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California | Central Valley | North Coast | Environment & Forest Defense

Governor Signs Bill Banning In Stream Dredge Mining for Gold
by Dan Bacher
Thursday Aug 6th, 2009 4:14 PM
Today Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill to temporarily ban the destructive form of recreational gold mining known as suction dredging.

A gold mining suction dredge on the Salmon River in Northern California spews out a plume of sediment. Photo courtesy of the Karuk Tribe, Orleans, CA.
suction_dredge_1.jpg
suction_dredge_1.jpg

Karuk Tribe · Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations · Institute for Fisheries Resources · Klamath Riverkeeper · Center For Biological Diversity · Friends of the River · California Tribal Business Alliance · The Sierra Fund · California Trout · Environmental Law Foundation · Environmental Justice Coalition for Water · Friends of the North Fork American · California Sportfishing Protection Alliance

P R E S S R E L E A S E

For Immediate Release: August 6, 2009

For more information:

Craig Tucker, Litigant and Spokesman, Karuk Tribe, cell 916-207-8294
Glen Spain, PCFFA, 541-521-8655 cell
Mike Thornton The Sierra Fund 530-262-7335 cell

GOVERNOR SIGNS BILL BANNING IN STREAM DREDGE MINING FOR GOLD
Ban will remain in place until new dredge mining rules protective of fish are developed

Sacramento, CA – Today Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill to temporarily ban the destructive form of recreational gold mining known as suction dredging. Other forms of mining are not affected.

With its signing, the bill places an immediate moratorium on all suction dredge mining until the California Department of Fish and Game develops and implements new suction dredge regulations that are protective of fisheries and water quality. Introduced by North coast Senator Pat Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa), the bill attracted broad bi-partisan support and passed both houses of the legislature with a 2/3 majority.

The signing marked a major victory by a diverse coalition of Tribes, fishermen, and conservation groups from around the state. It comes a week after an Alameda County Superior Court ordered a moratorium on the issuance of new dredge permits pending resolution of a complaint charging that tax payer money is illegally subsidizing issuance of dredging permits by the California Department of Fish and Games (DFG).

“We’ve been working to protect our fisheries from destructive mining practices for 150 years,” said Bob Goodwin, Karuk Self Governance Coordinator. “This law requires the state use the best available science in determining where and when hobby miners can operate their dredges without harming our fisheries. Until then, no dredging will be allowed in California.”

According to California Trout’s Tom Weseloh, “California’s rivers and streams are suffering from increasing degradation, and the endangered and threatened fish species face ever more obstacles to survival. Suction dredging disturbs spawning beds of trout, steelhead and salmon. Healthy spawning beds are essential to the long-term survival of these species.”

Groups hope that at the end of the rule making process, the size of dredges will be limited and critical habitats and spawning areas for threatened species will be off limits while allowing dredgers access to areas less vital for the survival of at-risk species.

This recent struggle over dredge mining started in 1997 when Coho salmon were added to the state and federal endangered species list. At that point California Fish and Game Department regulations required that mining rules be re-examined. They were not. In 2005, the Karuk Tribe sued the Department which admitted that a rule change was in order.

“In 2006 we actually proposed some modest restrictions limited to the Klamath Basin. The Department agreed, but the New 49ers and other local mining groups intervened and blocked implementation of the settlement,” explains Goodwin.

The judge did order the Department to go through a public rule making process consistent with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by June 2008. However, the Department failed to comply with the court order..

“We kept trying to get the money in the Department’s budget, but the New 49ers kept lobbying against it. We had little recourse other than legislating the ban to protect our fishery,” concluded Goodwin.

Now the moratorium is statewide and protects not just Northern California Coho, but at-risk species from coastal rivers to high Sierra streams to the few remaining natural waterways in southern California. “Our native fish, frogs, and other at-risk species are declining statewide,” explains Steve Evans, Conservation Director of Friends of the River. “Banning dredge mining is not a silver bullet solution for protecting these species, but it’s a good start.”

