Court, located in South Lake Tahoe at the address listed on the violation notice. You will be notified of the court date and time."
Five weeks later, in March, an envelope arrived from something calling itself the "Central Violations Bureau" in San Antonio, Texas. The words "Notice to Appear" were on the outside. Inside was the exact date, time, and location for his appearance before the federal court magistrate.
John was being welcomed into a select and almost secret circle of victims of a special regulatory hell contrived by the U.S. Forest Service.
For not only does the federal agency resolutely refuse to tell metal-detector hobbyists like John what areas they should avoid, only to later legally hammer them for conducting their hobby in those -- unposted -- areas.
The agency also later works, Electric Nevada has found, to programmatically intimidate into silence those so hammered, about their being hammered.
The threat? Further hammering.

Next week: How government archaelogical make-work is excluding Westerners from the national forests.

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