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CA Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Suction Dredge Mining

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016   

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A victory for environmental groups and tribes on Monday, as the California Supreme Court upheld the 2009 ban on suction dredge gold mining in state rivers.

A mining group called the New 49ers has been fighting to be allowed to use machines that suck up the river bottoms in search of gold and spew the sediment back out, a process that harms water quality, fish habitat, and disturbs areas important to local Native American tribes.

Craig Tucker, the natural resources policy advocate for the Karuk Tribe, which is based near the Klamath River on the California-Oregon border, said the process stirs up methyl mercury, which has been linked to birth defects and brain disorders.

"The original gold rush left behind tons and tons of elemental mercury largely buried deep in river sediment," he said. "But when you suck it up out of the sediment it becomes methylated by naturally occurring bacteria and methyl mercury is what's really dangerous."

The judge rejected the miners' argument that the 1872 Mining Act pre-empts the state of California's right to regulate mining. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has said it will lift the ban once regulations are in place, but that won't happen until the litigation is resolved.

So, Tucker said, if the miners appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the they'll just drag the moratorium out longer.

"So what I think will probably happen is we'll be back around the table coming up with regulations that are protective of the environment and of tribal resources, and the miners will be able to go back to doing this, but it will be in a much more limited fashion," he added.

Tucker added that before the moratorium, suction dredge mining was very popular on California waterways with thousands of gold claims around the state, particularly on the Klamath, Yuba, American, Feather, and Kern rivers, and their feeder creeks.

The full ruling can be read here.


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