Pacific Swell

Southern California environment news and trends

Court ruling restricts gold mining in the West

David Paul Morris/Getty Images

As reported by the Associated Press, a new ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has tightened restrictions on gold mining in states across the West, including California.

The ruling, which passed by a margin of 7-4, states that the U.S. Forest Service must consult outside federal wildlife agencies before allowing any activities that could potentially threaten an endangered species, in this case salmon. The ruling was the result of a previous lawsuit submitted by the Karuk Tribe in Northern California opposing suction dredge mining in the Klamath River (which had been approved in 2004). The suit claimed that dredging could harm coho salmon, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Suction dredges are gas-powered vacuums that pump sand and gravel up from riverbeds. 

"The Forest Service's decision to place the search for minuscule flakes of gold above the needs of people who rely on clean water, and especially wild salmon, was unconscionable," said Leaf Hillman, director of natural resources for the Karuk Tribe, in a statement reported by AP. The Karuk Tribe has traditionally relied on the salmon for food.

“We’re just going to have to appeal,” said Gerald Hobbs, the president of Public Lands For The People, a non-profit organization that does not support the new ruling, by phone. “The Supreme Court will likely take the case, as this ruling is devastating to most small miners, and not just in California. These are not poachers or criminals, but hardworking people. There are already more than 3500 dredgers out of work, and that’s not including other miners. I feel strongly that the Supreme Court will overturn this decision.”

Hobbs added that some miners “with a little more courage” would continue to dredge even after the ruling, since the outside assessments are costly and time-consuming.

“There are people who believe bad law is no law,” said Hobbs, “and this is a bad law.”

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