Dave Mack

“Here is my comment letter to the State Water Resources Control Board…”

 

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

6 June 2007

Dear Sirs,

My name is Dave McCracken. I manage The New 49’ers Prospecting Organization in northern California, where our members have access to over 60 miles of mining claims along the Scott, Salmon and Klamath Rivers, and some of their creek tributaries in Siskiyou County. We have around 1,300 active members, some who use suction dredges under permit from the Department of Fish and Game (DFG).

As I have been actively managing this program for the past 23 years, I have had plenty of opportunity to observe the impact upon water quality from the effects of suction dredging. My personal observation has been when any visual impact can be seen at all, the impact is small and localized. This observation has been similarly reflected by numerous studies and published reports on this subject. For example, a report on the water quality cumulative effects of placer mining on the Chugach National Forest, Alaska found:

“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).

I was operating a 12-inch dredge under Special Permit along the Klamath River during the early 1990’s. As part of that Special Permit process, DFG biologists visited the area where I was dredging and conducted turbidity sampling above my dredge and around 200 feet below my dredge. They were not able to determine any increase in turbidity. Therefore, my Special Permit to operate the 12-inch dredge was approved for as long as I continued to apply for it. These observations were consistent with other published information on this subject:

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).


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.”

As I am sure that you aware, environmental interests have been trying to eliminate suction dredging from California’s waterways for a long time. During recent years, they have been making noise about the possibility that the localized increased turbidity behind some suction dredges may contribute to raising water temperatures in the overall waterway. With concern over this possibility, we hired two qualified fish biologists (both retired from the EPA) two years ago to perform water temperature testing upstream and downstream of active dredging operations along the Klamath River. They tested in numerous locations, and were not able to find any measurable increase in water temperature behind operating dredges. Although, in some cases, they did discover cooler water within the dredge holes, and cooler water within the discharges from the dredges which were sucking up the cooler water (probably ground water) from the dredge holes. Similar results were acknowledged by published material on this subject:

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 (SNF, 2001) states, “There is no evidence that suction dredging affects stream temperature.”

I was personally directly involved with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process during 1993 and 1994 (and again in 1997), when existing State-wide suction dredge regulations were adopted by California. I recall that the State Water Resources Control Board enacted a State-wide exemption at that time for persons operating suction dredges in conformance with Section 5653 suction dredge regulations. As I recall, this exemption was issued to simplify the permitting process for suction dredgers (many who visit from out of state and only suction dredge during a brief holiday or vacation), and also to not burden the State Water Resources Control Board or its Regional offices with applications from thousands of (very) small-scale gold miners who have a negligible impact, if any, upon water quality. This was somewhat reflected in the environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which was published by DFG at that time:

Suction dredging causes less than significant effects to water quality. (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).

“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).

As far as I know, the most comprehensive study to date concerning how water quality is affected by suction dredging was contracted by the EPA to analyze of the effects on mining in the Fortymile River in Alaska. The report 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).

While I acknowledge that the possibility exists that a suction dredger could encounter an occasional patch of particularly-silty streambed, while dredging in a smaller-sized waterway, which could cause detectable increased turbidity levels some extended distance downstream, this would be a rare anomaly which seldom occurs. My guess is that our adversaries in the environmental community will grasp at these very rare occurrences to push their own agenda — which we all know has less to do with the health of fish, than it does about trying to rid America’s public lands of productive activity.

Nothing short of complete prohibition of all productive activity can guarantee that an occasional anomaly might not occur. This is true of any regulated activity. We would not want to see the Statewide exemption for suction dredgers un-renewed just because of the possibility of a rare anomaly. There are several reasons to pause and consider:

1) The occurrence of excess turbidity by suction dredgers is so rare, there is no evidence that we are aware of that even suggests that those rare occurrences have ever harmed a single fish or other aquatic species.

2) The burdensome and expensive requirement for suction dredgers to acquire a water quality permit would all but eliminate the activity in the State of California. DFG is already charging out-of-state visitors $167.25 for an annual suction dredge permit. That’s already a lot of money to spend on a permit for someone who is only going to visit for a few days or a week or two. I know, because I am in the business of trying to bring visitors to California. And I can tell you that many who would otherwise come here are already discouraged from coming because of the cost of the existing suction dredge permit.

Adding a burdensome water quality permit to the process will also discourage most Californians who presently enjoy the activity of suction dredging.

Gold prospecting has been a productive activity in California since before we were even a State. And while I acknowledge that some of the earlier practices were harmful to the environment, suction dredging today is carefully regulated by DFG and other agencies to ensure that the overall impacts do not create any measurable negative impact.

