California Judge Orders Suction Dredge Mining Moratorium

In advance of Governor Schwarzenegger’s decision on California’s SB 670, which would place a moratorium on new permits for suction dredge mining to protect salmon, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch issued an injunction establishing such a moratorium. The injunction ordered the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) to stop spending general funds to issue new dredge permits. The moratorium was issued because the DFG missed the June 2008 deadline to develop new dredging rules for salmon protection based on scientific review. The governor vetoed a similar bill last year.

Judge issues injunction to stop new dredge mining permits
Judge issues injunction to stop new dredge mining permits

SB 670 has created a lot of controversy, as miners feel unfairly targeted for the salmon’s decline when water diversion from California rivers is the major culprit. Miners often claim dredging improves river habitat and the real issue is between the Karuk tribe and one mining group. The Trinity Journal reports:

A state test cited by people on both sides of the issue found that suction dredging captures 98 percent of the harmful mercury from old mining practices from the riverbed, but 2 percent escapes the sluice box. The researchers and opponents of suction dredging said the “flouring” of that disturbed mercury back in the water is harmful, while Jones and other miners ask why they are focusing that small fraction.

Jones said miners statewide are affected by a conflict in the Klamath River area between the Karuk Tribe and a prospecting club, the New 49’ers, both based in Happy Camp. The mining club has bought claims on 60 miles along the Klamath and its tributaries in the heart of the tribe’s territory, he said, and there have been conflicts.

On the other side of the issue, fisherman and the Native Americans believe a study is warranted to protect the fragile salmon population. Fishing guide Scott Stratton explains:

The fish are incredibly important. I think it’s one of the biggest money generators for the fall months … Trinity River is a pretty famous river for steelhead. It [mining] can no way help them. Their silt buries the spawning areas. … Any time you’re taking and digging a hole and blowing the sediments down the river it’s got to set the natural balance off.

Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations agrees:

It is morally reprehensible and illegal for California Fish and Game to continue to use tax dollars to subsidize the destruction of our salmon fisheries, especially so in the midst of a budget crisis.

The injunction orders all activity related to mining permits to end, including “turning on the office lights”. If the governor signs SB 670, the moratorium would continue until a scientific review is completed.

Written by Jennifer Lance

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