Obviously the balance between extraction's perceived value to society compared to it's perceived potential or real harm has changed over time.
The West has been reclaiming old mines for decades. There are/were an almost unbelievable number of small scale mines throughout the West. I have visited some in the Great Basin and often watch them visited on the Massey gold fever show. It is still a past time of many down South to visit those not reclaimed, for recreation of various sorts including prospecting.
What perhaps would surprise a great many modern young students of ecology would be the miniscule harm done by these numerous small mines (usually put in, owned, and operated by a few men with hand tools and a box of dynamite).
Contrast that with the large scale mining reclamation horror stories and you should see an obvious difference.
Obviously the costs of starting up a small scale mining operation are prohibitive in a great many instances with all of the permitting, regulatory, and environmental costs that must be paid before operation begins, but should that be more scaled to the probable impact of the proposed action? (Ie. you don't need to go through years of permitting regulations complying with NEPA etc... to pan or sluice or even dredge by comparison. Which is not to imply such as being regulation/permit free, just much easier than putting in say a Pebble Mine).
I don't claim to be an expert, just a passive observer. So my question is about poop.
Given these two options only, would you rather have one big stream of all the towns poop flowing out into the bay or a little stream from every house (as it was prior to indoor plumbing)? Which has the greater environmental consequences and which is more acceptable?
It seems no one area can take heaps of poop all the time, but spread over a large enough area the impact is miniscule by degree if not beneficial (dredging can in certain instances help groom gravel beds that help salmon reproduce). After all poop is fertilizer.
Of course there will be those who say "neutralize it by treating it and then release it doing no harm at all," butt that's not really the question here.
Nor is the question whether 100 small mines can replace 1 big one in output, nor economic gain to the community, nor employment, nor feasibility of extracting the resource by "small means," as compared to the efficiency of large scale extraction.
But maybe those should be the question, I don't know.
I just question whether the massive global techno-corporate model we have used to supplant the old model is really worth all the costs associated. Now I don't pretend that there weren't huge mines 100+ years ago, but that's not the point. The point has to do with the "small" ones (hard to define by way of a cut-off; x-linear feet of tunnel per square mile?).
Looking at the recreational mining that goes on I see a model of small scale extraction often submersed in the resource and yet it seems to be working much better than the much debated Pebble/NovaGold et al premise.