Dave Mack

“This is the current status of the ongoing EIR process on suction dredging in California.”

This was a section of Dave’s March newsletter, which can be found here.

Progress on EIR:

The one thing that will allow us all the put our suction dredges back in the California waterways is completion of the EIR!

It is so important that the job must be done right. This is because anti-mining activists are also attacking us within the ongoing EIR process. They are trying to show that suction dredging creates really bad impacts, when it actually does not.

During the past several weeks, DFG has organized several formal meetings where interested parties (concerning suction dredging) have been able to meet and discuss the various issues which need to be worked out. The third and final of these meetings took place on 11 March. The New 49’ers, along with several other organizations within our industry, has very qualified representatives at these meetings. Anti-mining activists are also well represented in the process. There are specialists involved which represent all sides of the issues.

Through the discussions and other public input so far concerning suction dredging, the subject of mercury appears to be one of the most important and contentious issues so far.

While the authorities have proven that normal suction dredges recover 98% of the mercury that is sucked up into our sluice boxes, anti-mining activists are taking strong issue with the potential loss of 2% becoming a water quality violation. Yes; I know; you would think that the various government agencies and environmental organizations would be happy with a 98% rate of mercury recovery at no cost to the taxpayers. But nearly all of the focus remains upon the potential 2% loss of mercury which would have already been in the stream or river in the first place!

I personally have been involved with several federal projects during the past few years to help figure out how to recover 100% of the mercury (zero loss) when trying to remove mercury from submerged waste sites where hundreds or thousands of pounds of mercury were lost from historical gold mines.

During 2008, we developed a closed circuit dredging devise that is able to trap all of the sediments and all of the water used to create suction-power at the nozzle. We tested the system with assistance from the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Geological Service, actually proving that by recirculating the same water over and over gain to dredge contaminated waste material (from the South Yuba River in California), we were able to capture and concentrate 100% of the finest particles of mercury that would presumably be lost from a normal suction dredge. The project was quite successful!

However, anti-mining activists have now taken the mercury concentration levels within our closed system (which was used for hours within a known waste site) to try and prove their case that suction dredgers are discharging high levels of mercury into active waterways all across the State. It never ceases to amaze me how low our enemies will stoop to try and get rid of us! Here, we were doing a really good thing by developing equipment that will help clean up serious waste sites. And anti-mining activists are trying to misuse the data to create a negative reflection upon all suction dredgers.

So I have personally invested quite a lot of time in trying to straighten this all out within the ongoing EIR process concerning normal dredging activity outside of hazardous waste sites. You can find my work on this subject on our web site. I highly recommend this as excellent reading if you want to get a feel for what we are really up against.

The New 49’ers27 Davis Road, Happy Camp, CA 96039 (530) 493-2012 www.goldgold.com

 
Dave Mack

“Here is a compilation of some published findings concerning the effects of suction dredging upon water quality…”

State Water Resources Control Board
Division of Water Quality
P.O. Box 100 Sacramento, California 95812-0100
Fax: 916-341-5620 email: commentletters@waterboards.ca.gov

GEOGRAPHICAL SCALE OF SMALL-SCALE SUCTION DREDGING

It has been observed that environmentalists opposing suction dredging use data gleaned from reports that studied effects of environmental perturbations that are occurring on a system-wide basis. For example, they would characterize the affects of turbidity from a suction dredge as if it would impact downstream organisms in a manner that system-wide high water flow events might. This approach is entirely inconsistent with the way in which suction dredges operate or generally impact their downstream environment.

The California Department of Fish and Game (1997) described typical dredging activities as follows’ “An individual suction dredge operation affects a relatively small portion of a stream or river. A recreational suction dredger (representing 90-percent of all dredgers) may spend a total of four to eight hours per day in the water dredging an area of 1 to 10 square meters. The average number of hours is 5.6 hours per day. The remaining time is spent working on equipment and processing dredged material. The area or length of river or streambed worked by a single suction dredger, as compared to total river length, is relatively small compared to the total available area.”

In the Oregon Siskiyou National Forest Dredge Study, Chapter 4, Environmental Consequences, some perspective is given to small-scale mining. “The average claim size is 20 acres. The total acreage of all analyzed claims related to the total acres of watershed is about 0.2 percent. The average stream width reflected in the analysis is about 20 feet or less and the average mining claim is 1320 feet in length. The percentage of land area within riparian zones on the Siskiyou National Forest occupied by mining claims is estimated to be only 0.1 percent.” The report goes on to say, “Over the past 10 years, approximately 200 suction dredge operators per season operate on the Siskiyou National Forest” (SNF, 2001).

A report from the U.S. Forest Service, Siskiyou National Forest (Cooley, 1995) answered the frequently asked question, “How much material is moved by annual mining suction dredge activities and how much does this figure compare with the natural movement of such materials by surface erosion and mass movement?” The answer was that suction dredges moved a total of 2,413 cubic yards for the season. Cooley (1995) used the most conservative values and estimated that the Siskiyou National Forest would move 331,000 cubic yards of material each year from natural causes. Compared to the 2413 (in-stream) cubic yards re-located by suction mining operations the movement rate by suction dredge mining would equal about 0.7% of natural rates.

It has been suggested that a single operating suction dredge may not pose a problem but the operation of multiple dredges would produce a cumulative effect that could cause harm to aquatic organisms. However, “No additive effects were detected on the Yuba River from 40 active dredges on a 6.8 mile (11 km) stretch. The area most impacted was from the dredge to about 98 feet (30 meters) downstream, for most turbidity and settelable solids (Harvey, B.C., K. McCleneghan, J.D. Linn, and C.L. Langley, 1982). In another study, “Six small dredges (<6 inch dredge nozzle) on a 1.2 mile (2 km) stretch had no additive effect (Harvey, B.C., 1986). Water quality was typically temporally and spatially restricted to the time and immediate vicinity of the dredge (North, P.A., 1993).

