[env-trinity] Suction Dredge Mining

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Tue May 26 20:08:00 PDT 2009

Suction Dredge Mining Bill Breezes Through State Senate 


by Dan Bacher 


(Sacramento) The California Senate today approved a bill requiring the
California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) to temporarily halt issuing all
suction dredge mining permits by a vote of 31 to 8, including bi-partisan
support from Democrats and Republicans throughout the state. 


The bill easily garnered the 2/3 aye votes needed to be adopted as an
urgency measure, meaning it will take effect immediately upon the Governor's
signature. Representatives of California Indian Tribes, recreational fishing
organizations, commercial fishing groups and environmental organizations
consider the vote to be a big victory for fish and the environment, while
mining advocacy organizations and the Regional Council of Rural Counties
view the legislation as unnecessary and a violation of private property


The Governor vetoed previous legislation restricting suction dredge mining
sponsored by then Assemblywoman Lois Wolk in October 2007, but suction
dredging opponents are hoping that the strong bi-partisan support for this
bill, as well as the urgency of the current salmon fishery crisis, will spur
Schwarzenegger to sign the bill this time. 


Senate Bill 670 prohibits the use of suction dredge mining equipment in
rivers and streams that provide critical habitat to spawning salmon and
steelhead until the DFG completes its court-ordered overhaul of regulations
governing the controversial recreational activity. Suction dredge mining, a
recreational mining activity that disturbs streambeds, is heavily regulated
in other states including Oregon. However, California suffers from
surprisingly slack regulation, according to Higgins. 


Suction dredge gold mining involves sucking up sediment from rivers or
streams and spitting it out again. "Current California regulations permit
monster-sized dredges capable of moving thousands of yards of river bottom
in a summer season," Wiggins said. "This kills fish eggs, immature eels and
churns up long-buried mercury left over from the gold mining era. In short,
it's harmful to fish at a time when they need our help the most." 


Wiggins said the DFG has been ordered by the courts to overhaul regulations
governing suction dredge mining on streams. In 2005, the Karuk Tribe sued
DFG to force the department to overhaul its suction dredging rules. Pushed
by suction dredge miners, the courts ordered the department to complete a
California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review before it acted. That
review was supposed to take 18 months and be completed by July 2008, but DFG
has yet to begin. 


That led the Karuk Tribe, California Trout, Friends of the North Fork and
the Sierra Fund to petition DFG to issue emergency regulations to limit
dredging on Klamath tributaries and five other streams in the Sierra Nevada
while it completes its EIR. DFG officials refused to issue regulations,
arguing that they cannot do so under current law, stated Wiggins. 


Last year, all salmon fishing was banned along the Pacific coast of
California and Oregon, due to the unprecedented collapse of Central Valley
fall Chinook salmon, the driver of West Coast salmon fisheries. In 2006,
commercial salmon fishing was severely restricted because of low numbers of
salmon returning to the Klamath River. 


"The crisis is so dire that the commercial and recreational salmon fishing
ban has been placed again this year," Wiggins stated. "This is affecting the
livelihoods of thousands of commercial fishermen, fish processors and
charter boat operators, and eliminating hundreds of thousands of dollars in
economic activity." 


Wiggins emphasized that while fishermen are being told to stop fishing,
suction dredge mining is allowed to continue. "SB 670 is about equity. We
simply cannot ask an entire fishing industry to stop their work while a
small group of hobbyists are allowed to continue," she stated. 


"We are very pleased with today's vote," commented Bob Goodwin, Karuk Self
Governance Coordinator and Tribal member. "We have had to suffer through 150
years of watching gold miners rip apart our river; today we begin the slow
process of putting it back together." 


Elizabeth "Izzy" Martin, CEO of The Sierra Fund, added, "We are so pleased
with the bipartisan support that this bill has earned, reflecting the clear
consensus on the importance of protecting fish and water quality. The Sierra
Fund thanks Senator Wiggins as well as the Senators that spoke on behalf of
the bill including Senate President Pro Tem Steinberg, and Senators Ducheny,
Wolk, and Oropeza." 


