Klamath fish are worth more than gold
Courts and legislature outlaw hobby gold mining in California
Report illegal suction dredge mining
Read links, news articles, and studies
Suction dredging banned in the legislature
On August 6, 2009, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger outlawed suction dredging on all of California’s rivers when he signed SB 670 into law. After a long and multi-faceted fight, destructive hobby gold mining is punishable by a $1000 fine or 6 months in jail. KRK strongly supported this legislation and no doubt the 600 letters of support sent by KRK members and friends helped with this major legislative victory. Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) introduced SB 670 earlier this year and it overwhelmingly passed the Senate and Assembly on bi-partisan lines. The new law bans suction dredge mining in California’s rivers until the California Department of Fish and Game completes an environmental review of the mining practice and institutes new regulations that properly protect fisheries, water quality, and public health. The law, which contained an urgency clause, went into effect immediately.
We need your help in reporting the location of illegal dredges remaining on any river in California. If you see a dredge in the water or on the banks, please take detailed notes of its location, appearance, and any vehicles tags associated with the dredge and report them to CA Dept. of Fish & Game at 888-DFG-CALTIP (888-334-2258). Listen for the prompt about reporting a fish and game violation (extension 03). You can call anonymously. The more info you can provide, the better. You may even qualify for a $1000 reward from CalTIP. Please call or email KRK to let us know you have taken action and share any pictures you have.
As soon as California banned suction dredge mining, Klamath Riverkeeper began searching out illegal dredges by air and on the ground. See a Google Earth map of illegal suction dredges in the Klamath River watershed (requires free Google Earth software).
Suction dredge permits banned in the courts
A few weeks prior to the ban, KRK and co-plaintiffs won a preliminary injunction blocking CDFG from issuing any further suction dredge permits. This injunction is still in effect, however the new ban on dredging outlaws all suction dredge mining including those that have already been permitted by CDFG. Interestingly, both the courts and legislature have had to step in to do CDFG’s job of properly regulating the destructive practice of suction dredging.
Slideshow of illegal suction dredges located by air on 9/2/09.
What's up next
Next we will be working to ensure that CDFG’s review is thorough and that new regulations limit size and horsepower, limit access to thermal refugia and key habitat, reduce fuel spills, and create a plan for handling old mercury deposits. Sensitive rivers such as the Salmon, a key tributary to the Klamath, should be closed entirely to suction dredging.
Salmon vs. suction dredgers: Background on the debate
The struggle to properly regulate suction dredging began in 1997 when coho salmon were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. CDFG failed to update suction dredge regulations and, in 2005, the Karuk Tribe of California sued CDFG to implement the required update.
CDFG agreed to update suction dredge regulations for the Klamath River watershed in the Karuk’s ancestral territory. However, a Happy Camp, CA-based recreational mining club known as the New 49ers intervened and forced CDFG to undertake a formal rule making process pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act. In violation of a court order, CDFG failed to complete this rule making process by 2008 and in early 2009 the Karuk Tribe requested an emergency closure of the Klamath River to suction dredge mining due to declining fish populations.
In response, the New 49ers requested CDFG outlaw Karuk Tribal members from salmon fishing at their one remaining Tribal fishing site on the Klamath. Both requests were declined and, in March 2009, a coalition of conservation groups, including Klamath Riverkeeper, and the Karuk Tribe filed a lawsuit to block CDFG from issuing further suction dredge permits. A judge issued a preliminary injunction in July 2009, ordering CDFG to stop issuing permits.
If CDFG had acted properly and legally in 1997 or again in 2005, there would be no need for SB 670 and we would already have suction dredge regulations that protect fisheries and water quality. The New 49ers opposition to tighter regulations on the Klamath River ultimately forced a dredging closure on all rivers in California with SB 670. The New 49ers took an ‘all or nothing’ approach to regulation on their dredging activities. Turns out that they will get nothing until the new rules are out.
What is a suction dredge?
Suction dredge mining takes place directly in river and stream channels using a floating, gas-powered vacuum coupled to a sluice box. The miner vacuums up the river bottom and runs the sediment through a mechanized sluice to separate out gold flakes. The sediment is then spit back into the river in long, murky plumes.
Suction dredging represents a chronic and unnatural disturbance to the river and is known to harm fisheries, aquatic habitat, and degrade water quality. It can stir up leftover mercury pollution from historical mining activity and reintroduce it into the food chain, creating a public health problem. At times, ten or more suction dredges can be found in one river mile on the Klamath River and several hundred dredges are estimated to be operating within the watershed at one time.
- Interactive Map of Illegal Suction Dredges (requires free Google Earth software)
- Illegal Suction Dredge Location Map (pdf)
- KRK Press Release - 8/6/09 California bans dredge mining - effective now!
- CDFG Announcement: Suction Dredge Ban & Penalties
- Associated Press - 8/6/09 California bans dredge mining
- Sacramento Bee editorial: A pause for suction dredge mining
- San Francisco Chronicle editorial: Stop the suction dredging of the state's rivers
- Klamath Riverkeeper press release: Suction dredging limited by courts, legislature
- Klamath Riverkeeper press release: SB 670 Passes CA Senate 31-8, Moves to Assembly
- Klamath Riverkeeper press release: KRK joins Karuk Tribe to oppose hobby mining
- Sacramento Bee editorial: Time for new rules on suction mining
- CA Senator Wiggins introduces package of salmon-saving bills
- Wiggins critiques CDFG decision to forego limits on suction mining
- Dr. Peter Moyle's expert opinion on suction mining and the Klamath
- Karuk Tribe's petition to limit suction dredge mining
- Karuk Tribe press release: Miners attack Karuk dipnet fishery
- Article on Klamath suction dredge mining in the Winter/Spring 09 Klamath River News