With this in mind, I encourage you to please weigh the negatives against the positives when you make a decision concerning a renewal of your state-wide exemption for suction dredgers. While I understand that economic consequences not your first concern, good leadership and responsibility to Californians require State agencies to take an honest look at the costs and benefits of the various policies which are being considered.

In this case, if you choose to not renew the state-wide water quality exemption for suction dredgers, I can nearly guarantee that you will eliminate an entire industry in this State; an industry which does a great deal to help support many rural communities; an industry that generates millions upon millions of dollars in income for California — and would continue to do so for the foreseeable future. We hope you will carefully consider what will be gained before you destroy our industry!

Thank you very much for considering my comments.

Sincerely,

Dave McCracken
General Manager, The New 49’ers

 

 
Dave Mack

“Your comments are needed!”

 

The California State Water Resources Board is requesting comments from the public regarding the effects of suction dredge mining on water quality. Based upon the comments, the Water Board will assess the available information to evaluate a possible further course of action. You can link to the Water Board’s Notice here.

This is a very important matter to the future of our industry. The outcome of this will either help or hurt gold dredgers in California!

We believe that some of the most productive input prospectors can provide to the Water Board are the conclusions from multiple studies which have already proven that suction dredge activity within existing California regulations does not create any significant negative impact upon water quality.

To help with this, a very qualified fish biologist has taken the time to compile for us many of the important conclusions into a report which you can copy from. Those conclusions can be found here.

The Water Board’s Notice requests comments to be sent by email to the following address: commentletters@waterboards.ca.gov Comments are being accepted until 12 PM on June 22. The subject line of your email should read, “Comment Letter – Suction Dredge Mining

Please take a moment to send in your comments on behalf of suction dredgers. Because I can guarantee that our adversaries will be submitting material with the hope of shutting us down!

Please don’t copy all of the conclusions into your comments. It is better to just copy those sections which give support to the arguments which you personally want to make. It is good if you make your own arguments, and then copy over the citations which reinforce your position. This way, everyone is not just sending in the very same report!

Note: The citations which you want to copy are the ones that include the source of the information inside parenthesis. Here’s an example: Dredge mining had little, if any, impact on water temperature (Hassler, T.J., W.L. Somer and G.R. Stern, 1986).

The citations in the report will carry weight, because they originate from published results. If you don’t know how to copy and paste material off the Internet, please click here.

As an example, here is a copy of the comments which I personally sent in. They relay some of my own experiences concerning water quality, and they use some of the compiled citations to reinforce my view.

Important: You must include your name and address on your comments! Comments are generally not accepted by anonymous persons! Please keep your comments civilized, and please keep them focused upon the subject of how dredging affects water quality. That is the only thing they will consider in these comments!

The open hearing on this matter is scheduled for 10 AM on 12 June at the Resources Building, First Floor Auditorium, 1416 9th Street in Sacramento. Being there is not as important as sending in written comments, but it would be a good thing to have a big showing of support at the hearing if you can make it!

The main thing is to please draft some comments and send them in!

Thank you very much for your help in this matter!

Dave McCracken The New 49’ers

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

www.goldgold.com

 
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

 
Dave Mack

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

(Forum Post by Dave on 12 January)

Hello you guys,

Believe me when I say that I appreciate the frustration about our adversaries possibly being able to recover their attorneys fees when they sue the government.

Sometimes the reason we are silent on some subjects is because it is not in the interest of our industry to talk openly about legal strategies on an open forum. I know this is also frustrating to some of you out there who contribute financially to our defense. Because we only speak generally about our strategies, perhaps you worry that we are missing something important. I would feel the very same way.

And I suppose there is a chance that we could miss something important. That is a really slim chance. We are fortunate to have really good attorneys working for our side; very experienced; and very committed to the principals that we stand for. So we are not missing very much.

I am not an expert on the area of Indian law, but my best understanding is that there are laws in affect that allow Indians to recover their attorneys fees when they sue the government and win. I read an article a few days go that the big environmental legal foundations are hustling around these days to file their lawsuits under the umbrella of federally-recognized tribes. I gather that this is somewhat of a cash cow for them.

The Karuk attorneys (environmental law foundations) motioned the federal court in last year’s litigation to recover just under $200,000 in their legal fees because they succeeded in forcing the USFS into a settlement on the issue of Operating Plans, even though all of their main claims in the litigation were over-ruled by the court. The USFS motioned the court to put the question of fee-recovery on hold until the appeal is settled, and my understanding is that’s what has been done. So I don’t think they have recovered any attorney fees in the federal litigation, yet.