Other groups see dredging as a public health issue because it remobilizes toxic mercury left behind by 19th century gold miners. According to Elizabeth (Izzy) Martin, Executive Director of the Sierra Fund, “Dredges suck up mercury buried in river sediment and remobilizes that mercury in our river and streams. This creates a significant health threat to subsistence fishermen, pregnant women and children as well as wildlife.”

Fishermen have taken on miners to preserve jobs. According to Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, a major trade organization representing commercial fishing families, “Commercial fishermen are out of work again this year due to the fishing ban put in place in response to salmon declines from habitat destruction and flow loss. Everyone whose activities harm salmon habitat must share the conservation burden, including the suction dredgers."

All the groups praised Governor Schwarzenegger for signing the bill. “We call on the Governor to seize every opportunity to protect and rebuild our great salmon fishery and the economies throughout California these fish have supported,” concluded Spain.

Although the moratorium does spare rivers from dredges, other forms of mining are unaffected and miners will still have access to their claims. McCracken, President of the New 4 on his website, “the other types of prospecting or mining that we do are not being challenged. These include panning, sniping & Vack-mining, sluicing & high-banking, booming, electronic prospecting and other types of prospecting that do not use a suction nozzle within an active stream, river or creek. So SB 670 does not affect most of the activity which we do, including our group weekend projects.” (http://www.goldgold.com/newsletterlatest.htm)

What is a Dredge?
Suction dredges are powered by gas or diesel engines that are mounted on floating pontoons in the river. Attached to the engine is a powerful vacuum hose which the dredger uses to suction up the gravel and sand (sediment) from the bottom of the river. The material passes through a sluice box where heavier gold particles can settle into a series of riffles. The rest of the gravel is simply dumped back into the river. Often this reintroduces mercury left over from historic mining operations to the water column, threatening communities downstream and getting into the human food chain. Depending on size, location and density of these machines they can turn a clear running mountain stream into a murky watercourse unfit for swimming.

# # #

Editor’s note: for a picture of a suction dredge in action, email request to ctucker [at] karuk.us

Also see a dredge in action on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1qwdzQ4fzI





S. Craig Tucker, Ph.D.
Klamath Coordinator
Karuk Tribe
916-207-8294

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by matt johnson
Thursday Aug 6th, 2009 4:50 PM
How come the current studies and enviromental reports are not being followed? This has already been done and these reports support the fact that dredging not only has no negative impact but in fact helps spawning grounds that are not usable to the fish. This started as a way to help the salmon say the karuks, but now has blossomed into a tree hugging free for all. mercury, frogs,rivers that don't have salmon in them are also being closed. Clearly not about the fish only about control. P.S. Miners don't kill fish fisherman and indians kill fish nothing to argue there
by V.F.
Thursday Aug 6th, 2009 8:54 PM
This is truely a sad day in California History, Suction Dredging does NOT hurt fishing and if everyone who supported this had their fact straight they would see this! What about all the fisherman who leave their LEAD weights in the rivers and streams ARE they not hurting the fish!! Dredging cleans out the rivers of Bullets and weight etc.... Well as the casinos get richer the Prospectors who depend on dredging for a living we will see you in the welfare line thank you Govenor Schwarzenegger for putting a lot of businesses out of Business!
by javaboy
Saturday Aug 8th, 2009 8:27 AM
fact 1....dredging has a season...usually july 1 thru sept 15. no salmon no fry no eggs this time of year.
fact 2.... the sediment that a dredge picks up is already there often times creating an excellent spawning bed for the salmon when they do arrive.
fact 3....gold has a specific gravity of 19.2 which means that gold is 19.2 times heavier than water.mercury has a specific gravity of 13.6,lead 11.3,your average rock like granite,limestone,etc is 2.5. if a dredge will collect gold,it will collect the mecrcury and lead as well....thats a fact !!
by Panning for gold is NOT banned!!
Saturday Aug 8th, 2009 9:47 AM
Here is a key line from the above article;

"Sacramento, CA – Today Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill to temporarily ban the destructive form of recreational gold mining known as suction dredging. Other forms of mining are not affected."

