[env-trinity] Suction Dredge Mining

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Tue Mar 24 09:20:10 PDT 2009

CSPA Joins Karuk Tribe in Lawsuit Against Suction Dredge Mining 


by Dan Bacher 


The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) has joined in a
lawsuit by the Karuk Tribe of the Klamath River and a coalition of
environmental and fishing groups against the California Department of Fish
and Game's use of State General Fund money to support suction dredge mining.
The suit is asking for an injunction until California Environmental Quality
Act (CEQA) review is completed and other mitigations take place. 


"An injunction halting mining at this time of the year would be fantastic,"
said Jerry Neuburger, CSPA webmaster. "Most trout spawn in the spring. A
halt to suction dredge mining would mean that redds will not be buried with
layers of silt, killing the eggs. The court needs to act and act NOW!" 


CSPA is a longstanding nonprofit organization working for the conservation
of California's fisheries and their aquatic habitat. Other organizations
filing the second amended complaint against the DFG include the Center for
Biological Diversity, Friends of the River, Klamath Riverkeeper, Pacific
Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and Institute for Fisheries


"Suction dredge mining has seriously degraded habitat and fisheries where it
is conducted," said Neuburger. "Although DFG is on record as acknowledging
that suction dredge mining harms fish, it does not have valid regulations
controlling the activity. Despite the lack of necessary regulations, DFG
continues to issue approximately 3,000 permits each year." 


The lawsuit takes place as California fisheries are in their greatest crisis
ever. Salmon fishing in ocean waters off California and Oregon is expected
to be closed again this year, due to the collapse of Central Valley chinook
salmon populations, while coho salmon populations in coastal streams have
reached record lows. Meanwhile, delta smelt, longfin smelt, juvenile striped
bass, threadfin shad and other California Delta fish population have also
reached record low population levels, due to massive increases in water
exports, increasing levels of toxic chemicals in Central Valley rivers, and
invasive species. 


A court order in 2006 required the DFG to conduct a CEQA review of its
regulations and to mitigate harms through formal rulemaking. This process
was supposed to have been completed by June 2008, but the DFG has not yet
begun the CEQA process and claims they lack the money to bring the program
into compliance. 


However, over the last two years, the Department has continued to spend
state General Funds to operate the program, which has already been found to
be out of compliance with the law. "CSPA and the other plaintiffs are
seeking an injunction to prevent DFG from continuing to use General Funds to
operate the suction dredge mining program until the Court's 2006 order is
satisfied, the required environmental reviews are completed, the harms are
mitigated through a formal rulemaking process and the new regulations are in
place," said Neuburger. 


The dredgers pay $150,000 into the Fish and Game Preservation Fund. "The DFG
claims they don't know exactly how much is spent administering the dredge
program, including processing and issuing permits and enforcement activities
related to dredging, but we assert that it's much more than $150,000 which
would barely pay salary and benefits of one staff equivalent," said Craig
Tucker, spokesman for the Karuk Tribe. "We expect a more detailed accounting
to be revealed in the course of the lawsuit." 


"The fact that they are not publishing a detailed accounting of how the
program is run suggests to us that they don't want anyone to know exactly
how much is being spent," emphasized Tucker. 


Tucker said the real issue is that DFG is failing to comply with its own
regulations. Fish and Game Code 5653 allows the DFG to grant permits for the
use of any vacuum or suction dredge equipment only if their operation "will
not be deleterious to fish." 


The plaintiffs have testimony from DFG biologists as well as Dr. Peter
Moyle, one of the nation's prominent fishery scientists, stating under oath
that dredging is deleterious to fish. 


"Suction dredging represents a chronic unnatural disturbance of natural
habitats that are already likely to be stressed by other factors and can
therefore have a negative impact on fishes that use the reach being
dredged," said Moyle. "All anadromous fishes in the Klamath basin should be
considered to be in decline and ultimately threatened with extirpation.
Section dredging through a combination of disturbance of resident fish,
alteration of substrates, and indirect effects on heavy human use of small
areas, especially thermal refugia (side creeks), will further contribute to
the decline of the fishes." 


The miners also fail to comply with section 404 of the federal Clean Water
Act that compels them to have a discharge permit to operate. "There are no
suction dredgers with a 404 permit in CA, since the State Water Resources
Control Board has never established a permit process," added Tucker. 


Miners Attack Traditional Karuk Fishery 


Meanwhile, the New 49'ers Prospecting Club and a coalition of mining and
"wise use" groups from northern California, Oregon and Washington have
submitted a petition to the DFG demanding that they ban the Karuk Tribe from
dip netting salmon below Ishi Pish Falls on the Klamath River, as they have
done for thousands of years. The petition claims the tribe is engaged in the
"widespread and wanton destruction" of the coho salmon and other fish in the
Klamath River. 


"At a time when the federal government is poised to ban ocean salmon fishing
for the second year in a row, it makes no sense for the State to turn a
blind eye to the wholesale slaughter of salmon by the Tribe," claimed Mike
Higbee of Grants Pass, Oregon. 


However, Leaf Hillman, Vice-chair of the Karuk Tribe, said these accusations
are "ridiculous." 


"Our fishery is gear limited," said Hillman. "This means that because we use
traditional dip nets, we can only catch a very small percentage of fish that
are coming up the falls. This is by design." 


To the tribe, catching the salmon is not just a means of feeding themselves,
but vital to the preservation of their religion and culture. 


"The creator taught us to use dip nets in order to not over harvest fish,"
said Hillman. "We would not have survived here for thousands of years had we
abused this privilege granted to us by the Creator." 


Hillman explained that although many Tribes in the Pacific Northwest use
gill nets that are strung across the river in subsistence and commercial
fisheries, the Karuk do not. Karuk fishermen stand on rocks and dip large
nets on poles into the river to catch fish as generations before them have


"Our fishery is non-lethal," said Hillman. "This allows us to selectively
harvest fish. In other words, we release ESA listed Coho and smaller chinook
back into the river unharmed and we eat the rest. It also provides
opportunities to tag fish for purposes of conducting scientific studies." 


Hilllman believes that the New 49'ers petition to Fish and Game "comes in
retribution" to the Tribe's effort to restrict suction dredge mining in
areas that serve as critical habitat for ESA listed coho salmon, Pacific
lamprey, green sturgeon and other fish listed as 'species of special
concern' under the Endangered Species Act. 


For more information on the lawsuit and suction dredge mining, go to
<http://www.karuk.us/> http://www.karuk.us and  <http://www.calsport.org/>


The Fish and Game Code on Suction Dredge Mining: 


Section 5653.9. "Before any person uses any vacuum or suction dredge
equipment in any river, stream, or lake of this state, that person shall
submit an application for a permit for a vacuum or suction dredge to the
department, specifying the type and size of equipment to be used and other
information as the department may require. (b) Under the regulations adopted
pursuant to Section 5653.9, the department shall designate waters or areas
wherein vacuum or suction dredges may be used pursuant to a permit, waters
or areas closed to those dredges, the maximum size of those dredges that may
be used, and the time of year when those dredges may be used. If the
department determines, pursuant to the regulations adopted pursuant to
Section 5653.9, that the operation will not be deleterious to fish, it shall
issue a permit to the applicant. If any person operates any equipment other
than that authorized by the permit or conducts the operation in any waters
or area or at any time that is not authorized by the permit, or if any
person conducts the operation without securing the permit, that person is
guilty of a misdemeanor."



Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land

415 519 4810 cell

 <mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net

 <mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org

 <http://fotr.org/> http://www.fotr.org 




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