As we are intervenors in the federal litigation on the side of the USFS, it doesn’t look like we can recover attorney fees there. I gather that there is some law in place that prevents us from recovering our legal fees from the Karuk Tribe. Our attorneys are of the opinion that we would spend more money than we have trying to recover, with little chance of success. Besides, even if we decide to try, we could not get anywhere until the litigation is finished. It won’t be finished until all of the appeals are exhausted. So it is still pretty early to debate over cost-recovery measures against the Karuks.

One of the posts on our forum makes a good point in this State litigation, in that we are intervening because a State Agency has made drastic changes in the way it is regulating our industry without following (any) due process. But it is still very early to be asking for cost recovery. First we have to win!! If the judge formally decides that DFG has acted against the law, it seems likely that we would have a reasonable argument to recover costs from the State. Please be confident that we would not miss this opportunity if it exists. But we still have a ways to go before we get to that point.

If you have contributed to the defense of our industry to the point where your financial reserves are almost gone, please back off. Since we have many thousands of people associated with our industry, my hope is that we can get smaller contributions from more people, rather than large contributions from fewer people who cannot really afford it. So let’s figure out how to get more people on the team. A single $10 donation from all or most of the people who will be directly affected by this litigation would easily put us over the top. Unfortunately, not everyone helps. And fortunately, some people help a lot. I assume this is what you are talking about.

I expect it has probably been about the same during the entire history of the fight for freedom; a smaller number of movers and shakers who have the confidence and support of just enough believers to keep the dream alive. As hard as we work, and as good as our lawyers are, we could not do it without you guys. Our industry would have been gone a long time ago if you guys were not ready to step up in our time of need.

Defensive measures will forever be necessary to protect the interests of small-scale mining. Just get used to it. The impulse to get rid of us (and all other productive enterprise in America) is not going to go away. Defense of our industry is an ongoing process.

If you are tired, take a rest, and hope that there are enough others who will support the industry until you can stand up again. Everyone understands this.

Here are two things to hope for:

1) Hope that those of us who are managing defensive measures for the industry at the moment (there are only a handful of us) do not get tired any time soon.

2) Hope that a new generation of movers and shakers will evolve within our industry to take things over as we do start getting tired

On the subject of movers and shakers, it takes a lot more than just making noise. I’m sure you guys know that. It requires a reasonable assessment of the problem, measured against available resources, to come up with workable solutions, and implement them to completion. It is a lot of work!

My personal assessment is that with your continued support, we do have the resources to overcome the legal challenges our adversaries will throw at us in the forseeable future. Just let’s not allow Congress to change the mining law!

I personally read every word of every brief that gets filed within the litigation we are managing. I cannot tell you the amount of time and work involved with developing the briefs and the Declarations that are filed on our behalf.

The bottom line is that we must defeat these regulatory changes which DFG is already imposing upon our industry. If a State agency is allowed to impose further restrictions upon our industry by secret agreement with an extremist-group, then the whole industry is at risk. There is nothing to prevent DFG (or other agencies) from making further secretive agreements to further-restrict mining elsewhere in California. In fact, that is certain to happen! There will be no end to it until they finish us off.

By the way, my suggestion is to not send in any application for a DFG dredge permit until we see how this litigation is going to settle out. There is still plenty of time before the beginning of the season.

I understand the feelings of frustration. I experience them, too. When you put heavy stress on any kind of structure, those supports that are doing the most to hold it all together feel the stress the most, sometimes grown the loudest, and can also be the first to break. It’s no different here. This is stressful.

But the good news is that I truly believe we are going to win this one. And when we do, the State is going to know that it cannot make any more court settlements to try and regulate our Industry. That will be another big win for us. And it will be another thing that our next generation of industry leaders will not have to defend against. While we may or may not recover attorney fees, the legal structure supporting our industry will be stronger. That is worth the cost!

We don’t really have any other choice but to fight on this one!

The other thing is that there are only so many ways our adversaries can come at us through the legal system. With last year’s big win, they have pretty-much exhausted their federal remedies. Now we are at the State level. I don’t want to tip anyone off, but I only see about two opportunities at the State level. Naturally, they are starting with the one they feel allows them their best chance of winning. Because of the nature of the way they have proceeded (in secret, behind closed doors to agree upon a settlement), this case is on a fast track to resolution of the key issues concerning how our industry will be regulated by the State. With just a little luck, these issues could be resolved by the court in just two weeks. That’s fast!

While I can be wrong about legal matters, I believe we will come out on top on this one.

