[env-trinity] Redding.com- Limits planned for suction dredging; gold miners upset

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Fri Feb 24 09:10:09 PST 2012

Limits planned for suction dredging; gold miners upset
By Damon Arthur

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Under a new set of rules proposed by the state Department of Fish and Game, the agency would reduce the number of gold miners' suction dredging permits it issues annually statewide from 4,000 to 1,500 and prohibit dredging on more than 20 north state streams.

The regulation is one of many proposed changes to statewide regulations that the DFG has proposed to comply with court orders and recent state laws.

Chip Hess, who owns the Miner's Cache in Redding, said the regulations are hurting businesses and families.

"We have hundreds of families in the north state that make a living or supplement their incomes from mining," Hess said.

"First they shut the lumber industry down. Now they're basically shutting the mining industry down," he said.

The DFG took public comments on a first round of proposed regulations last year. Based on those comments, the agency made further changes in the proposed suction dredging regulations. It is taking public comment on the newest proposals until March 5.

Other new regulations include a provision that after a suction dredge is removed from a stream, it would have to be either decontaminated or kept out of the water for two weeks before putting it back in another stream. Two dredges could not be operated within 500 feet of each other on a stream. And dredging could only occur from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In Shasta County, seven additional streams would be closed to all suction dredging: Battle Creek, North Fork Battle Creek, Beegum Creek, Old Cow Creek from the mainstem upstream to Old Cow Creek Meadows, Rock Creek and Screwdriver Creek.

Seventeen streams in Siskiyou County would be closed to all suction dredging. Four Tehama County streams would be closed year-round, and five Trinity County streams would be closed.

The closures would be moot for the next several years, as a statewide moratorium has been in place since 2008 and doesn't expire until 2016.

Hess said that since the moratorium went into effect, miners have been panning for gold and have been "high-banking," in which they look for gold on or near the banks of streams

State fish and game officials say there are numerous negative effects on fish and wildlife from suction dredging, including damaging salmon and trout redds (nests).

The dredging also kicks up mercury from the bottom of some streams, said Mark Stopher, a DFG senior policy adviser.

Mercury was used in gold mining during the California's Gold Rush during the 1850s, he said.

Many of the regulations proposed last year and this year were required to bring suction dredging into compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, Stopher said.

The environmental impact report on suction dredging also requires other regulations and changes that are outside the scope of the DFG's authority, Stopher said.

For example the state has to develop suction dredging fees, but only the Legislature can set up fees, Stopher said.

And the effects on water quality from mercury has to be addressed by the state Water Quality Control Board, he said.

Also, noise impacts from the dredges would have to be addressed by another agency, Stopher said.

Revised regulations

To view a copy of the revised suction dredging regulations, go to www.dfg.ca.gov/suctiondredge.

Copies of the regulations are also available at the state Department of Fish and Games office in Redding, 601 Locust St.

Comments on the regulations may be submitted by email to dfgsuctiondredge at dfg.ca.gov. Comments may be mailed to Mark Stopher, senior policy adviser, California Department of Fish and Game, 601 Locust St., Redding, CA 96001.

Comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. March 5.

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