A report on the water quality cumulative effects of placer mining on the Chugach National Forest, Alaska found that, “The results from water quality sampling do not indicate any strong cumulative effects from multiple placer mining operations within the sampled drainages.” “Several suction dredges probably operated simultaneously on the same drainage, but did not affect water quality as evidenced by above and below water sample results. In the recreational mining area of Resurrection Creek, five and six dredges would be operating and not produce any water quality changes (Huber and Blanchet, 1992).

The California Department of Fish and Game stated in its Draft Environmental Impact Report that “Department regulations do not currently limit dredger densities but the activity itself is somewhat self-regulating. Suction dredge operators must space themselves apart from each other to avoid working in the turbidity plume of the next operator working upstream. Suction Dredging requires relatively clear water to successfully harvest gold ” (CDFG, 1997).

ELEVATED TURBIDITY

Suction dredging causes less than significant effects to water quality. The impacts include increased turbidity levels caused by re-suspended streambed sediment and pollution caused by spilling of gas and oil used to operate suction dredges (CDFG, 1997).

“Suction dredges, powered by internal combustion engines of various sizes, operate while floating on the surface of streams and rivers. As such, oil and gas may leak or spill onto the water’s surface. There have not been any observed or reported cases of harm to plant or wildlife as a result of oil or gas spills associated with suction dredging” (CDFG, 1997).

The impact of turbidities on water quality caused by suction dredging can vary considerably depending on many factors. Factors which appear to influence the degree and impact of turbidity include the amount and type of fines (fine sediment) in the substrate, the size and number of suction dredges relative to stream flow and reach of stream, and background turbidities (CDFG, 1997).

Because of low ambient levels of turbidity on Butte Creek and the North Fork American River, California, Harvey (1986) easily observed increases of 4 to 5 NTU from suction dredging. Turbidity plumes created by suction dredging in Big East Fork Creek were visible in Canyon Creek 403 feet (123 meters) downstream from the dredges (Somer and Hassler, 1992).

In contrast, Thomas (1985), using a dredge with a 2.5-inch diameter nozzle on Gold Creek, Montana, found that suspended sediment levels returned to ambient levels 100 feet below the dredge. Gold Creek is a relatively undisturbed third order stream with flows of 14 cubic feet per second. A turbidity tail from a 5-inch (12.7 cm) dredge on Clear Creek, California was observable for only 200 feet downstream. Water velocity at the site was about 1 foot per second (Lewis, 1962).

Turbidity below a 2.5 inch suction dredge in two Idaho streams was nearly undetectable even though fine sediment, less than 0.5 mm in diameter, made up 13 to 18 percent, by weight, of substrate in the two streams (Griffith and Andrews, 1981).

“During a dredging test carried out by the California Department of Fish and Game on the north fork of American River, it was concluded that turbidity was greatest immediately downstream, returning to ambient levels within 100 feet. Referring to 52 dredges studied, Harvey (1982) stated “…generally rapid recovery to control levels in both turbidity and settable solids occurred below dredging activity.”

Hassler (1986) noted “…during dredging, suspended sediment and turbidity were high immediately below the dredge, but diminished rapidly within distance downstream.” He measured 20.5 NTU 4 meters below a 5-inch dredge that dropped off to 3.4 NTU 49 meters below the dredge. Turbidity from a 4-inch dredge dropped from 5.6 NTU 4 meters below to 2.9 NTU 49 meters below with 0.9 NTU above. He further noted “…water quality was impacted only during the actual operation of the dredge…since a full day of mining by most Canyon Creek operators included only 2 to 4 hours of dredge running time, water quality was impacted for a short time.” Also “…the water quality of Canyon Creek was very good and only affected by suction dredging near the dredge when it was operated.”

The US Geological Survey and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources conducted a survey into dredging on Alaska’s Fortymile River, which is a river designated as a wild and scenic corridor. The study stated, “One dredge had a 10-inch diameter intake hose and was working relatively fine sediment on a smooth but fast section of the river. The other dredge had an 8-inch intake and was working coarser sediments in a shallower reach of the river. State regulations require that suction dredges may not increase the turbidity of the river by more than 5 nephelometric turbidity units (NTU), 500 feet (=150m) downstream. In both cases, the dredges were well within compliance with this regulation.”


http://www.akmining.com/mine/usgs1.htm

Samples were collected on a grid extending downstream from the dredges as they were operating and compared to measurements made upstream of the dredges. One dredge had a 10-inch diameter intake hose and was working relatively fine sediments on a smooth but fast section of the river. The results of the turbidity survey for the 10-inch dredge are shown on figure 2. Turbidity values behind the 8-inch dredge were lower, because the smaller intake was moving less sediment material, and because the coarser sediments being worked by the 8-inch dredge settled more rapidly.

The turbidity values found in the dredge studies fall within the range of turbidity values found for currently mined areas of the Fortymile River and many of its un-mined tributaries. Figure 3 shows the ranges of turbidity values observed along the horizontal axis, and the number of samples that fall within each of those ranges. For example, 25 samples had turbidity between 1.0 and 1.5 NTU, 22 of which were in a dredged area. The highest turbidity value was from an un-mined tributary to Uhler Creek; the lowest from a number of different tributaries to the North Fork. As seen on the figure, there is no appreciable difference in the distribution of turbidity values between mined and un-mined areas.

http://www.akmining.com/mine/usgs1.htm

In American studies, average turbidity levels have been shown to be between 5 and 15 NTU 5 meters below dredges. But even the maximum turbidity level measured in a clay pocket (51 NTU) fell below 10 NTU within 45 meters. Turbidity increases, from even large dredges on moderate sized streams, have shown to be fairly low, usually 25 NTU or less, and to return to background within 30 meters. The impact is localized and short lived; indicating minimum impact on moderate and larger waterways.

Within any waterway, sediment is primarily carried in suspension during periods of rainfall and high flow. This is an important point, as it indicates that a dredging operation has less, or at least no greater effect on sediment mobilization and mobility than a rain storm.”