Words of importance are "temporarily ban" and "other forms not affected", so neither will suction dredgers be permanantly banned nor will other less destructive forms of mining like panning for gold by hand be even temporarily banned..

That means that a suction dredger who depends solely on income from gold mining for their food and shelter will not be starving to death and homeless if they can use their hands and a small pie dish with screen to pan for gold. If needed, i could front them an extra pie dish with holes in it so they could prevent impending starvation from this temporary suction dredging ban. However, if they came up with a few dollars left over from their gold dredging days they could order a gold panning kit over the internet and head out to their favorite river spots to begin panning for gold..

Panning for gold gathers small flakes of gold out of the riverbed by hand without causing anywhere near the degrees of turbulence that the suction dredging does. It is comical to hear the excuses suction dredgers make; that they magically suck up all the mercury that the dredger stirs up along with gold, or that because the sediment is "already there" that the salmon eggs won't notice the difference between sediment being trapped under pebbles or hanging in a scattered suspension cloud above the pebbles..

Early settlers panned for gold and were able to survive, so why not today? The price of gold has risen along with general inflation, so the same balance of time needed to collect enough gold during the day to buy food and other items needs to be worked out by the panner. However, i am willing to wager that anyone with enough time for suction dredging can profit from gold panning, though they may need to work physically harder for longer time periods by panning than by suction dredging. The main difference here is that panning for gold will not kill salmon eggs while suction dredging will..

Next we have the arguement suction dredgers make that Karuk and other salmon fishing industries (small and large) are solely responsible for the decline in salmon. This ignores facts that salmon declines are multifactorial, with each component adding to the other, and very little on the opposite side of the equation (effectively promoting salmon population growth) to balance out the losses. Here are the three major factors on the "subtraction" side of population equations..

#1) Dams and diversions on regional rivers negatively effect water quality.

#2) Suction dredging mining disturbs salmon habitat by increasing turbidity from sediments suspended in water.

#3) Commercial fishing industry overfishing.

#4) Traditionally sustainable indigenous salmon harvesting effected by dwindling salmon populations from above three reasons.

To sum up, population loss from subtraction #1 is most significant and remains unresolved. Waiting for Berkshire Hathaway's (Pacificorp) Warren Buffet to willingly remove the lower four Klamath dams on his own time is not acceptable. That river in particular does not need anymore disturbances in the tributaries from suction dredgers stirring up even more sediment that will further cloud the waters downstream. Maybe if subtraction #1 were effectivley resolved by dam removal then subtraction #2 (dredging) would not be such a problem??

However, my wish is that IF suction dredgers were willing to try panning for gold, that they would grow to enjoy it and end up making their profits by panning wothout disturbing the salmon. Then again my other wish is for SUV drivers to willingly give up driving SUVs and ride bicycles, so maybe my wish list is not so realistic in human terms? Though with climate change, flooding and species extinction, my wishes are based upon what is best for the ecosystem, not what is best for human desires..

Am glad when Gov. Arnold finally makes some correct choices, and this is one of them. However, we need to remember the focus word is "temporary" and even the new improved leaner and greener Gov. Arnold will be forced to let suction dredgers return to their old habits once the "protection laws" are in place, and as we're still waiting for the offical timely orders for removal of lower four Klamath dams, we wonder about the effectiveness of the "protection laws" also..

Finally, salmon are highly nutritious sources of food for people, bears, seals and birds and gold is just a metal that our current society has placed some artificial values upon because it sparkles and shines. Not only do salmon sparkle and shine, they also help people physically survive, so my vote is for the salmon..

Nor is gold in any danger of extinction, while salmon are! Once they're gone, they're gone forever! Do you really want future generations to remember you as another careless person who contributed to their extinction because you were unwilling to pan for gold instead of suction dredging??
by Sniper
Saturday Aug 8th, 2009 7:31 PM
I am really tired of all the people repeating the propaganda produced by the Tribes and the "Greenies". The previous post was a cut and paste job from the Karuk web site. Come on, get the facts; not the "be afraid" tactics manufactured by these groups.

