The updated regulations were adopted by the CDFG on March 16, though the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to the agency requesting an extention of the original 15-day public comment perio for the draft regulations. The extention was not granted.
The groups filing suit Tuesday allege that the new regulations were not developed in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), fail to mitigate identified impacts and are inconsistent with existing state law.
The case was filed Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court. The coalition is represented by attorneys from the Environmental Law Foundation, Center for Biological Diversity, Pacific Federation of Fisherman’s Associations and Friends of the River.
Craig Tucker, speaking on behalf of the Karuk Tribe – a co-litigant in the suit – said one of the tribe’s main complaints with the newly adopted regulations is that dredging on the Scott and Shasta rivers will still be allowed.
“That’s unacceptable,” Tucker said, adding that coho salmon have been nearly extirpated from those rivers. He believes suction dredging will further endanger the future of those populations.
The updated regulations were required as the result of a 2004 lawsuit filed by the Karuk Tribe of California against CDFG over their permitting of suction dredging.
The Karuk tribe alleged that suction dredging, under the previous regulatory structure, caused substantial damage to rivers and was detrimental to California fisheries and to the cultural values and practices of tribal members.
In December 2006, the Alameda County Superior Court issued an order directing CDFG to “conduct further environmental review pursuant to CEQA of its suction dredge mining regulations and to implement, if necessary, via rulemaking, mitigation measures to protect coho salmon and/or other special status fish species in the watershed of the Klamath, Scott, and Salmon Rivers, listed as threatened or endangered after the 1994 EIR.”
The current moratorium was established by SB 670, and took effect on August 9, 2009 and did not specify an ending date.
On July 26, 2011, Assembly Bill 120 was approved by California Gov. Jerry Brown. That bill established an end date for the current moratorium of June 30, 2016.
“For our members, this is about protecting jobs and family owned businesses that rely on healthy salmon fisheries,” Glen Spain of the PCFFA said. “Under these new regulations, suction dredge mining will continue to harm fisheries, continue to stir up toxic mercury, which is a human health hazard, and continue degrading California’s rivers at taxpayer expense. This makes no sense.”
According to Steve Evans of Friends of the River, “These regulations will give recreational suction dredgers a license to pollute some of the most scenic and ecologically sensitive rivers in California.”
Dredging enthusiasts and some Siskiyou County representatives disagree with the assertion that suction dredging is detrimental to the river or to fish.
Mike Adams – a Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association (LDMA) member and Siskiyou County resident who says he has made most of his living from mining – thinks the new regulations already go too far and considers them “an unconstitutional take of previously granted rights.” He also feels there is no strong evidence that suction dredging is detrimental to fish.
Siskiyou County Natural Resource Policy Specialist Ric Costales agrees with Adams.
“The science just doesn’t justify coming down with such a heavy hammer on these activities,” Costales said.
He said he has gone out on the Klamath River to observe a dredge operation first hand and didn’t see evidence of negative long-term impacts to the river.
Costales added that he doesn’t feel there is strong evidence that suction dredging hurts anadromous fish like coho salmon because the activity is not allowed during the fish’s migration and spawning season.
Tucker contends that even CDFG’s own environmental review acknowledges negative cultural impacts of dredging on tribal communities as well as the risk of mobilizing mercury in the water column.
He said CDFG denies the ability or authority to regulate these impacts.