All of these research studies have concluded that only a local significant effect occurs, with it decreasing rapidly downstream. The studies have been wide spread, having been undertaken in Alaska, Idaho, California, Montana and Oregon.

The science supports de minimus status for < 6-inch suction dredges. Turbidity is de minimus according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Effects from elevated levels of turbidity and suspended sediment normally associated with suction dredging as regulated in the past in California appear to be less than significant with regard to impacts to fish and other river resources because of the level of turbidity created and the short distance downstream of a suction dredge where turbidity levels return to normal” (CDFG, 1997).

Furthermore, individuals that have not, in fact, operated suction dredges may not realize that it is a self-limiting operation. The dredge operator must be able to see his work area to operate safely and manage the intake of the dredge nozzle. If high levels of turbidity were to flood the dredger’s work area and render him “blind” he would have to move the operation to another location.

INCREASING WATER TEMPERATURE

Responsible suction dredge miners do not dredge stream banks (it is illegal). Dredging occurs only in the wetted perimeter of the stream. Therefore, it is unlikely suction dredging will cause a loss of cover adjacent to the stream.

Solar radiation is the single most important energy source for the heating of streams during daytime conditions. The loss or removal of riparian vegetation can increase solar radiation input to a stream increasing stream temperature. Suction dredge operations are confined to the existing stream channel and do not affect riparian vegetation or stream shade (SNF, 2001).

Suction dredging could alter pool dimensions through excavation, deposition of tailings, or by triggering adjustments in channel morphology. Excavating pools could substantially increase their depth and increase cool groundwater inflow. This could reduce pool temperature. If pools were excavated to a depth greater than three feet, salmonid pool habitat could be improved. In addition, if excavated pools reduce pool temperatures, they could provide important coldwater habitats for salmonids living in streams with elevated temperatures (SNF, 2001).

Dredge mining had little, if any, impact on water temperature (Hassler, T.J., W.L. Somer and G.R. Stern, 1986). In addition, the Oregon Siskiyou Dredge Study states, “There is no evidence that suction dredging affects stream temperature” (SNF, 2001).

Increases in sediment loading to a stream can result in the stream aggrading causing the width of the stream to increase. This width increase can increase the surface area of the water resulting in higher solar radiation absorption and increased stream temperatures. Suction dredge operations are again confined to the existing stream channel and do not affect stream width (SNF, 2001).

Stream temperature can also increase from increasing the stream’s width to depth ratio. The suction dredge operation creates piles in the stream channel as the miner digs down into the streambed. The stream flow may split and flow around the pile decreasing or increasing the wetted surface for a few feet. However, within the stream reach that the miner is working in, the change is so minor that the overall wetted surface area can be assumed to be the same so the total solar radiation absorption remains unchanged. Suction Dredging results in no measurable increase in stream temperature (SNF, 2001).

“Small streams with low flows may be significantly affected by suction dredging, particularly when dredged by larger dredges (Larger than 6 inches) (Stern, 1988). However, the California Department of Fish and Game concluded, “current regulations restrict the maximum nozzle size to 6 inches on most rivers and streams which, in conjunction with riparian habitat protective measures, results in a less than significant impact to channel morphology” (CDFG, 1997).

WATER CHEMISTRY

Concern has been raised that small-scale dredge operations may increase the metal load of the surface waters. Whereas dredge operations do re-suspend the bottom sediment, the magnitude of this disturbance on stream metal loading was unknown. It was unknown what affect the dredge operations may have on the transport and redistribution of metals-some of which (for example, arsenic, copper, and zinc) have environmental importance.

The U.S. Geological Survey and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources cooperated in a project, on Fortymile River, to provide scientific data to address these questions. This river is designated a Wild and Scenic Corridor by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Current users of the river include placer mine operators, as well as boaters and rafters. Along the North Fork Fortymile River, and just below its confluence with the South Fork, mining is limited to a few small suction dredges which, combined, produce as much as a few hundred ounces of gold per year. In this area, some potential environmental concerns have been raised associated with the mining activities, including increased turbidity of the river water; adverse impact on the overall chemical quality of the river water; and potential additions of specific toxic elements, such as arsenic, to the river during mining operations.

Field measurements were made for pH, turbidity, electrical conductivity (a measure of the total dissolved concentrations of mineral salts), and stream discharge for the Fortymile River and many of its tributaries. Samples were collected at the same time for chemical analyses, including trace-metal analyses

Water-quality samples were collected at three points 200 feet behind each of the two operating suction dredges. One sample was collected on either side of the plume, and one in the center of the plume. The samples were passed through a filter with a nominal pore size of 0.45 micrometers and acidified to a pH less than about 2. Results are shown in the following table. Samples 1A, 1C, 2A, and 2C are from either side of the plume behind dredges 1 and 2, respectively. Samples 1B and 2B are from the center of each plume. All concentrations given are in micrograms per liter, except pH, which is expressed in standard units.

The data show similar water-quality values for samples collected within and on either side of the dredge plumes. Further, the values shown in the table are roughly equal to or lower than the regional average concentrations for each dissolved metal, based on the analyses of 25 samples collected throughout the area. Therefore, suction dredging appears to have no measurable effect on the chemistry of the Fortymile River within this study area. We have observed greater variations in the natural stream chemistry in the region than in the dredge areas (Wanty, R.B., B. Wang, and J. Vohden. 1997).

Water Quality Data

A final report from an EPA contract for analysis of the effects on mining in the Fortymile River, Alaska stated, “This report describes the results of our research during 1997 and 1998 into the effects of commercial suction dredging on the water quality, habitat, and biota of the Fortymile River…. The focus of our work on the Fortymile in 1997 was on an 8-inch suction dredge (Site 1), located on the mainstem… At Site 1, dredge operation had no discernable effect on alkalinity, hardness, or specific conductance of water in the Fortymile. Of the factors we measured, the primary effects of suction dredging on water chemistry of the Fortymile River were increased turbidity, total filterable solids, and copper and zinc concentrations downstream of the dredge. These variables returned to upstream levels within 80-160 m downstream of the dredge. The results from this sampling revealed a relatively intense, but localized, decline in water clarity during the time the dredge was operating” (Prussian, A.M., T.V. Royer and G.W. Minshall, 1999).