But we still have to pay the specialists on our side. This is very important! Because we want them to be there for us the next time. Even if there isn’t one (wishful thinking), we must always plan for a next time! Since I am managing this one, I am naturally worried about paying our bills.

I agree that there may be an uneven playing field in that it is probably easier for the environmental law foundations to recover attorney fees through the Karuk Tribe, than it is for us to recover our costs while defending our industry. Especially since they are suing government agencies and we are only entering the litigation as intervenors. However, I don’t think they have been paid for anything yet concerning the litigation we have been involved in. Be assured, when those issues come before the judges, we will be arguing that they have nothing coming to them.

DFG did agree to reimburse the Karuk attorneys for their legal fees. But if we succeed in killing the Stipulated Agreement, the reimbursement provision will also be dead!

And listen, even if those attorneys eventually do get paid for their time, ultimately we should be glad that the government is responsible to pay for their good work on our behalf. While their motivations are not with us, their actions are succeeding in strengthening the legal structure that supports our industry! We are a lot better off than we were a year ago because of the federal litigation! We now have an opportunity to do the very same thing at the State level.

Through discussions with our attorneys, it does not appear that we have a reasonable chance of recovering our own attorney fees from the Karuk Tribe when they sue a government agency. There does not appear to be much of a solution there for making it cost them when we prevail over their attacks upon our industry.

The more reasonable approach is for us to be asking State and federal authorities why the Karuks are being allowed to kill the very same fish they are trying to protect from us? There apparently is no recognized fishing right under law. So it would seem that our complaint against the Karuks in court, using the very same arguments they make against us, could possibly go somewhere. We are in the early stages of exploring that.

Hang in there you guys. I’m asking that you extend a little faith that we are not missing much. I guarantee you that we are working hard to do the very best job that we can with what we have to work with. And, like last time, I believe it will be enough. Watch for our latest brief (Opposition to the Stipulated Agreement) in the next few days, and you will see what I mean.

Thanks,

Dave Mack

 

 

Northwest Mining Association Comments

on USFS proposed Section 261 Rule changes

July 3, 2007

Forest Service, USDA
Attention:
Director, Minerals and Geology Management (MGM) Staff (2810)
Mail Stop 1126
Washington, DC 20250-1126

Re: Proposed Amendments to 36 CFR 261.2 & 261.10 F2 Fed. Reg. 26578

Northwest Mining Association (NWMA) is a 112 year-old, 1,650 member non-profit, non-partisan trade association based in Spokane, Washington. Our members reside in 33 states and are actively involved in prospecting, exploring, mining, and reclamation closure activities on USFS administered land. Our membership represents every facet of the mining industry, including geology, exploration, mining, engineering, equipment manufacturing, technical services, legal services, and sales of equipment and supplies. Our broad-based membership includes many small miners and exploration geologists, as well as junior and large mining companies. More than 90% of our members are small businesses or work for small businesses.

NWMA’s members have extensive knowledge of the General Mining Laws of the U.S., the 36 CFR 228A and 261 regulations, the Surface Resources Act of 1955, administrative and judicial decisions interpreting those laws, and the issues raised in the proposed rule.

We are aware of case law that supports the Forest Service using 36 CFR 261 for enforcement of its 36 CFR 228A mining regulations in certain circumstances. However, we also are aware of many cases where the Forest Service has inappropriately or illegally used this enforcement regulation. We believe the 261 rule, as proposed, will only increase the potential for misuse by overzealous Forest Service officers and complicate things further for the Forest Service and miners. Thus, we believe the rule needs additional changes and submit the following comments explaining those needed changes.

The Forest Service needs to make it very clear in the proposed rule that for a miner to be charged under 36 CFR 261, the Forest Service must first demonstrate that the miner has violated 36 CFR 228 Subpart A. Thus, the 261 regs need to explain more fully that the phrase added at sections 36 CFR 261.10 (a), (b), and (p) “. . . approved operating plan when such authorization is required” severely restricts Forest Service use of 36 CFR 261 against miners because 261 cannot be used unless the Forest Service first demonstrates that there is a violation of 36 CFR 228A and that a Plan of Operations is required.

The Forest Service also needs to explain in the proposed 261 rule under what circumstances it will use criminal enforcement measures and when it intends to use civil measures. The Forest Service should further explain how the Forest Service Manual (FSM) policy direction fits into this determination, and how the agency will monitor, manage, and restrict rampant abuse by untrained, unqualified and/or hostile Forest Service officers of the criminal citation procedures against miners. At FSM 2817 and elsewhere, the Forest Service commits to only having certified qualified minerals’ administrators and inspectors involved in determining when an operation is in compliance.

