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Karuk and Fish & Game deal limits gold mining

January 12, 2006

YREKA - New suction dredge mining regulations prompted gold miners to fill the supervisor's chambers on Jan. 3, to express their outrage and solicit the help of Siskiyou County in gaining a voice in the “secret room” deal between the Karuk Tribe and the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG).

Their plea fell on sympathetic ears and the supervisors, in a 5-0 vote, adopted a resolution authorizing Supervisor Marcia Armstrong, supervisor of the district most impacted and chair of the board, to provide a declaration to the Alameda County Superior Court on behalf of the supervisors in the matter. The declaration states, in part, that the new suction dredge mining regulations were made apart from the legal public process, a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The county's document states that the county is concerned about the precedent of establishing regulations in the absence of the public process without showing scientific evidence of adverse effects upon the environment and urges the court to follow normal procedures in adopting new regulations.

Providing background information on the issue, County Planning Director Wayne Virag said that the Karuk Tribe and its Chairman Leaf Hillman filed a lawsuit against the DFG in the Alameda County Superior Court.


“A settlement agreement was reached between the parties and as part of the agreement, changes were imposed by the Department of Fish and Game to the mining regulations on the Klamath, Salmon, and Scott rivers, which severely restrict suction dredge mining,” Virag said. “Specifically, many tributaries were closed and mining season restricted to 10 weeks where previously it was open all year.”

Virag said the areas near tributaries are also closed to mining, thereby rendering many claims unusable.

“The results of the new regulations will be significant in both economic and cultural scope as there are many individuals who depend upon, and thousands of recreationalists who enjoy, suction dredge mining,” Virag said. “Also, many businesses exist to support this local industry and pastime.”

He said the agreement was entered and regulations changed without public notice. “Further, the Department of Fish and Game neglected to conduct required analysis under CEQA and further failed to follow Article 12, Title 10 of the Siskiyou County Code which requires agencies to notify the county when new regulations are proposed.”

The New 49ers, with over 1,000 members, have petitioned to intervene in this matter and the superior court agreed to postpone its decision. The decision, however, is already in place with DFG not issuing permits.

The inability to get permits in January was, in fact, how The New 49ers first heard about the new regulations, causing many of the miners to voice speculation that something sneaky was going on.

The New 49er President Dave McCracken said mining regulations were established in the mid-1990s and went through the CEQA process, “a painstaking process with three EIRs and a lot of people involved as the regulations were developed through a process.”

"Fish & Game has gone behind closed doors and given away the process -- it can't be legal,” McCracken said. “The idea that a state agency can enter into a court settlement and give away the whole public process that took a long time to develop is very scary."

McCracken's statement was more diplomatic than the one of Ken Oliver from Scott Barr.

“The seasonal influx of people is an important part of the economy there and the restriction of suction dredging will affect it,” Oliver said. “I want to force these people to go through the public process. I asked in the coho salmon hearings about this and they lied. If they want us to operate legally, they had better operate legally. These people are taking away our private property rights.”

Other gold miners also expressed their concerns and outrage.

James Folly, president of National Land Rights League, said that the “illegal activities of California Department of Fish and Game” is an example of a rogue government agency “that must be reigned in.”

“We have a constitutional right to do this with a mining claim,” Folly said. “They trample the constitutional and civil rights of the citizens. The citizen's only recourse against his own government is a lawsuit to reverse an issue that should go through legally.”

Some miners talked about the economic benefit that will be lost, especially in Happy Camp, because of the regulations. Others speculated that collusion is involved with big money causing illegal actions to take place.

Supervisor Bill Hoy said that suction mining is beneficial to the fish, not detrimental, because it breaks up the hard river bed, giving more spawning area for the fish.

Supervisor LaVada Erickson said, “A state agency calling the shots without involving the county does not fly well, especially when it is something that causes harm for the people.”

“What is the Karuk Tribe doing and why it is so underhanded?” she said.

Supervisor Bill Overman said he is concerned when government is doing things behind closed doors and behind backs. “We are dealing with property rights and we better protect them,” he said.

Craig Tucker from the Karuk Tribe was present at the supervisor's meeting on Jan. 10, and asked why the Karuk's lawsuit was filed in Alameda County. Tucker said he had wondered that himself and when he asked the tribe's lawyer, was told that it was for the convenience of the tribe's attorney who lives in Alameda County.




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