Capitol Alert

California gold miners score another win over state

In this 2006 file photo, Bill Kinzie checks his equipment as he dredges for gold in the Yuba River near Camptonville, Calif. A judge has declared that the state’s moratorium on using suction dredges to sift through gravel violated federal mining law.
In this 2006 file photo, Bill Kinzie checks his equipment as he dredges for gold in the Yuba River near Camptonville, Calif. A judge has declared that the state’s moratorium on using suction dredges to sift through gravel violated federal mining law. Sacramento Bee

California’s 21st century gold miners have scored a second major victory over state efforts to restrict – or ban – them from searching for the precious metal in rivers and streams on federally owned land, such as national forests.

On Monday, San Bernardino County Judge Gilbert Ochoa, building on a previous decision by a state appellate court, declared that the state’s moratorium on using suction dredges to sift through gravel had become a de facto ban and thus violated federal mining law, which encourages mining on federal lands.

His ruling was a victory for the Western Mining Alliance, which has battled the moratorium signed into law in 2009 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. While the law allowed dredging permits to be issued, they had to meet conditions that Ochoa and the appellate court said are impossible to meet.

It was also a setback for environmental groups, which had sponsored the legislation, contending that suction dredging damages spawning grounds for salmon and other fish.

Last October, the 3rd District Court of Appeal overturned the conviction of a miner who had been charged with illegal dredging in Plumas County, citing federal court rulings that the federal Mining Act of 1872 specifically includes “the encouragement of exploration and mining of valuable minerals on federal lands…”

Judge Ochoa referred to that ruling, saying that the state permitting process “stands as an obstacle to the full purposes and objectives of Congress.”

Craig Lindsay, president of the miners’ organization, said that those rulings “allow us to work with the state to ensure the protection of water quality and wildlife, while still allowing us to recover gold.”

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters. Follow him on Twitter

@WaltersBee.

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