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Arts and Entertainment

'L.A. Miner' Backlash: Film Highlights Illegal Gold Mining, Say Critics

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We were quite captivated by the documentary short L.A. Miner, but it also got people's attention for another reason: the activities shown are illegal and, as many people feel, quite destructive.

Our writer called L.A. Miner "fascinating" and "beautifully shot," and there are no doubts about the merits of the film. It's very well made. However, Modern Hiker points out, the subjects of the film are being shown doing things such as destroying rocks with pickaxes, sluicing, and and altering the flow of the San Gabriel River. Although the site isn't identified in the film, Modern Hiker identifies it as within the protected San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and thus the above listed activities are illegal under federal law.

The U.S. Forest Service, which administers the national monument, states on their website, "National Forest System lands within the East Fork of the San Gabriel River are not open to prospecting or any other mining operations." As KCET mentions, the East Fork of the San Gabriel River is critical habitat for the Santa Ana sucker, a fish listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act.

Mining, even the small-scale mining shown in the film, could negatively affect the fish (and other native species). Unfortunately, enforcement is rather weak due to underfunded government agencies and low fines.

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"My goal as a filmmaker was to represent what Patrick and the other miners are doing," director Thomas R. Wood told KCET. "I certainly didn't intend to advocate that people engage in illegal activity."

Back on Modern Hiker, a response from a "prospecting enthusiast" Matthew McAuliffe claims that the mining shown in L.A. Miner was before the establishing of the national monument, and thus not illegal (both KCET and Modern Hiker say this is untrue). "We are lovers of nature and respect the laws," writes McAuliffe. He even claims that their activities are creating new habitat for the Santa Ana sucker.

"It would be great if each side could avoid dehumanizing the other," Wood told KCET. "Maybe have a real conversation where each side remembers the other side isn't that different."