In 1994 a complete study was done by the DFG, Tribes, and the miners together as to the harm done by dredging. The result.....No Significant Disturbance. Also the length of the dredging season was shortened by a month just to be safe. Why are we redoing something that was very complete and participated in by all concerned groups? What is different now? Have fish changed? Have dredges changed? Are we going to find a different result to this new study? The answer is NO to all of the above. Unless you have been in the water and participated with a dredge, you have no right to making assumptions as to who is right.

Gill netting kills fish by the hundreds daily at the mouth of the Klamath. Go watch this destructive practice. You will be disgusted by the mass murder of endangered fish.

Get the Real Story, do your own research.
by javaboy
Monday Aug 10th, 2009 8:40 AM
all this talk about dams...why is it only the klamath river? the sacramento river salmon run is in far worse condition than the klamath but i dont hear one thing about removing shasta dam ! imagine what a fishery that would be,the upper sac,pit and mccloud rivers all with a salmon run ! show me data that removing the dams will make a difference in water quality.the klamath is the klamath.it will never change.
as for turbidity.you are just using big words to sound like you know what you are talking about.what happens to a stream or river every time a decent storm dumps a bunch of rain over a drainage ? what little "turbidity" a dredge makes is minute compared to mother nature.
very few settlers made a living panning for gold,the ones that did were extremely lucky to find a spot that rich.panning was generally used as a prospecting tool.once a dececnt location was found,at the very least a rocker was used but more often than not a sluice box was the method of choice.
i am all for protecting salmon and i totally agree about salmon vs gold but i feel that we are not addressing the real problem. what is the salmon take off shore in int. waters where there is no control ? whats the % of fish taken by native americans ? i have heard horror stories my whole life about the native american take yet you never hear the facts.they are always just stories.
why is it that the klamath is the only river in question ? personal agenda by some group or groups more than likely.
by NOT suction dredging, nor dams 4 life!!
Tuesday Aug 11th, 2009 1:48 PM
Some responses to "Sniper" and "javaboy" comments above and request for references;

Just like the violent stormings of town hall meetings by people brainwashed to shout loudly and irrationally against health (actually correctly termed as medical) insurance for everyone, the anti-environmentalists who defend dams and suction dredging as "good for the environment" are operating without a full deck and not even half of the facts..

Why the lower four dams on the Klamath and not other rivers? The prime reason for the focus on the removal of the lower four Klamath dams is their outdated inefficiency and overall uselessness other than some small amounts of electricity generated with high overhead costs (infrastructure maintenence, removal of algae from turbines, intake screens, etc...) which is part of government subsidies that Warren Buffet's Pacificorp collects. Many people like Warren Buffet make their billions by suctioning off the taxpayer's supported government feeding trough, like so many other big corporate piggies are known to do..

The lower four Klamath dams have shown to decrease water quality for salmon habitat in primarily four ways;

1) Water trapped behind dams becomes stagnant and thereby warmer.

2) Water trapped behind dams becomes stagnant and breeding ground for toxic algae (Microcystin aeruginosa). Dead algae are then consumed by bacteria, and in this process bacteria consume oxygen.

3) Water trapped behind dams becomes stagnant and thereby lower oxygen content. (See #2)

4) Water trapped behind dams becomes stagnant and slows velocity of upstream flows.

What science has verified is that salmon require cold, clear and fast moving water that would contain higher amouts of dissolved oxygen than the current conditions behind the lower four Klamath dams. The above four reasons are the primary source of the loss of salmon from this river and removal of the lower four klamath dams will solve all the above problems at once..

5) Dams prevent acess to upstream breeding tributaries beyond Iron Gate.

Again, ONLY removal of the lower four Klamath dams will enable migratory salmon to gain considerable habitat for laying their eggs, thus giving them chances to increase their populations over the next several years. It is difficult to predict the exact numbers, though the doubling or tripling of egg laying habitat combined with improved water quality would most likely show a tripling of population size over the next five years or so..