“The data collected for this study help establish regional background geochemical values for the waters in the Fortymile River system. As seen in the chemical and turbidity data any variations in water quality due to the suction dredging activity fall within the natural variations in water quality” (Prussian, A.M., T.V. Royer and G.W. Minshall, 1999).

REMOVAL OF MERCURY FROM THE ENVIRONMENT

Looking for gold in California streams and rivers is a recreational activity for thousands of state residents. As these miners remove sediments, sands, and gravel from streams and former mine sites to separate out the gold, they are also removing mercury. This mercury is the remnant of millions of pounds of pure mercury that was added to sluice boxes used by historic mining operations between 1850 and 1890. Modern day small-scale gold suction dredgers do not use mercury to recover gold during the operation of the dredge. Therefore, any gold that would be found in their possession would be that which was extracted from the stream or river they are working.

Taking mercury out of streams benefits the environment. Efforts to collect mercury from recreational gold miners in the past, however, have been stymied due to perceived regulatory barriers. Disposal of mercury is normally subject to all regulations applicable to hazardous waste.

In 2000, EPA and California’s Division of Toxic Substance Control worked in concert with other State and local agencies to find the regulatory flexibility needed to collect mercury in a simple and effective manner. In August and September, 2000 the first mercury “milk runs” collected 230 pounds of mercury. A Nevada County household waste collection event held in September 2000 collected about 10 pounds of mercury. The total amount of mercury collected was equivalent to the mercury load in 47 years worth of wastewater discharge from the city of Sacramento’s sewage treatment plant or the mercury in a million mercury thermometers. This successful pilot program demonstrates how recreational gold miners and government agencies can work together to protect the environment (US EPA, 2001).

Mercury occurs in several different geochemical forms, including elemental mercury, ionic (or oxidized) mercury, and a suite of organic forms, the most important of which is methylmercury. Methylmercury is the form most readily incorporated into biological tissues and is most toxic to humans. The process of mercury removal by suction dredging does not contaminate the environment because small-scale suction dredging removes elemental mercury. Removal of elemental mercury before it can be converted, by bacteria, to methylmercury is a very important component of environmental and human health protection provided as a secondary benefit of suction dredging.

THE REAL ISSUE

The issue of localized conflict with suction dredgers and other outdoor recreational activities can be put into a more reasonable perspective using the data provided at the beginning of this report. For example, the total acreage of all analyzed claims related to the total acres of watershed is about 0.2 percent. The percentage of land area within riparian zones on the Siskiyou National Forest occupied by mining claims is estimated to be only 0.1 percent.” The report goes on to say, “Over the past 10 years, approximately 200 suction dredge operators per season operate on the Siskiyou National Forest (SNF, 2001).

The issue against suction dredge operations in the streams of the United States appears to be less an issue of environmental protection and more of an issue of certain organized individuals and groups being unwilling to share the outdoors with others without like interests.

Management of the Fortymile River region (a beautiful, wild and scenic river in the remote part of east-central Alaska) and its resources is complex due to the many diverse land-use options. Small-scale, family-owned gold mining has been active on the Fortymile since the “gold rush” days of the late 1880’s. However, in 1980, the Fortymile River and many of its tributaries received Wild and Scenic River status. Because of this status, mining along the river must compete with recreational usage such as rafting, canoeing, and fishing.

A press release from the U. S. Geological Survey stated, in part, the following, “The water quality of the Fortymile River-a beautiful, …has not been adversely impacted by gold placer mining operations according to an integrated study underway by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

Violation of mining discharge regulations would close down the small-scale mining operations. No data existed before this study to establish if the mining was degrading the water quality. However, even with the absence of data, environmental groups were active to close down mining on the river citing unsubstantiated possible discharge violations.

This study has found no violations to date to substantiate closure of the small-scale mining operations. The result is a continuance of a way of life on the last American frontier.” (U.S. Geological Survey October 27, 1998). I have no doubt that this is the real issue currently facing small-scale gold suction dredgers in California.

Suction dredges do not add pollution to the aquatic environment. They merely re -suspend and re-locate the bottom materials (overburden) within the river or stream.

I hope this scientific research information I have provided will be helpful in your efforts regarding suction dredge mining and water quality. I thank you for this opportunity to submit this data.

LITERATURE CITED

CDFG, 1997. draft Environmental Impact Report: Adoption of Amended Regulations for Suction Dredge Mining. State of California, The Resource Agency, Department of Fish and Game

Cooley, M.F. 1995. Forest Service yardage Estimate. U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, Siskiyou National Forest, Grants Pass, Oregon.

Griffith, J.S. and D.A. Andrews. 1981. Effects of a small suction dredge on fishes and aquatic invertebrates in Idaho streams. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 1:21- 28.

Harvey, B.C., K. McCleneghan, J.D. Linn, and C.L. Langley, 1982. Some physical and biological effects of suction dredge mining. Lab Report No. 82-3. California Department of Fish and Game. Sacramento, CA.

Harvey, B.C. 1986. Effects of suction gold dredging on fish and invertebrates in two California streams. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 6:401-409.

Hassler, T.J., W.L. Somer and G.R. Stern. 1986. Impacts of suction dredge mining on anadromous fish, invertebrates and habitat in Canyon Creek, California. California Cooperative Research Unit, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Humbolt State University. Cooperative Agreement No 14-16-0009-1547.

Huber and Blanchet, 1992. Water quality cumulative effects of placer mining on the Chugach National Forest, Kenai Peninsula, 1988-1990. Chugach National Forest, U.S. Forest Service, Alaska Region, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Lewis, 1962. Results of Gold Suction Dredge Investigation. Memorandum of September 17, 1962. California Department of Fish and Game, Sacramento, CA. North, P.A., 1993. A review of the regulations and literature regarding the environmental impacts of suction gold dredging. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 10, Alaska Operations Office. EP 1.2: G 55/993.

