A California real estate developer says Nez Perce National Forest officials are sitting on one of the biggest gold reserves in the nation and he has spent the past 17 years trying to get their permission to develop mines in the Gospel Hump wilderness area of the Nez Perce National Forest.

David C. Doremus of Los Angeles contends those officials are abusing their authority by trying to discourage and intimidate miners from developing mineral reserves.Forest Service mining experts, however, said they have done nothing to discourage mining in the forest, but that there actually has been little effort by miners in recent years to develop mineral production.

Doremus has staked 50 tunnel claims and 19 placer claims over a 22-square-mile area in the Gospel Hump, but says the Forest Service is "stonewalling" him, trying to prevent him from developing the mines before a Dec. 31 mining-closure deadline.

Ten years ago, when the Gospel Hump Wilderness area was created by Congress, it was left open for an interim period to allow miners and prospectors to explore and stake new mining claims if mineral discoveries were made.

That interim period will close Dec. 31, and after then, miners and prospectors will no longer be able to stake new claims in the Gospel Hump.

The Forest Service has ordered Doremus to shut down operations until he gets an approved operating plan.

Elizabeth A. Mathews and David Fischer, of the Nez Perce Forest Supervisor's Office at Grangeville, said they have been surprised at the lack of mineral exploration in the Gospel Hump during the interim period.

Although studies showed great mineral potential in the area, few miners want to go to the trouble and expense of complying with wilderness guidelines in order to develop mining claims in the Gospel Hump, Mathews said.

As for Doremus, Mathews said, he never began mineral exploration until the interim exploration period was nearly over. His recent court woes involved his attempts to use chain saws and other mechanized and motorized equipment without first receiving an approved plan of operation from the Forest Service, she said.