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» Karuk’s Challenge to California Dredging Regulations 10
Dave Mack

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

(Forum post dated 22 May, 2006)

Hello everyone.

There is a new development in the Karuk/DFG litigation. Walter Eason, A person with gold mining interests, filed a Motion on his own behalf to intervene in the ongoing litigation on May 12th, just last week.

We were expecting a decision from the judge at any moment concerning whether or not she would strike down the Stipulated Agreement which was negotiated by the Department of Fish & Game (DFG) and the Karuk Tribe to end the litigation. That Agreement imposes more restrictions upon our industry. A lot of miners have been waiting in the wings for the judge’s decision, because it makes the difference whether or not the dredging season opens up on the upper Klamath River on May 27th, or on July 1st.

Mr. Eason has been very supportive of our position in this litigation during the past. More recently, he has discovered a legal decision (Boisclair v. Superior Court (1990) 51 Cal 3d 1140) concerning a Superior Court’s lack of subject matter jurisdiction to decide any matter concerning Indian rights. Through correspondence with me, the attorneys who are representing miners in the litigation, and others within our industry, it is clear that Mr. Eason believes it is imperative that we immediately file a Motion to Dismiss the whole case.

We respectfully disagreed with Mr. Eason’s position for several reasons: (1) We don’t believe this case has very much to do with adjudicating Indian rights. The Karuks are suing DFG because they do not believe DFG has followed all of the provisions required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). (2) We believe the Stipulated Agreement between DFG and the Karuks is totally illegal. We believe there is a reasonable chance the judge will agree with us about that. Since all of the arguments have been placed in front of her on this matter, and the dredging season is nearly upon us, we did not want to confuse everything by interjecting a whole new jurisdictional challenge into the process. Surely, this would delay the judge’s decision that everyone is waiting for.

Mr. Eason’s motion filed with the Court last week also requested that the Court not make any decision concerning the Stipulated Agreement until after his Intervention Motion and jurisdictional challenge is decided. Consequently, the judge decided on Friday to set a hearing date of 8 June to decide what to do about Mr. Eason’s Intervention motion. Unless I am mistaken, now we should not expect to receive any decision from the judge concerning our season until sometime after 8 June.

Before we start getting ourselves all charged up over this, I’d like to make two important points:

1) There is a lot at stake in this litigation. While our organization is doing its best to represent the interests of all small-scale miners in the litigation, it is unlikely that we can support every interest. I’m sure there must be a fair number of interests even outside of our industry that are not been adequately represented in the litigation.

It is especially important that if there is a class of miners out there who believe that we are not already adequately representing them, certainly we should allow them an opportunity to be heard. None of us should make the mistake of believing we have the only answer, or even the best answer. Who knows; perhaps Mr. Eason’s approach will be the winning argument before this is all over. And even if it isn’t, we should applaud his efforts to fight for the industry using arguments that he believes are very important. Clearly, the judge has taken Mr. Eason’s material seriously enough to allow him a hearing.

2) The Klamath River is still running at storm flows. The dams are full and letting enough water out to cause the river to run about 8 feet higher than normal summer levels. The Scott River is discharging muddy water into the Klamath, dropping underwater visibility to zero. It is like we are in the middle of a very large winter storm! Even most of the high-banking areas are underwater!

So even if the judge struck down the DFG/Karuk Agreement last week as we had hoped, most of the river is still too high and swift to dredge at the moment. I‘m not kidding; it is really running fast and turbulent! This probably is not going to change very much for at least another few weeks.

Therefore, we really have not lost anything because of this further delay in the judge’s decision.

I keep getting emails from people asking how legal the amended DFG regulations are, since they have not yet been endorsed by the court. I cannot give legal advice because I am not a licensed attorney. All I can do is express my own opinion – which is that I don’t believe the amended regulations are legal, and I don’t believe they can be enforced. Although this does not mean that the game warden will not go down and write you a ticket for dredging out of season under the amended regulations. He probably will! I’m mainly talking about what happens when you get to court. I don’t believe the court will allow DFG to prosecute a case against you for having violated a regulation that was not adopted pursuant to the legal process in the first place. Having said all that, I can tell you from long experience that it is very uncomfortable to be in trouble with the law, even when you are 100% right. Lawyers are expensive. Our organization is already plenty challenged trying to keep from falling even further behind on paying the costs of the ongoing litigation!

We all have to make our own decisions about these things. Because the river is running so high at the moment anyway, my own best advice would be to wait it out for a while longer.

Dave Mack

 

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