"It's good to see California stop spending taxpayer money on a mining
program that puts a few flakes of gold in 3,000 hobby miners' pockets while
harming fisheries and those who depend upon clean, healthy rivers," agreed
Scott Harding, Executive Director of Klamath Riverkeeper. 


"SB 670 is a step forward for better protection for salmon in their rivers
than they have today," said Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of the
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "There's no excuse to
allow practices that destroy salmon habitat while we are all desperately
trying to increase devastated runs and put fishermen back to work." 


Senator Sam Aanestad (R- Grass Valley) argued against the bill, suggesting
that it amounted to a "taking of property rights." In response, Senator
Wiggins pointed out that SB 670 takes no one's property and miners can still
mine using other mining techniques that are less environmentally


The bill will next move to the State Assembly, which will likely assign the
bill to the Assembly Water, Parks & Wildlife Committee chaired by
Assemblymember Jared Huffman. Mr. Huffman is a co-author of the bill, along
with Assemblymembers Evans and Jones. 


If SB 670 passes, the moratorium on issuing permits would last until DFG
completes its court-ordered environmental review and resulting overhaul of
regulations governing the practice. "It is estimated that this will save the
Department nearly $1 million in costs to administer a program that does not
pay for itself, and allow it to dedicate saved funding toward paying for the
EIR necessary to complete regulatory review," said Izzy Martin. 


The bill is supported by a broad coalition of Indian Tribes, fishing groups
and environmental groups. Supporters include the California Coastkeeper
Alliance, California Tribal Business Alliance, California Trout, Clean Water
Action, Friends of the River, Karuk Tribe, Klamath Riverkeeper, Pacific
Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Planning and Conservation
League, Ramona Band of Cahuila, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Sierra
Club California, Sierra Fund, Sierra Nevada Alliance and Sycuan Band of the
Kumeyaay Nation. 


The bill's opponents include the County of Siskiyou, New 49'ers and Regional
Council of Rural Counties. Earlier this year the New 49'ers, a mining
advocacy group, and other mining organizations filed a petition with the
California Fish and Game Commission to ban the Karuk Tribe from fishing for
salmon on the Klamath, but the petition was rejected. 


The New 49'ers argue that no scientific information points to suction
dredging as a cause in the collapse of salmon, that the collapse is due to
ocean conditions and an over-reliance on hatchery fish. They claim that a
moratorium would violate the private property rights of those who have
federal mining claims and create "takings" liability on the part of the


The Regional Council of Rural Counties argues that the existing regulations
are sufficiently restrictive and protective and allow individuals to legally
mine their claims of precious minerals. It points to parts of rural
California where mining remains an important part of the culture, history,
and economy of some local communities. Siskiyou County separately asserted
these same concerns. 


"The scientific evidence against suction dredging doesn't pass the laugh
test," said James Buchal, attorney for the New 49'ers. "If passed through
the Legislature, this bill will put hundreds of people out of work and
destroy the vacation plans of thousands of people for no purpose


However, Steve Evans, conservation director of Friends of the River, notes
that this legislation will not impact recreational gold panning or
non-motorized mining, "just motorized suction dredge mining that disturbs
salmon spawning beds, fish and frog habitat, and pollutes the water with
sediment and mercury." 


The Karuk Tribe, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), Klamath
Riverkeeper and other environmental and fishing groups recently filed a
lawsuit against the DFG's use of 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. 


To download The Sierra Fund's groundbreaking report "Mining's Toxic Legacy,"
go to sierrafund.org/campaigns/mining. For more information about suction
dredge mining, please visit  <http://www.klamathriver.org/>
http://www.klamathriver.org,  <http://www.friendsoftheriver.org/>
http://www.friendsoftheriver.org or  <http://www.karuk.us/press/mining.php>



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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