Prussian, A.M., T.V. Royer and G.W. Minshall, 1999. Impact of suction dredging on water quality, benthic habitat, and biota in the Fortymile River, Resurrection Creek, and Chatanika River, Alaska, FINAL REPORT. US Environmental Protection Agency, Region 10, Seattle, Washington.

SNF, 2001. Siskiyou National Forest, Draft Environmental Impact Statement: Suction Dredging Activities. U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, Siskiyou National Forest, Medford, OR.

Somer, W.L. and T.J. Hassler. 1992. Effects of suction-dredge gold mining on benthic invertebrates in a northern California stream. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 12:244-252

Stern, 1988. Effects of suction dredge mining on anadromous salmonid habitat in Canyon Creek, Trinity County, California. M.S. Thesis, Humbolt State University, Arcata, CA.

Thomas, V.G. 1985. Experimentally determined impacts of a small, suction gold dredge on a Montana stream. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 5:480-488.

US EPA, 2001. Mercury Recovery from Recreational Gold Miners. http://www.epa.gov/region09/cross_pr/innovations/merrec.html

Wanty, R.B., B. Wang, and J. Vohden. 1997. Studies of suction dredge gold-placer mining operations along the Fortymile River, eastern Alaska. U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet FS-154-97.

 

 

April, 3, 2009

The Honorable Patricia Wiggins
California State Senate
State Capitol, Room 4081
Sacramento, CA 95814

Re: OPPOSE SB 670; suction dredge equipment permits.

Dear Senator Wiggins:

This letter is to inform you of my opposition to your bill SB 670. Your bill seeks to shut down a legal activity that myself and my family is engaged in. Why are you doing this when you know that there is an Environmental Impact Review already in progress on this issue?

It seems that suction dredge gold mining has been under constant attack since the court ordered the environmental review to be undertaken to determine what effect, if any that suction dredge gold mining has upon salmon spawning habitat. The Governor vetoed a bill in 2007 which dealt with this very same issue. The proponents of that bill have continued to attack us and falsely blame us on the decline of the salmon in the Klamath River.

Suction dredge mining is already limited to a short season that keeps the miners out of the rivers while there remains any possibility that we could dig into salmon redds. There are numerous studies which show suction dredge gold mining causes no harm to fish when they are not spawning.

If passed, your bill will destroy a vibrant part of California history, ruin the economies of rural counties and deny citizens our property rights. The allure of this activity is the same as that which brought the 49ers to California during the Gold Rush. It is part of our heritage.

This is not an inexpensive hobby or avocation. I spend a lot of money on equipment, lodging and contribute to the economy of mostly rural California. The average small-scale dredger spends an estimated $3,000 or more per month when mining. Much of this money is spent in local, rural economies where mining is popular. Also, the tax revenues generated from expenditures such as fuel, groceries, camping, and mining supplies, means that rural counties and the State of California benefit as well.

An often overlooked fact about suction dredge mining is that many of us have federal mining claims. Your bill, if passed, would violate our private property rights and would result in a very significant “takings” liability against the state. There have been numerous Federal and state court cases which have upheld these federal property rights.

Sincerely,

(Be sure to include your full name and address.)

cc: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
The Honorable Darrell Steinberg
The Honorable Dennis Hollingsworth
The New 49’™ers Prospecting Association

 

By Dave McCracken

In a 37-page decision by United States District Judge Saundra B. Armstrong on the 1st of July, 2005, a Summary Judgment Motion by the Karuk Tribe of California to prevent the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in the Klamath National Forest from allowing any in-stream mining activity without first requiring years of exhaustive environmental evaluation – was DENIED!

This case was filed by the Karuks in late 2004 against the USFS, on the grounds that in-stream mining activity requires a heightened level of environmental scrutiny pursuant to clauses within the Northwest Forest Plan (which affects 19 forests in California, Oregon & Washington State) and the Klamath National Forest Plan.

As the outcome of the litigation would affect small-scale miners more than anyone else, under the banner of The New 49’ers, numerous small scale miners along with multiple mining organizations pulled together the necessary resources to retain very competent attorneys to intervene in the litigation on our behalf.

During the litigation, it became clear that not only did the Karuks and their environmental allies want to stop all of the small-scale mining activity within the Klamath National Forest, but they had their sights set on stopping mining throughout the entire Pacific Northwest. The general nature of the legal arguments concerning this case, and the final decision, should have some impact on most small-scale mining activity in the western United States.

As the litigation was a challenge to USFS Agency decisions, it was decided early on in the litigation that the full case would be decided by Judge Armstrong in a Motion for Summary Judgment. Therefore, this decision puts an end to this particular litigation.

The Karuk’s argued that the USFS was bound by the language within the Northwest Forest Plan which requires any and all mineral activity within the high water marks of active waterways to be managed through a formal Operating Plan (Operating Plans can take years to process).

Both the USFS and the Miners argued that the general mining law and existing mining regulations do not grant any authority to the USFS to manage mining or prospecting activity which does not create a significant disturbance of surface resources in the National Forest. Therefore, we argued, that the Northwest Forest Plan could not create an authority over miners and prospectors which did not exist in the first place. The judge agreed.

I encourage all miners to read the full decision, because it provides excellent education specifically how the federal courts today are interpreting the rights of miners. Here follow just a few excerpts from Judge Armstrong’s decision:

“Third, Plaintiff’s [Karuk Tribe] argument utterly ignores the fact that mining operations take place pursuant to the General Mining Law and the Surface Resources Act, which confers a statutory right upon miners to enter certain public lands for the purpose of mining and prospecting. This distinction is significant, as it differentiates mining operations from “licenses, contracts, leases, easements, rights-of-way, permits, or grants-in-aid,” which are permissive in nature”.

