California budget would indefinitely extend ban on dredge mining

Published: Friday, Jun. 29, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3B

Suction dredge mining foes are crowing following news that an addition to the California budget bill will effectively extend indefinitely a moratorium on the controversial practice.

Opponents are vowing to sue to restore miners' ability to used the dredges to find gold.

A short bit of legislation attached to the budget means that a moratorium due to expire in 2016 will be extended indefinitely, unless the state's mining program can be made self-supporting and unless unavoidable environmental impacts are addressed, said Craig Tucker, a representative of the Karuk Tribe, which sued to stop the practice on the Klamath River.

"No dredging ever until you guys figure out how to deal with these significant impacts," he said.

"It's a scam," responded Rachel Dunn, a miners' representative, attacking the method in which the legislation was passed.

She said it should've been addressed in normal legislative hearings, instead of as part of the budget.

"This goes straight to court," she said.

"It's imminent," Dunn said, when asked about timing of a suit.

In suction dredge mining, gold hunters use a small apparatus in rivers and streams to suck up gravel beds and separate out valuable metals that were deposited there, naturally or otherwise.

Many of the most popular mining waterways are in the Mother Lode region outside Sacramento.

The Karuk sued, and won a decision saying that the California Department of Fish and Game had not adequately studied dredge mining's environmental consequences.

There have been moratoriums in place since 2009.

The Karuk and fishing and environmental allies say the practice disturbs fish spawning habitat and may release mercury buried in river sediments.

"This common-sense law protects wildlife and waterways from toxic mercury and safeguards California's cultural heritage," said Jonathan Evans, in a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity.

Miners have challenged the mercury science, claiming they capture most of the mercury and leave rivers cleaner than before.

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Read more articles by Carlos Alcalá

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