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The Economic Impacts of Placer Mining in Alaska

I have known, well before I arrived at AMA, that the heart and soul of Alaska’s mining industry lies with the placer miners. These operations, with so few workers accomplishing such great things, have exceeded expectations in Alaska for over one hundred years, and today, make up the overwhelming majority of small-scale mining that still exists in our country.

The very concept of a one-man, a three-man, or a ten-man gold mine has enamored the general public for years. Certainly if reality TV is any form of measurement (which it should not be), interest in the world’s, and indeed, Alaska’s, small mines has begun to peak.

However, if I have learned anything in my short time at AMA, is that our small miners don’t want that attention. Attention in any form, actually. What they do want is to conduct responsible mining operations, provide for their families, and to ensure their livelihoods can be around for future generations.

The three Statewide Presidents that I have served under have all expressed to me the necessity and urgency to advocate for small-scale mining in Alaska, and have asked me to make it a top priority. So we have decided to take the liberty and shine just a little more attention on Alaska’s placer miners. I am especially proud of this issue of the Alaska Miner Journal, which focuses entirely on placer mining in Alaska.

Having spent the last two years talking to many of you, the staff and I have discussed and explored ways to help placer miners with the increasing burden of regulation, and other barriers to their operations. A recurring theme in many of the discussions is: What would happen if this industry went away? Why does Alaska “need” placer mines to operate?

Clearly, there is great need to know the economic impact of Alaska’s placer mines. As you will read elsewhere in this issue, the AMA Board of Directors voted to commission a survey of Alaska’s placer miners to understand important figures like total number of placer mining jobs in Alaska, spending from placer mines at Alaskan businesses, and more.

We had a hunch that the results of the survey would reveal impressive statistics, but, we had no idea just how impressed we would be. I am so pleased that the McDowell group discovered some amazing information about placer mining in Alaska, printed throughout this issue. Please spend some time learning this valuable information, and pass it along to others that may need some education on this vibrant, vital industry. Start the conversation of how important it is that we continue to fight to keep placer mining alive and well in Alaska.

You know who did realize the impact of small miners? Abraham Lincoln, of course. In one of his last conversations before taking his wife to Ford’s Theatre, he spoke to House Speaker Schuyler Colfax, who was departing to California to meet with miners. His words included:

“During the war, when we were adding a couple of million dollars every day to our national debt, I did not care about encouraging the increase in the volume of our precious metals. We had the country to save first. But now that the rebellion is overthrown and we know pretty nearly the amount of our national debt, the more gold and silver we mine makes the payment of that debt so much the easier. Tell the miners from me, that I shall promote their interests to the utmost of my ability; because their prosperity is the prosperity of the nation, and we shall prove in a very few years that we are indeed the treasury of the world.”

Suffice it to say, I wish that same value were being placed on economic prosperity, debt reduction, and benefits from the mineral industry. It’s an important lesson to remember, to ensure those values are not lost in these current times. AMA will continue to highlight our values and promote the placer mining industry in Alaska, and now we are armed with the information to carry our message. Stay tuned….

Deantha Crockett, AMA Executive Director

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