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By Shane Lasley
Mining News 

Fortymile miners get noticed by BLM, Apple

Race family awarded for pioneering more efficient, effective stream restoration at placer gold mine on Jack Wade Creek


Last updated 10/31/2019 at 2:49pm

Salmon Gold

This section of Jack Wade Creek shows the award-winning stream restoration work that Dean and Chris Race are carrying out at their gold mine in Alaska's Fortymile Mining District.

Race Family Mining Operation, a father and son team of placer gold miners on Jack Wade Creek in Alaska's legendary Fortymile Mining District, is being watched closely by federal regulators, world-renowned jewelers and global tech companies.

Capturing the attention of federal regulators typically is not high on the priority list of placer gold miners in Alaska. However, if you are working on U.S. Bureau of Land Management mining claims in a road accessible area of the state known for its "Wild and Scenic" rivers, you are likely to be noticed.

This is the case for Dean Race and his son Chris, who are under the watchful eye of BLM – and the federal land manager likes the work the father and son team have done to restore fish and wildlife habitat once they are finished mining in Jack Wade Creek.

As a result of this work, Race Family Mining Operation is the 2019 recipient of the Hardrock Mineral Small Operator Award, which recognizes small mining operations that continuously meet or exceed reclamation requirements with minimal oversite.

Matthew Varner, the Alaska fisheries and riparian program leader for BLM who nominated the Race family for the small miner reclamation award, said Dean and Chris have not only met the agency's requirements but have improved reclamation techniques at their operation in Jack Wade Creek and pioneered more efficient and effective methods that can be adopted by other placer miners.

"I am certainly proud of the work he (Dean) has put in – many, many long days of learning new techniques that take away from his time mining to do reclamation," said Varner.

Dean and Chris' commitment to stream restoration has caught the attention of world-leading companies such as Apple, which is using gold recovered from their Fortymile in iPhones, iPads, Macs and other high-tech products that require the conductivity and resistance to corrosion this precious metal has to offer.

Award winning reclamation

Varner said that in recent years Dean has been very proactive in getting input from BLM on the best techniques for stream reclamation on his federal mining claims on Jack Wade Creek.

"He is someone who is very interested in reclamation and doing a good job rehabilitating fish and wildlife habitat when he is done mining," the BLM fisheries leader said in a video about the 2019 award.

Chris, the heavy equipment artisan of the father-son team, says early planning is key to efficient and effective reclamation and stream restoration after mining. This includes setting aside trees for replanting while stripping off the materials above the gold-bearing layers and setting aside large boulders while mining.

This provides the miner with the materials to create stream flows that fish need and an immediate green belt alongside the creek that prevents erosion and fosters the return of wildlife to the area.

"Chris, Dean's son, is very detail oriented – he is not only a good placer miner, he is also very good at doing stream reclamation work," Varner said.

This detail-oriented work comes in handy at Jack Wade Creek, a placer gold bearing stream that has a history of gold mining that dates back to the gold rushes at the close of the 19th century. This means there has been a lot of mining carried out long before there were federal and state regulations requiring miners to restore the lands after the gold was extracted.

"This area in particular has a rich history of mining and with that a legacy of impacts," Varner said.

These impacts include piles of tailings left in the valley and Jack Wade Creek left too wide and shallow to support good fish habitat.

Today, BLM requires that placer miners recontour the piles of rock and sand left behind after mining, spread topsoil back over the top of these tailings, restore streams with the pools and riffles that fish need for spawning, and replant trees along the stream bank.

Dean and Chris are doing an award-winning job of this reclamation work while recovering gold overlooked and missed by earlier miners.

"All of Jack Wade is full of tailing piles, and Mother Earth will someday eventually recover that, but it's going to take a couple hundred years," said Chris. "All we're doing is speeding up the process ... when I'm done with it, it's going to look like a park."

Unique partnership

Race Family Mining Operation's work to restore legacy mining streams to park-like splendor has captured the attention of Resolve, a nonprofit organization tackling some of the planet's most critical challenges through innovative and unexpected partnerships.

This includes Salmon Gold, a Resolve initiative that brings conservationists, government agencies, placer gold miners and global users of gold together to re-mine legacy placer gold creeks and then restore the stream with habitat that will support the return of salmon, grayling and other fish species.

"The idea of local placer miners working with restoration experts to provide gold to jewelry and technology companies while also restoring habitats for salmon and grayling is unique-each of our partners brings a piece of the solution to Salmon Gold," Resolve President Stephen D'Esposito.

Dean and Chris bring a knack for restoring Jack Wade Creek while recovering gold missed by previous miners to the partnership.

"We saw the pioneering techniques they were using to create better fish habitat. We felt their pride as we walked the stream," said D'Esposito.

"It did not take long to realize that Dean and Chris were a perfect match for Salmon Gold. Their land ethic matched ours," he added. "Their techniques, with guidance from Matt, were perfect for Salmon Gold restoration projects."

In fact, this father and son team were the first gold miners to join the Salmon Gold partnership.

The "Salmon Gold" recovered from the Race Family Mining Operation this summer will be traced from Jack Wade Creek, through the refinery process and to end users such as Apple and global luxury jeweler Tiffany & Co. with blockchain technology.

Resolve currently has two additional placer gold mining partners – Tod Bauer on Gold Creek near Talkeetna, Alaska, and Peter Wright on Sulphur Creek in the Yukon – and is looking for others.

Salmon Gold

Chris Race tends the sluice box at the Race Family Mining Operation near Chicken, Alaska.

"Our Salmon Gold partnership is an ambitious effort to create the incentives, tools, and techniques to improve streams and habitat across a region that spans more than 2,500 miles, from British Columbia, through the Yukon, to the western edge of Alaska," said D'Esposito.

This includes working with Donlin Gold, the joint venture company working to develop the 45-million-ounce Donlin Gold project in Southwest Alaska, as well as Alaska Native corporations and leaders to identify pilot projects in nearby areas.

For Dean and Chris, being Salmon Gold pioneers and BLM reclamation award recipients is just another day at the office – an open-air office with some of the best views on the planet.

"Alaska is one of the most beautiful places in the world," said Dean.

A place that is slightly more beautiful thanks to the award winning and internationally recognized reclamation being carried out Race Family Mining Operation.

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Publisher

Over his more than 11 years of covering mining and mineral exploration, Shane has become renowned for his ability to report on the sector in a way that is technically sound enough to inform industry insiders while being easy to understand by a wider audience.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: (907) 726-1095


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