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The Pioneer Press, at the very top of the State of California, grants permission for this article to be copied and forwarded.

Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California Wednesday, March 2, 2005 Vol. 32, No. 19 Page A1, column 1
 
Karuks file lawsuit against mining

-- Forest Service is expected to stop suction-dredge mining.

-- Miners respond with a motion to intervene in litigation.

By Liz Bowen, assistant editor, Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California

SISKIYOU COUNTY, CALIFORNIA Ė Last October, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Karuk Tribe of California by a coalition of environmental groups. Six lawyers from the Environmental Law Foundation, Western Mining Action Project and The First Amendment Project filed a lawsuit using the Endangered Species Act as grounds to stop all mining along local rivers.

The Environmental law Foundation and The First Amendment Project give Oakland for their address. The Western Mining Action Project is based in Boulder, Colorado.

On December 14, 2004, Peg Boland, supervisor for the Klamath National Forest, filed a motion to dismiss the case. Because the case is still in court, the Forest Service can not comment.

Then on January 14, 2005, a notice of intent to intervene was filed by the New 49erís, Inc. a recreational group that operates gold mining claims along the Klamath, Scott and Salmon Rivers.

Both sides of the lawsuit have filed many other motions during the last five months. The newest motion was filed on March 1 by the New 49erís claim holders. This one states that the outcome of this lawsuit will affect miners more than Karuks or the Forest Service; and that the miners cannot be properly represented by either the Karuks or the Forest Service. The motion is to intervene in litigation.

Several of these small-time suction dredge miners spoke with the Pioneer Press last week about the lawsuit. Because the miners have worked out solutions in the past with the Karuk Tribe, they hope this case will be dismissed and that everyone will once again come to the table for discussion.

The suit has been assigned to Saundra Brown Armstrong, the same federal judge that agreed with environmental groups and shut-off the irrigation water to 1,400 family farms in the Klamath Project of the Bureau of Reclamation in the 2001 year.

The miners say the lawsuit is perplexing, because in the past the two groups have met, discussed issues and been able to find solutions. It was a shock to have the lawsuit brought against the Forest Service as a round about way of stopping all mining activity.

Last year, the New 49erís met with leaders from the Karuk Tribe to discuss possible problems. Mitigations were established for sensitive cultural areas and for cold water pools where fish congregate during the summer.

"We created our own regulations among ourselves," said one of the miners. They reduced the number of dredges in the river and did not dredge near local swimming holes or pools where fish congregate.

Ultimately, the suit claims that dredging causes "significant" disturbance.

The suit states that the mining causes "permanent and/or long-lasting impacts to wildlife, fisheries, water quality, recreation and visual resources" and adversely impacts the Tribe. It also alleges that suction dredging can kill or affect coho salmon; bald eagles and northern spotted owls.

These species are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

"Significant" is the key word.

When a dredge miner receives a permit from the State of California, the activities allowed have been environmentally analyzed and are accepted as "not significant."

According to the state codes, suction dredge mining is a low disturbance activity.

Suction dredging is like a vacuum that cleans the bottom rocks and gravel in the rivers. In the fall, salmon have been found many times using the dredged gravels for spawning, which produce healthy juvenile fish.

 

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