2817. Inspector Qualifications. Inspection shall be conducted by Forest officers who are familiar with the equipment and methods needed to find and produce minerals and who can accurately assess the significance of surface resource disturbance. Inspectors should be capable of identifying those activities of an operator which are reasonably necessary to the operation, which ones could perhaps be done differently with less effect on surface resources without endangering or hindering the operation, and which ones are unreasonable or unnecessary.

Consistent with this policy, the proposed amendment to 36 CFR 261 should require a Forest Service law enforcement officer to work only with, and rely upon, an official Forest Service Certified Minerals Administrator to determine and document that an operation is in violation of 36 CFR 228A prior to issuing a violation notice under 261 (emphasis added).

The Forest Service also should explain how it intends to reconcile its use of 36 CFR 261 with the noncompliance procedures already existing at 36 CFR 228.7 (as well as a miner’s appeal rights and the appeal procedures at 36 CFR 251):

Sec. 228.7 Inspection, noncompliance.

(a) Forest Officers shall periodically inspect operations to determine if the operator is complying with the regulations in this part and an approved plan of operations. (b) If an operator fails to comply with the regulations or his approved plan of operations and the noncompliance is unnecessarily or unreasonably causing injury, loss or damage to surface resources the authorized officer shall serve a notice of noncompliance upon the operator or his agent in person or by certified mail. Such notice shall describe the noncompliance and shall specify the action to comply and the time within which such action is to be completed, generally not to exceed thirty (30) days: Provided, however, that days during which the area of operations is inaccessible shall not be included when computing the number of days allowed for compliance.

Note that the above regulation requires a miner to be served notice prior to the FS taking an enforcement action. Since this notice is a Forest Service decision, consistent with 36 CFR 228.14, a miner should be given an opportunity to appeal it under 36 CFR 251. In addition, FSM 2817 requires the Forest Service, except in emergency circumstances, to work with the miner to secure willing compliance, then issue a notice of noncompliance, and then give appeal rights prior to taking action. How does the Forest Service intend to reconcile these requirements with the 36 CFR 261 procedures?

2817.3 – Inspection and Noncompliance

1. Under Approved Operating Plan. When activities are being conducted under an approved operating plan, regular compliance inspections must be conducted to ensure reasonable conformity to the plan and to guard against unforeseen detrimental effects. The frequency, intensity, and complexity of inspection shall be commensurate with the potential for irreparable and unreasonable damage to surface resources.

2. Without Operating Plan. When operations are being conducted without an operating plan because it was determined none was required, the need for regular inspections shall be determined on a case-by-case basis. Timely inspections shall help assure conformance to the environmental protection requirements of the regulations, as well as identify operations that vary from those described in the notice of intention and which may require an operating plan.

3. Detection. Forest officers shall make note of, and report all operations for which there have not been submitted either notices of intention to operate or operating plans. Such operations shall be identified and inspected as soon as practicable to determine if a plan of operations or a notice of intent is required.

4. Inspector Qualifications. Inspection shall be conducted by Forest officers who are familiar with the equipment and methods needed to find and produce minerals and who can accurately assess the significance of surface resource disturbance. Inspectors should be capable of identifying those activities of an operator which are reasonably necessary to the operation, which ones could perhaps be done differently with less effect on surface resources without endangering or hindering the operation, and which ones are unreasonable or unnecessary.

5. Noncompliance. Wherever practicable, acts of noncompliance should be discussed with the operator, either in person or by telephone, in an attempt to secure willing and rapid correction of the noncompliance. Such discussions shall be made a matter of record in the operator’s case file. Where the operator fails to take prompt action to comply and the noncompliance is unnecessarily or unreasonably causing injury, loss or damage to surface resources, the authorized officer must take prompt noncompliance action. For direction to resolve unauthorized residential occupancy on mining claims. See FSM 2818.

a. Notice of Noncompliance. The first step in any noncompliance action is to serve a written notice of noncompliance to the operator or the operator’s agent, in person, by telegram, or by certified mail. This notice must include a description of the objectionable or unapproved activity, an explanation of what must be done to bring the operation into compliance, and a reasonable time period within which compliance must be obtained. Continued refusal of the operator to comply after notice will usually require enforcement action.

b. Enforcement Action. Civil or criminal enforcement, or a combination of both, are available for enforcement of 36 CFR 228. The decision on which procedure, or combination, to use shall depend upon the particular facts in each case and the probability of success and possible consequences. The Regional mineral staff or the local Office of General Counsel shall be consulted for advice prior to any enforcement action to ensure consistency and conformance with mineral law and regulation. The appropriate U.S. Attorney shall be consulted to coordinate the criminal and civil actions.