“Further, Plaintiff’s [Karuk Tribe] assertion that the standards and guidelines [language in the Northwest Forest Plan] have the ‘force and effect of binding law’ is flatly contradicted by the explicit language in the Northwest Forest Plan. Specifically, the Northwest Forest Plan provides that its standards and guidelines ‘do not apply where they would be contrary to existing law or regulation, or where they would require the agencies to take actions for which they do not have authority.’”

“By the Plan’s own terms, the mining regulations supersede the requirements of MA 10-34.”

“Indeed, as Defendants argue, Plaintiff’s narrow reading of the Klamath Forest Plan is untenable in light of numerous regulatory and statutory provisions that apply to mining in national forests and blatantly ignores the fact that, pursuant to the General Mining Law and 36 C.F.R. Section 228, the Forest Service may not interfere with mining that is not likely to result in a significant disturbance of surface resources.” (emphasis added)

This, in my own view, was one of the most important and dangerous cases our industry has had to defend against in a very long time. I am happy to announce that it is the end of a very stressful chapter (fear of losing). I cannot express how relieved I personally am that this decision came out so strongly affirming the rights of miners, and acknowledging that the USFS has pursued a very consistent management approach, despite conflicting statutes which also require environmental protection.

The positive result of this litigation is that the USFS has been forced to clearly define the fundamental rights of miners, and the federal court has affirmed them.

We should not overlook that the USFS performed admirably to acknowledge, affirm and support the mining rights in this litigation.

I want to thank out two attorneys, James Buchal and Dabney Eastham who worked tirelessly on our behalf. And I want to express my most heartfelt gratitude for the many, many supporters out there who have made financial contributions so we could stay in the game.

This, indeed, is a sunny day for small-scale miners!

Dave Mack

 

SB 670 (WIGGINS)

Dear Assembly Member:

or

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:

Please vote no on SB 670 (Wiggins)

  • The EIR-update, ordered by the courts, and subsequently funded by the State, is now underway.

  • The Department of Fish & Game just issued a Decision stating that existing biological information does not justify imposition of Emergency Regulations upon suction dredgers.

  • Suction Dredge Mining has not caused the decline of the salmon population along the California Coast. None of the reports on the decline of the Salmon population issued blame upon suction dredge mining.

  • The 1994 EIR found that suction dredging under existing regulations provide positive impacts; among other things, creating additional salmon spawning habitat by loosening concretized river gravels. Salmon runs are on the upswing in the Klamath River.

  • There is no scientific evidence to support shutting down a legal and legitimate industry across the State of California before an update of the existing the EIR is completed, particularly when prior studies fail to demonstrate any link between local salmon populations and suction dredge mining.

  • Suction dredge mining is already limited in California to a short season that keeps the miners out of the rivers and streams when salmon redds are present (where the eggs are deposited). There is no suction dredging allowed when salmon are spawning. There is no suction dredging allowed on the Sacramento River, where salmon populations are presently in decline.

  • A moratorium on suction dredge gold mining in California will violate the private property rights of thousands of Californians who have federal mining claims along the rivers and streams, and will likely result in very significant “takings” liability against the State.

  • The average small scale dredge-miner spends thousands of dollars per month when mining. Much of this money is spent in local, rural economies like Siskiyou County where mining is popular. Tax revenues generated from expenditures such as fuel, groceries, camping, and mining supplies, means that rural counties and the State of California benefit as well.

 
Dave Mack

“This is probably our last chance to kill a suction dredge moratorium in California!”

 

 

Dear Fellow Gold Prospector,

Assembly Bill 1789 (includes anti-suction dredge provisions) will be attached to the full California budget bill which will be voted upon by the California legislature sometime within the next few weeks.

target=”_blank”>Here is a short summary from Pete Conaty. Here is a letter to the California governor which our attorney has already written on our behalf. Here is a more complete explanation of our strategy on how to defeat this harmful attack upon our industry, and how you can help.

We need your immediate help in sending a letter, fax or email to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, asking him to please veto the harmful anti-dredging language included within AB 1789.

We must either kill this rider right now, or there is a good chance that suction dredging permits will be adversely affected in California next season!

Here is a ready-made message (email, fax or letter) in opposition to AB 1789. It is better if you just use this sample to write your own message. But if you do not have time to do that, please at least copy the text from our sample message over to create your own fax, letter or email to the Governor.

If you don’t know how to copy and paste material off the Internet, please click here.

To make certain your message actually makes it to the Governor’s desk and the other lawmakers, our lobbyists are asking that you direct them to one of the following addresses:

Pete Conaty & Associates
1107 9th Street, Suite 530
Sacramento, CA 95814

Or Fax your message to: (916) 492-8957

Or email your message to: pconaty@sbcglobal.net

Our lobbyists will make certain that your message is hand delivered to the Governor’s office and other key locations!

Important: Even though you send your message to our lobbyists, the heading of the message should be addressed to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as shown in our sample message.

This is probably our last chance; please help us kill this harmful legislation now!

Very important: You must include your own return postal address on whatever letter, fax or email that you send to the Governor. That is the only way that he can recognize and weigh the importance of your communication!

Thank you very much for your help in this very important matter!

Dave McCracken

 

The New 49’ers27 Davis Road, Happy Camp, CA 96039 (530) 493-2012

www.goldgold.com

 
Dave Mack

“We killed Assembly Bill 1032!”

Please make a donation to our Legal Fund.

I’m sure most of you have already heard that Governor Schwarzenegger has vetoed Assembly Bill 1032. This is a very big win for gold prospectors everywhere!

It was a very close race all the way to the finish line on this very harmful legislation; it could have gone either way at the last minute. Our lobbyist told me that the 1000+ emails and faxes that you guys (and gals) generated for our side during the last few days may have been what tipped the balance in our favor.

For those of you who responded to our Action Alerts, I thank you very much!

That’s another very big win for our side!

I will follow with a more detailed report (from our lobbyist) in the upcoming newsletter. Then we can put this business behind us and get on with some exciting gold prospecting activity!!

I hope you guys are following the gold prices; they are going up, up, up! Hooray for us!!

