Southern California environment news and trends

Court ruling restricts gold mining in the West

Rising Price of Gold Spurs Increases In Prospecting In California

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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. 

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Trout, salmon threatened by water shortages in California wine country

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Generally, wine and fish can be paired quite nicely. In California wine country, however, the relationship between the two has not been so harmonious. New research has found a correlation between markedly higher death rates in steelhead trout with lowered summer water levels and the amount of vineyard acreage upstream.

The study, conducted by biologists at UC Berkeley, discovered that the fish are especially vulnerable during the drier months of summer. They found only 30 percent of the juvenile trout present in June survived to see the end of the season. The number of surviving fish increases in years with more rainfall and in watersheds with less vineyard activity.

"Nearly all of California's salmon and trout populations are on the path to extinction and if we're going to bring these fish back to healthy levels, we have to change the way we manage our water," said Theodore Grantham, lead author of the study in Science Daily. "Water withdrawals for agricultural uses can reduce or eliminate the limited amount of habitat available to sustain these cold-water fish through the summer. I don't suggest we get rid of vineyards, but we do need to focus our attention on water management strategies that reduce summer water use. I believe we can protect flows for fish and still have our glass of wine."

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