(1) Civil Action. Two types of civil relief in Federal District Court are available: damage recovery and injunctive. An action to recover costs of repairing damages or to compensate for irreparable damages would be appropriate for those cases where such damages have already occurred and no further operations were being conducted or likely to be conducted. Such damage suits require extended periods of time for completion. Injunctive relief can be obtained quickly when the facts of a particular case warrant such action. There must be strong justification that the party requesting relief is suffering or will suffer irreparable harm and that harm must usually be incompensible. Moreover, it must be likely that the complainant will actually succeed on the merits of the case.

(2) Criminal Action. In cases where unnecessary and unreasonable damage is occurring and where reasonable attempts fail to obtain an operating plan or to secure compliance with an approved operating plan, the operator may be cited for violation of the appropriate section of 36 CFR 261 or 262, according to existing delegation of authority.

The above quoted policy statement from FSM 2817.3 (5)b(2) commits the Forest Service to only using 36 CFR 261 where unnecessary and unreasonable damage is occurring, and where reasonable attempts to obtain compliance with the 36 CFR 228 Subpart A regulations have failed. This means the procedures at 36 CFR 228 Subpart A must be used first to evaluate and demonstrate the need for the Forest Service to take an enforcement action. To avoid premature use and/or misuse of 36 CFR 261, this FSM direction on when to use 261 against miners needs to be incorporated as part of the new proposed 36 CFR 261 regulation.

A good example of potential abuse is the fact that some Forest Service Regions have arbitrarily set a recreational camping time limit of 14 days for all forest users. We believe the Regions should be distinguishing between those users who are just recreationists and those who are miners operating under the General Mining Laws. If an operator asserts he is operating under the Mining Law, documents that he needs to camp at a site beyond 14 days to conduct activities reasonably incident to his mining operations, and shows that his activities are not likely to cause significant disturbance of surface resources, the Forest Service is obligated to consider the facts of the miner’s case prior to taking enforcement action under 36 CFR 261. In other words, the Forest Service must first demonstrate that the activity requires a Plan of Operations and does not qualify for an exemption to a notice of intent or plan of operations under 36 CFR 228.4(a) before using 36 CFR 261:

(1) A notice of intent to operate is not required for:

(i) Operations which will be limited to the use of vehicles on existing public roads or roads used and maintained for National Forest System purposes; (ii) Prospecting and sampling which will not cause significant surface resource disturbance and will not involve removal of more than a reasonable amount of mineral deposit for analysis and study which generally might include searching for and occasionally removing small mineral samples or specimens, gold panning, metal detecting, non-motorized hand sluicing, using battery operated dry washers, and collecting of mineral specimens using hand tools; (iii) Marking and monumenting a mining claim; (iv) Underground operations which will not cause significant surface resource disturbance; (v) Operations, which in their totality, will not cause surface resource disturbance which is substantially different than that caused by other users of the National Forest System who are not required to obtain a Forest Service special use authorization, contract, or other written authorization; (vi) Operations which will not involve the use of mechanized earthmoving equipment, such as bulldozers or backhoes, or the cutting of trees, unless those operations otherwise might cause a significant disturbance of surface resources;

Furthermore, the definition of occupancy/residency is “over the top” and should be revised. Including “caves & cliff ledges” in the definition is ridiculous and unnecessary.

The proposed rule should clarify that under the Mining Laws one may “use & occupy” National Forest lands under a Notice as long as the use and occupancy is reasonably incident to prospecting, exploring, mining and processing, and there is no significant disturbance of surface resources.

Finally, the proposed rule should clarify that the special use regulations do NOT apply to locatable mineral activity on National Forest lands.

Sincerely,

Laura Skaer Executive Director

LS/kw

 
Dave Mack

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

(Forum post dated 29 January)

Hello Everyone,

The next round of briefs have been filed in the Karuk’s lawsuit against the California Department of Fish & Game (DFG). The key documents can be located on the special page we have created for this litigation. We have not put all of the documents up there, because there are just too many. A lot of effort is going into this litigation from all sides! While you guys are invited and encouraged to read the briefs for yourself, here is my own short summary about what is happening:

There are two important issues to be decided in the case at the present time. I understand both of these motions will be addressed by the Court during the upcoming hearing scheduled for 9 February in Alameda Superior Court.

1) Under The New 49’er banner, we have motioned to Intervene in the litigation. PLP has also submitted a similar motion to Intervene. Our position on this is that the Miners are actually the Real Parties in Interest, since it is our regulations that will potentially affected by the litigation.

