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Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California June 29, 2005 Vol. 32, No. 36 Page 1, column 3
Karuks lawsuit will stop mining
-- Forest Service would be forced to stop suction-dredge mining.
-- Miners have responded with a motion to intervene in litigation.
By Liz Bowen, assistant editor, Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California
SISKIYOU COUNTY – U.S. Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong is scheduled to make a decision on a lawsuit filed for the Karuk Tribe of California against the Forest Service by July 1. In the lawsuit, the Karuk Tribe alleges that gold suction dredging is harmful to wildlife and endangers fish.
Dredging season begins on July 1 and miners are anxious about the decision.
If the Karuk’s win the lawsuit, then each suction dredger will need to obtain a California Environmental Quality Act permit, which brings in biologists to analyze the environmental impacts. Cost of all the studies by biologists starts at $30,000, which is an extreme price for most small-time recreationist miners to pay.
The miners say the lawsuit is perplexing, because in the past they have met with representatives from the Karuk Tribe to discuss issues and had been able to find solutions.
“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.
Can the recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision help the miners?
But “allege” is no longer an acceptable reason to stop an activity. Under the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling this spring, there must be actual evidence that a species will be harmed before an injunction can be issued.
In the Pacific Legal Foundation’s win for an Idaho rancher against enviro plaintiffs, real harm to a species must be shown before a court can issue an injunction that would result in serious economic harm. The Karuk’s lawsuit against the Forest Service left the miners out of the suit, but ultimately it will be the suction drudge miners that will be hurt.
When a dredge miner receives a permit from the State of California Department of Fish and Game, 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. The Forest Service then provides another permit, which allows the miner to place his equipment in the river for seasonal work.
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.
Enviro organizations filed the suit last October
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 the 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, but the case was not dismissed. 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 49ers, 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 eight months.
On March 1, a motion was filed by the New 49er’s 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.
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.
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