We just finished our most productive season ever in The New 49’ers, with plenty of golden adventure — a lot which has already been edited into exciting video segments. We will include those in upcoming newsletters.

For the moment, though, let’s all just breathe a sigh of relief and give ourselves some well-deserved pats on the backs for overcoming that awful legislation.

Whew; that was a close one!

Here follows Governor Schwarzenegger’s veto message:

To the Members of the California State Assembly:

I am returning Assembly Bill 1032 without my signature.

The purpose of this bill is to protect fish and wildlife from the potential deleterious effects of suction dredge mining. Although I appreciate the author’s intent and the need to protect our fish, wildlife, and water resources, this bill is unnecessary.

Current law gives the Department of Fish and Game (Department) the necessary authority to protect fish and wildlife resources from suction dredge mining. It has promulgated regulations and issues permits for this activity. Permits for suction dredge mining must ensure that these operations are not deleterious to fish and allow the Department to specify the type and size of equipment to be used. In its regulations, the Department may also designate specific waters or areas that are closed to dredging.

It is unclear why this bill specifically targets a number of specific waterways for closure or further restrictions. The listed waterways represent only a small fraction of the waters in our State where suction dredging is occurring. The benefit or protection from such a minor closure is negligible and supports the notion that scientific environmental review should precede such decisions.

Sincerely,

Arnold Schwarzenegger

 
Dave Mack

“Here is some further explaination of the Karuk Tribe Lawsuit against the California DFG to change dredging regulations…”

(Forum post dated 16 March, 2006)

Hello everyone,

For those of you who are not aware, this is about some ongoing litigation in which the Karuk Tribe has been suing the California Department of Fish & Game (DFG) for issuing suction dredge permits which allow dredging in Coho salmon habitat in northern California. There is a special page dedicated to this ongoing litigation on our web site.

To resolve the litigation, the Karuks and DFG have agreed to a Stipulated Settlement which eliminates suction dredging on some waterways and reduces our dredging seasons on others. The regulatory changes are very substantial; especially to people owning mining claims or private property along the waterways which would be closed to dredging by the Settlement.

As the lawsuit was quietly filed in Alameda County last May, which is hundreds of miles away from the affected areas, and no notification was ever given to anyone within the mining community from either DFG or the Karuks, we did not even become aware of the ongoing litigation until after DFG began implementing modified dredge regulations pursuant to their settlement with the Karuk Tribe.

As soon as we became aware of the ongoing litigation, our organization (New 49’ers) took the lead in representing the mining interests of our members, and we motioned the Alameda Superior Court to Intervene in the litigation. Luckily, the Court had not yet endorsed the Stipulated Settlement, even though DFG had already changed our suction dredge regulations to conform to the Agreement.

Over very strong objections voiced by DFG and the Karuk Tribe (arguing that miners had no rights in the matter), the Court granted us Intervention status on February 9th of this year.

Subsequently, both the Karuks and DFG have made two important motions in the case:

1) They have motioned the Court to formally endorse their Settlement Agreement which changes our dredge regulations without any public input, no formal hearing or any biological justification.

2) They have motioned to Court for Protective Orders against our discovery demands for the biological justifications supporting their decision to further restrict or eliminate dredge seasons.

In turn, we filed our final brief a few days ago opposing the Stipulated Agreement and reaffirming our need to acquire biological data which supports both the Karuk and DFG positions within the litigation. To date, the Karuks have only made general allegations concerning potential harm from suction dredging, and DFG has taken the position that the pre-existing suction dredging regulations provided adequate protection to fish. There is no evidence in the record showing any harm to any fish from suction dredging under the pre-existing regulations. Therefore, we believe it is very unreasonable for DFG to enter into a private agreement with the Karuks to impose further restrictions upon suction dredge miners! Under these circumstances, our demands for the biological information which DFG and the Karuks are relying upon seem more than justified.

Both the Karuks and DFG have argued in this case that they should be allowed to reduce or eliminate our dredging seasons in a private agreement amongst themselves, without ever having to provide any biological justification to anyone, not even the court. They have presented the Court with case law to support their position which basically states that Parties in civil litigation have the right to make any private agreement amongst themselves, as long as the parties agree.

In turn, we are making the argument that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) mandates that agencies of the State are required to follow a very structured public process before it may adopt regulatory changes for an industry, and that this is not something the State has authority to trade off in a Settlement Agreement with an anti-industry group. We also argue that the case law which the Karuks and DFG rely upon does not allow two parties in litigation to settle their dispute by trading off rights or property which belong to others.

I believe these are the last filings in this case before the judge will decide what to do about these two issues. The hearing is scheduled for 9:00 AM on 23 March at Alameda County Superior Court, Department 512, Hayward Hall of Justice, 24405 Amador Street, Hayward, California.

Once again, we have done our absolute best to represent the interests of small-scale miners. Now we must see how the judge will decide. I encourage as many miners and prospectors as possible to be present during the hearing next week. Please be there if you can!

As I have said before, winning these days is mainly about raising money to pay the best attorneys we can afford.

The law is on our side. But we are up against very practiced and respected environmental law firms. Winning means having practiced and experienced attorneys on our own side who know how to make arguments which the judge will give careful consideration to. Anything short of that lessens the chance of preserving our rights. This is the way important matters are resolved in America today. To play the game, we need to be right in there alongside the best of them making our position heard. I hope you guys are in agreement with this strategy.

I want to express my sincere thanks to those of you who have responded to my requests for financial donations to help pay the attorneys that have been helping us with this case. Thank you! The need is a continuing one, so I encourage you to please keep the flow coming our way. In turn, we will do our absolute best to hold the line for our side.

Let’s keep our collective fingers crossed for a favorable decision on the 23rd!

All the best,

Dave Mack

 

 
Dave Mack

“Here is some further explaination of the Karuk Tribe Lawsuit against the California DFG to change dredging regulations…”

Forum post, 30 March 2006

Hello everyone,

I’m sorry my report on this has taken so long, but I have been reluctant to comment beyond what was reported last week until I could obtain an actual copy of the Amended Stipulation which was submitted to the Court by the Karuks and Department of Fish & Game (DFG).