In opposition to our Motion to Intervene, the Karuks have argued that we don’t really have any property rights because we are just a bunch of recreationalists with no rights under the mining laws. DFG has argued that even if we do have a property interest in the mining claims, we do not have any property interest in the annual permits which California issues to dredgers. Therefore, DFG has argued that we should not be allowed any standing in the ongoing litigation.

I believe our attorneys have done an excellent job presenting our argument that since modified regulations will reduce or eliminate access to our mining properties, and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) of California forbids DFG to modify our regulations without allowing us an opportunity to be heard, and the yearly permits directly affect how me may access our property, that we certainly do have a place in this litigation.

2) 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. You guys will recall that this Stipulation creates an injunction preventing DFG from issuing dredge permits for the Main Stem of the Salmon River, Elk Creek, Indian Creek and other waterways. The injunction also reduces the dredging season on the Klamath and Scott Rivers to 1 July through 15 September. These are very substantial changes in 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.

In opposition to our motion, the Karuks have submitted a very substantial volume of material to the Court, including Declarations from three fish biologists. Most of the material presented basically rehashes the same old arguments about dredging up the fish eggs and swallowing up juvenile salmonids. There is no acknowledgement by the Karuks that existing regulations have already addressed these very same issues. They have not provided any factual information to show how existing regulations do not provide adequate protection for the Coho salmon, or any factual information to demonstrate that a single fish has ever been harmed by a suction dredger. The Karuk’s position is that suction dredging should be presumed to be harmful unless proven otherwise (How is it even possible to prove “no harm” from any human activity?).

DFG’s opposition to our motion is based upon an argument that since their Stipulated Agreement was created during ongoing litigation, they really have not made any changes to our regulations at all. Therefore, they argue that they are not bound by the provisions of APA and the California Environmental Protection Act (CEQA) which require public participation when regulations are changed, even under emergency conditions. Interestingly, DFG’s position also is that they have done everything right in the way they have managed the suction dredge regulations during the past, including affording adequate protection to the Coho salmon. They make no claims that existing regulations do not protect the Coho. Their position is that the Stipulated Agreement simply offers additional protection because of the unproven arguments brought forward by the Karuks in the litigation. DFG argues that it is well within the authority of the Court to Order an injunction that reduces our dredging seasons. Never mind that there has yet to be any contested hearing or public debate to determine if any additional protection is even necessary!

In turn, our attorneys have argued that no matter what kind of spin they want to put on it, the fact is that the written regulations presently being issued by DFG have been changed to reduce our dredging seasons. The changes are very substantial. The fact that DFG is arguing that the earlier regulations were already in compliance with CEQA and were providing adequate protection to fish does not go well with a decision to shorten our mining seasons. We have rebutted the Declarations written by Karuk biologists with Declarations from other biologists who actually have field experience along the waterways that are being fought over in this litigation. We have also presented a Declaration which outlines just how substantial these regulatory changes are and how much damage will be caused to Miners and others.

Our main argument is that the Administrative Process in California was enacted to mandate State Agencies (DFG) to allow all interested parties to participate, and to mandate that State agencies weigh and balance all of the relevant factors to create reasonable regulations that resolve perceived problems in such a manner as to impose the least amount of restrictions upon productive activity. We argue that it is wrong for the Court to allow DFG to skirt around its important obligations to the public by sneaking behind closed doors with anti-industry groups to impose more restrictive regulations by Court Order — even without so much as a contested hearing.

As the court hearing is postponed until 9 February, I gather that DFG and the Karuks will be allowed one more opportunity to rebut our arguments in writing to the Court. I assume there will also be some oral arguments during the hearing.

We should keep our hopes up that this goes our way. If it doesn’t, we are already in early planning for the appeal. What good is the full public administrative process if a State agency can later go behind closed doors with an anti-industry group and modify industry regulations without having to justify the changes to the industry or the affected public?

We are also in the beginning stages of organizing a class action lawsuit to force the State of California to compensate all affected mining claim and private property owners for the reduced value of our/their holdings. The State cannot have it both ways. If the Court agrees that it is so important to stop or reduce the mining activity on these properties for the public good, then the State should be prepared to financially compensate property owners for our losses.