Amongst serious minded scientists there is a concensus of certainty that as riparian conditions improve, salmon populations will follow suit and also increase in numbers over time, thus reversing the current trends of salmon population declines under hostile and unhealthy water quality behind the lower four Klamath dams..

Here's a summary of the above four points;

"Q: How will dam removal impact Klamath water quality? Is it true that the river has always had bad water quality in the summer time?

A:While upstream water pollution (mostly excess nutrients) does play a role in Klamath water quality, the reservoirs formed by PacifiCorp's dams are responsible for very specific and very serious water quality problems.

First, the dams change a free-flowing, turbulent system into a placid lake environment, with warm and stagnant water. This allows toxic algae to flourish, and results in summer and fall releases of water with illegally high pH and low dissolved oxygen - lethal conditions for fish. Scientists have shown that the high temperatures associated with these releases can also limit salmon spawning success and egg survival. Ironically, water released from the dams in the spring is unusually cold and has been shown to slow the growth rate of juvenile salmon, making them less likely to survive to maturity and spawn.

PacifiCorp's dams also alter the shape and flow characteristics of the river downstream, which creates another set of problems. Before the Klamath was dammed, the growth of aquatic vegetation was kept in check by periodic high flows turning gravels and "roughing up" the riverbed. Sediment and gravels are now trapped behind the dams, and flows are even and carefully regulated. With small gravels long since washed downstream, and no flows large enough to turn the remaining boulders and scour the riverbed, algae and aquatic plants grow to unusually high densities. These rich algae beds create the perfect habitat for the worms that host the deadly fish parasites associated with Klamath River fish kills.

Increased water temperatures, high pH, and low dissolved oxygen combine with increased habitat for parasite hosts to create a deadly cocktail for Klamath salmon. At the root of all of these problems are PacifiCorp's Klamath River dams."

more info found @;
http://www.klamathriver.org/KlamathDamsQA.html

Returning to suction dredging, the turbidity is a term used to describe the uplifting and dispersion of sediment particles that make the water cloudy. The cloudy water will then settle, though it tends to coat the surfaces of the salmon eggs laid in gravel, when prior to being uplifted and dispersed by suction dredging the sediment silts were underneath heavier stones and gravels and would not under normal conditions have coated the salmon eggs..

Some background on turbidity and TSS;

Why is Turbidity important?

Increased Turbidity can disrupt the natural environment and hinder the growth of flora and fauna. When sunlight is blocked from penetrating through the water, for instance, high concentrations of particulate matter may modify light penetration, causing shallow lakes and bays to fill in faster and smother benthic habitats. This impacts both underwater organisms and their eggs. If light penetration is reduced significantly, it may reduce photosynthesis which in turn may lower the daytime release of oxygen into the water. Reduced light penetration also has a sensory impact by preventing various organisms from seeing their food, their preys and predators, their mates and offspring. This is true whether increased Turbidity is caused by natural or unnatural events. On the other hand, some species of flora and fauna are used to natural variability in Turbidity and can well survive periods with less sunlight up to a certain level.


Why is TSS important?

As particles of silt, clay, and other organic materials settle to the sea- or riverbed, they may suffocate newly hatched larvae and fill the spaces between the rocks which serve as a habitat for these aquatic organisms. Fine particulate material can also clog or damage sensitive gill structures, decrease resistance to disease, prevent proper egg and larval development, and potentially interfere with particle feeding activities.

Can Turbidity harm the marine environment, like oyster beds or coral reefs?

Yes, and consequently dredging companies and environmental scientists spend a great deal of attention to when, where and how dredging takes place. Whilst weather events, which are natural phenomena, are beyond human control, human interventions like dredging can be, and in general are, planned to minimize disturbances. For instance, dredging is often limited or avoided entirely during spawning season to protect vulnerable marine life. Or alternatively, special dredging technologies can be implemented which minimize Turbidity or limit it from spreading beyond a designated area. Coral reefs and oyster beds are particularly sensitive to Turbidity and TSS and often require special attention.