The hearing that was scheduled last week (23 March) only allowed an hour for all interested persons to present verbal arguments. The Karuks and DFG showed up at the hearing with a “new deal” in the form of an “Amended Stipulation,” which commits DFG to begin a new rule-making process under CEQA within 120 days (4 months). The injunction would expire in one year plus 120 days (unless extended by the Court) with the expectation of having new rules in place by that time. This is referring to the very same or more restrictive regulations which DFG has issued pursuant to the earlier Stipulated Agreement.

My own interpretation of this is that they are basically asking the judge to impose an injunction until DFG undergoes a formal process under CEQA that imposes an equal or greater amount of restriction upon suction dredging as what presently exists within the modified regulations. This solution is a total violation of the CEQA process, because it imposes a mandate upon DFG to arrive at a final outcome, regardless of the science or other factors which DFG is required to consider during a proper CEQA action. What is the use of going through a public process in the first place to examine the science and develop the most reasonable solutions, if DFG and the Karuks have already agreed to what the outcome is going to be? That is backwards!

DFG argued in the hearing that they have met discovery requirements to the miners, because they have allowed us access to all existing information in their files, other than anything having to do with the ongoing litigation. Our attorneys reminded the judge that it is discovery concerning the ongoing litigation which DFG is refusing to provide. They are insisting upon keeping a secret of how they are justifying further restrictive changes upon our industry!

DFG also argued that the miners are really not hurt by the new dredging restrictions, because there are many other places where we can go to prospect for gold. In turn, we argued that land owners and miners who own mineral rights within the affected area will be adversely affected by the changed regulations.

As the time allowed for this hearing was quite short, there was not enough time to fully debate the issues in front of the judge. However, the written briefs which have been submitted to the Court have exhaustively covered all sides of the issues. The key documents in the litigation can be found on the special page we have created for this on our web site.

Our lawyers argued in the hearing that the “new deal” should not be accepted by the Court for the very same reasons the earlier Stipulated Agreement should have been rejected: A State agency does [U]not[/U] have the authority to change industry regulations through a private agreement with an anti-industry group in the first place. Especially without providing [U]any[/U] factual support of its reasons to anyone!

The Court has taken everything under advisement and we assume she will issue a ruling reasonably soon. Stay tuned in, because we will put up a copy of the ruling as soon as one is issued.

I want to thank those of you who have heard my requests for financial contributions to help pay the attorneys that are working so hard for our side. I encourage you to please keep the support coming our way so that we can keep up with continuing costs of this litigation. This is going to be very important in the event we find ourselves needing to file an appeal!

Let’s all keep our fingers crossed for a positive outcome!!

All the best,

Dave Mack

 

 
Dave Mack

“Here is some further explaination of the Karuk Tribe Lawsuit against the California DFG to change dredging regulations…”

(Forum post dated 08 May, 2006)

Hello everyone,

Here follows an update even since I wrote the
May newsletter a few days ago:

The judge’s Order granting Intervention status to miners in the litigation concerning our California dredging regulations was made final on 9 February. This has allowed us to participate in the ongoing litigation. We have created a special page on our web site that includes explanations and the most important documents concerning this case.

We have also submitted a motion for the judge to reject the Stipulation which has been submitted to the Court by DFG and the Karuks to end the litigation. This target=”_blank”>Stipulation agrees to an injunction preventing DFG from issuing suction dredge permits for the Main Stem of the Salmon River, Elk Creek, Indian Creek and other waterways. The injunction also reduces the dredging season along the Klamath and Scott Rivers to 1 July through 15 September. These are substantial changes to our suction dredge regulations. DFG began implementing them in November of 2005 without so much as a single notice to the mining community or the many other people that will be adversely affected.

The judge’s most recent target=”_blank”>Order has requested supplemental briefing from all the Parties concerning how a very recent appellate decision (Trancas Property Owners Association v. City of Malibu) affects our case. In the Trancas Decision, the appellate court made several important findings that were relevant to our case. For example, the court said, “. . . whatever else it may permit, the exemption cannot be construed to empower a city council to take or agree to take, as part of a non-publicly ratified litigation settlement, action that by substantive law may not be taken without a public hearing and an opportunity for the public to be heard. As a matter of legislative intention and policy, a statute that is part of a law intended to assure public decision-making, except in narrow circumstances, may not be read to authorize circumvention and indeed violation of other laws requiring that decisions be preceded by public hearings, simply because the means and object of the violation are settlement of a lawsuit.Trancas, 41 Cal. Rptr.3d at 210. While this had to do with a city council bypassing the required public participation under the Brown Act, the very same legal theory concerning the public process requirement also applies to State agencies that are in the process of changing industry regulations.

In the present litigation, DFG’s position is that they can skirt around the provisions of the California Environmental Policy Act (CEQA) by making a court settlement, even though they are arguing in court that they have already been affording adequate protections to fish without making a settlement agreement with the Karuks.

CEQA was implemented to prevent arbitrary and capricious actions from State officials, while providing reasonable protections for the environment.

All parties have already submitted supplemental briefing to the Court. You can find target=”_blank”>ours on the special web page that I mentioned above. You can also find the target=”_blank”>Karuk and target=”_blank”>DFG supplemental briefs there. We have since target=”_blank”>replied to their supplemental briefs.

Both DFG and the Karuks are still trying to argue that a State agency has the authority to bypass its obligation to include the public by making a private settlement agreement with an anti-industry group that is suing them. Interestingly, the Karuk’s were initially suing DFG for not following the CEQA process. That has evolved into an Agreement between themselves to definitely not follow the CEQA process! We do not see how the judge could go along with this, but we will all have to wait and see what she decides.

The judge could now issue a decision any day. Stay tuned. We will let you know the result as soon as we have it!

All the best,
Dave Mack