We are also exploring the possibility of filing a counter claim against the State of California for allowing the Karuks to dip net and kill the very same fish that they are trying to protect from us. Our research to date appears to show that the Karuk’s fishing practices should not be allowed under the very same laws they are using to try and eliminate the miners. This is not about retaliation. There just comes a point where we have to be looking at all of the potential negative impacts upon these fish. If conditions are so critical that serious consideration is being given to eliminating or reducing our mining seasons, then why are the Karuks being allowed to kill as many of the fish as they want out of the river? Where is the CEQA document that supports that decision by the State? I gather that other industry groups in Siskiyou County, who are also being pressured to make substantial and costly concessions, are asking the very same question.

If you possibly can, please be present at the hearing in Alameda County on February 9th. It is important that Miners are present. I know it is a long way away from our territory. Still, we need to be there in force if we can.

Once more, I am asking for another $10 donation, from anyone who can afford it, to help support our legal fund. It is vital that we finish paying attorney fees for December before we receive the January billing. Although we are close, we have not accomplished that, yet.

You guys should know that I am experiencing more stress about paying our lawyers, than I am about the litigation. The lawyers are doing a great job. We are fighting this battle as well as it can be done. The rest is up to fate. It is a good feeling to know you have done everything that you can to solve a problem!

My concern is over our future capability to do the same thing. We must keep up with our attorney bills so that we do not get overwhelmed by the process. All I can do is yell the charge. You guys are the force which will allow our side to win this battle. Now is the time to charge forward!

Thank you for whatever you can do!

Sincerely,

Dave Mack

 

 
Dave Mack

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

(Forum Post, February, 11, 2006)

Hi Guys,

The judge’s Order granting Intervention status to miners in the litigation concerning our California dredging regulations was made final on 9 February. This allows 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.

The judge’s Order also ruled that since the miners are new Parties within the litigation, it would be improper for her to rule on an earlier motion to endorse the Stipulated Agreement between the Karuks and DFG to resolve the litigation. While she said that she would entertain a new motion about this, she made it clear that the Karuks and DFG would be required to prove that the Stipulated Agreement is just, is not contrary to public policy, and does not incorporate an erroneous rule of law.

We feel very strongly that the proposed Stipulated Agreement does not meet any of these requirements.

As we anticipate that the Karuks and DFG will motion the Court to accept their Agreement, our attorneys are already preparing for our response. We have begun by serving both the Karuks and DFG with formal Discovery demands. As you may recall, up until now, both DFG and the Karuks have refused to provide us with the biological data which supports their Agreement. Now that we are Parties to the litigation, it seems reasonable that they should be required to allow us access to the information which supports their positions.

DFG’s position in the litigation, by the way, is that pre-existing regulations have afforded adequate protection for the Coho salmon. So it is going to be interesting to establish how they are justifying a decision to reduce our dredging seasons. There was some dialog in the hearing last week that perhaps both the Karuks and DFG will try and block our Discovery demands. So we may have to go around with them in court just to get at the specific information they are using to justify their positions in this litigation.

As hard as it is to believe, DFG has taken the position that they ought to be able to reduce our seasons in a secret agreement with the Karuks without ever having to justify the reasons to anyone. What’s wrong with that picture?

There have been several questions and comments posted on the various forums about DFG telling dredgers on the phone that they intend to enforce the new regulations upon miners even if the judge in this case does not endorse the Stipulated Agreement. I suggest that people should not become too alarmed by these statements. The State does not hove the power to enforce regulations which have not been adopted pursuant to the California Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

These regulatory changes certainly were not adopted pursuant to APA and CEQA. That is a big part of our objections in front of the Court.

In the present litigation, DFG’s position is that they can skirt around the provisions of 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.

We don’t really see how DFG can expect to have it both ways: (1) Argue that they have been protecting the fish just fine under the pre-existing regulations; and, (2) Argue that they have the right to reduce our dredging seasons to afford additional protection to settle the unproven allegations made by the Karuks.

No matter what story DFG is telling the public right now about what they plan to do, my best guess is that if the judge will not endorse the Stipulated Agreement, DFG will be forced to withdraw its regulatory changes as we see them today. Likely, they will have to begin a new CEQA process to address any perceived needs (if any) for changes to our regulations. Anything short of that would probably not hold up to our challenges in court.

Let’s just take things one step at a time. The first step was to gain Party status in the litigation. We have done that. The next step is to challenge any attempt to reduce our dredging seasons that does not follow the lawful process in California. We are working on that now. Then we will challenge any attempt by DFG to enforce regulations which have not been adopted pursuant to the laws. But I doubt the 3rd step will be necessary.

Meanwhile, since the dredging season is still a long way off, I suggest you guys hold off on buying a 2006 dredging permit in California until we see how all this is going to settle out. There is still plenty of time.

Hang tough, you guys. I believe the law is on our side on this one.

All the best,

Dave Mack

 

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