Does dredging cause Turbidity?

Besides naturally occurring events like storms, river flows, waves and human activities like fishing and shipping, dredging operations can also cause Turbidity. To be more accurate, dredging can cause “extra Turbidity” and it is important to conduct environmental impact assessments to evaluate how much extra Turbidity is too much Turbidity. To do this, Turbidity fluctuations in the natural environment should be determined as part of an environmental baseline study. Such a baseline study needs to be carried out prior to a dredging operation. In addition, the marine species and their habitats which may be sensitive to (large) fluctuations in Turbidity should be identified. During the execution of the project, Turbidity must then be carefully monitored by measuring light penetration and water clarity. Generally speaking there are three variables that are usually considered:
- the nature of the water bed in the area to be dredged;
- the nature of the surface water in and around the area to be dredged; and
- the dredging technique and type of dredger that is being used."

site found @;
http://www.iadc-dredging.com/index.php?option=com

BTW, the above website isn't from the "Greenie Meanies" or any other ecocentric group, it is the "International Association of Dredging Companies", and even these dredge-happy folks are admitting that dredging's turbidity can cause problems for the ecosystem!!

Many runs of California's salmon species are in decline and those on the Klamath are at record lows for several years in a row. We don't need any more disruptions fdrom suction dredgers on top of the problems created by the lower four Klamath dams..

There's nothing wrong with panning for gold, as settler would not have tried it if there wasn't some reward. Certainly an out of work suction dredger can put food on their table by panning for gold, and maybe catching a few salmon in the process..

Hopefully that can help people understand the impacts of suction dredging and dams on salmon habitat. Any further questions can be addressed as comments on this or future articles. Thank you all for your concerns about the well being and survival of the region's salmon populartions, and all those who depend upon them for their own survival..

by Sniper
Sunday Aug 23rd, 2009 9:27 AM
In response to NOT.

One again, twist the truth to meet your agenda. I will not comment on the dam issue as it is not my expertise. However...... to use a large commercial dredging corp as your source is proof you have no knowledge of small scale gold dredging. The turbidity of a gold dredge is so insignificant to the flow of the Klamath. Please compare apples to apples.

Your comment: "Certainly an out of work suction dredger can put food on their table by panning for gold, and maybe catching a few salmon in the process.. "

Pan for gold and kill a few fish to support your family, get real!
by John J. Wardlaw
Thursday Aug 27th, 2009 2:41 PM
Water quality is very important and as a catch and release fisherman I want to keep water quality as high as possible. However I am also a recreational gold dredger. My grandfather purchased land in the early 70s. it contained a creek that ran into the Klamath River. He wanted to keep the land undeveloped but he also wanted to recreate in the stream by fishing, panning and doing some minor dredging.

Fishing was banned a few years ago on this stream. I don't know why as the farms upstream take all the water. I would think water use restrictions would work better than banning fishing. Now Dredging is banned. The season was already limited to 2 months per year. So the whole point of my grandfathers reason for having the property is now gone. So we are out the value of the property and we have lost much of our recreation.

I also feel for all the people in this current economy that own mining claims on rivers and streams who make their living this way. Basically the california gov't has just taken away many peoples livelyhood. Now more people will need state services.

Just like the Klamath Dams situation, not enough science is done in advance of these bannings. Sure, the Klamath Dams never should have been built, but they didn't know about what they were doing back then. Now they want to take away peoples homes and recreation areas that have established thier own valuable ecosystems. I personally have checked the water temperature above Copco Lake and on the same day checked the water temperature below Irongate. The temperature when I did this was actually cooler downstream. My theory? That the water released from the dams in summer comes from so many feet below the surface where the water remains cool in summer.

OK, I changed subjects and I'm sorry for that, but they both relate to water quality issues. if you really want to help the water problems in california then stop population growth, force cities like San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles to built Desalinization plants to they can stop sucking our rivers and lakes dry. As long as the population keeps growing so will our water issues.