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Leaf Hillman: Taxpayers help miners hurt fish habitat followed by Comments

The Gold Rush is often romanticized as an example of how American ingenuity realized early America's vision of Manifest Destiny. For Native people, the Gold Rush is viewed in dramatically different terms. To us, it was an attempted genocide.

Within 10 years after the arrival of the first miners, half of the Karuk population died from violence, disease or starvation. After the easy gold was found and the practice of hydraulic mining was banned in 1884, most of the miners left. They left behind a dramatically altered landscape, a crippled fishery, and lots of mercury.

Today, a new breed of miner has returned to the Klamath and many other California watersheds. Instead of mules, this new wave of miners ride in SUVs towing behind them large machines called suction dredges. These weekend warriors mine for fun, using large suction pumps connected to a hose up to 8 inches in diameter. The miner snorkels along the bottom of the river sucking up gravel, sand and the old mercury, and leaving behind a dramatically altered streambed. The suctioned material is run through a sluice box where the gold is collected. Everything else is simply discharged back into the river.

Permission to engage in this unique and twisted form of recreation is granted by the California Department of Fish and Game – the guys that are supposed to be protecting our fishery resources. Since there are few miners and the permits are cheap, taxpayer funds are needed to fund the program. This means that in the midst of a financial and fisheries crisis, we taxpayers are subsidizing the destruction of our own fishery so that a bunch of guys can rip and tear our river bottoms to shreds for fun.

However there is a catch – the whole program is illegal. Fish and Game Code Section 5653 authorizes the Department of Fish and Game to issue permits for in-stream suction dredge mining only after it has determined that the operation will not be deleterious to fish.

In 2006, the department itself admitted in sworn statements that suction dredge mining in the Klamath, Scott and Salmon river watersheds under existing regulations was having a deleterious effect on endangered coho salmon and therefore the department was not in compliance with Section 5653.

In addition, the department's own regulations require suction dredge permit holders to be in compliance with federal law. Suction dredging is an activity regulated by the federal Clean Water Act. No discharge permit has ever been issued under the Clean Water Act, either on a general or individual basis, for suction dredging activities in this state. This means that all permit holders are in violation of federal law. Still, Fish and Game fails to enforce this condition and continues to issue permits with full knowledge of this fact.

Recently, the Karuk Tribe and others pointed out these facts during the confirmation hearing of Don Koch, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's pick for director of Fish and Game. In response, the Senate Rules Committee decided not to act on Koch's nomination until it could learn more about this issue.

In retaliation, a mining club on the Klamath called the New 49ers has petitioned the department to close the Karuk Tribe's last remaining dip net site at Ishi Pishi Falls.

That's right, the guys in the SUVs that mine for fun are fighting to stop the Karuk Tribe from conducting a ceremonial dip net fishery that has been practiced since the beginning of time. Due to the poor runs of salmon left on the Klamath, the tribe is lucky to harvest 200 fish a year, which falls far short of meeting our subsistence and ceremonial needs. The few fish we do harvest are consumed locally by tribal members in their homes and during ceremonies – none are sold commercially.

Miners already have taken so much from the Karuk people. Today they continue their destruction of California's fisheries, and they seek to end a way of life that stretches back to the beginning of time. Now it is time for the California Department of Fish and Game and Koch to stop defending miners by running an illegal suction dredge program and instead defend the fish for the benefit of not only the Karuk people, but all Californians.

  • goldmineri wrote on 03/07/2009 11:01:19 PM:

    Get real. The reason the fish are dying are because of "lucky harvest of 200 fish" people like you that have nothing better to do but hide behind your own "rights" and point fingers in frustration at everyone else. Before you start pointing fingers, you should cease killing them first (your "lucky harvests" do KILL fish) and then campaign. not before... PS. Did you release any fish last year? PS. If the dredging hurts the fish, then your rain God should halt all winter floods.

  • caldaddy wrote on 03/07/2009 09:37:10 PM:

    There is no logical basis to conclude that the extremely minute amounts of gravel moved by suction dredgers has any measurable effect on the "destruction of the fishery" (and there have been dozens of studies on all kinds of gravel disturbance and the effects on aquatic habitat).dredgers move the majority of rocks by hand and the cuumulative total of all the material moved in in the entire watershed doesn't amount to but a fraction of a second of the material that is moving downstream in a high water flow. This is the epitome of the term "needle in haystack" and is underscored by EPA scientists issuing a "Finding of No Significant Impact" to the activity.

    Hillman is like a score of others that attack all kinds of human activity from farming, ranching, logging, road building, home building, etc. and etc. One thing is CERTAIN fishing KILLS FISH (and eliminates hundreds of eggs from being potentially hatched). If you are reading this you have electricity passing through GOLD circuits

  • jdbeach wrote on 03/07/2009 03:42:27 PM:

    Words have meanings. Genocide is a word that means the intentional killing of every person of an ethnic group. The colonialists and pioneers did not wage genocide on Native Americans. Certainly there were atrocities committed by both sides during the move westward, however, disease by far, killed the overwhelming majority of Indians. And that wasn't on purpose. Disease killed hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Europeans, before microbes were discoverd and medicines invented. (And, please, no perpetuation of the myth that whites spread disease-carrying blankets to the Indians).

  • outdoorjoe2 wrote on 03/07/2009 01:27:00 PM:

    Every race of people on this planet have suffered some travesty in their history, so quit trying for the sympathy card. I am an Indian, and the one thing that makes me sick is this Native American thing. We live in the USA. There are no native humans to the north American continent. We all immigrated here from somewhere else, even the Indians. If all people are created equal as the US constitution states, then why is it that some feel they deserve special treatment? I for one accept a man for how he acts and carries himself, not by the color of his skin. The dip net fishery has not been practiced since the beginning of time, and this statement shows the lies and tactics Mr Hillman uses in his non stop lawsuit after lawsuit attacks on so many other forest users. Perhaps he should have thought about this before he continued his non stop attacks. One other thing, there are Karuks who suction dredge for gold.

  • outdoorjoe2 wrote on 03/07/2009 12:44:18 PM:

    A few facts, this isn't a hobby for hundreds of dredgers in this state, it is their professional occupation. Mr Hilman brought this on the whole tribe by his greedy actions trying to run every other river user out of the area hoping things could be like they were 150 years ago. Grow up, this is the America we all must live in. The miners operate within the law, and so should Mr. Hilman. The Hoopa and Yuroks have federal fishing rights, and operate a regulated subsistence fishery. No other tribe has an unregulated fishery, and CDF&G allows the Karuks to have one in violation of Federal and State law. If Mr Hilman lives by suing everybody, then why is anyone surprised after all these years that it has brought justified lawsuits back his way?

  • outdoorjoe2 wrote on 03/07/2009 12:26:12 PM:

    What color is the sky in your world? What makes you such an expert on the science of suction dredging? Are you a fish biologist? Do you have twenty plus years experience dredging or dealing with dredging? You write like you are well educated, yet you ignore the legal facts and repeat the same lies to the point of sounding like you are bought and paid for.
    No biologists supported the miners? You better do a more thorough job of researching public records before you spew forth your watchdog enviro wacko garbage.
    Even fish biologists are entitled to an opinion. The problem with the opinions given in that lawsuit by CDF&G is they were not able to provide any scientific evidence to back up those opinions.
    The funding for the EIR took as long to approve as most government sourced funding does, and what is the problem with waiting for one year for the results of this study? You support a group that files lawsuit after lawsuit against the groups that they don't like.

  • rivraton wrote on 03/07/2009 11:10:41 AM:

    THE cause of declining Klamath salmon population DEAD fish lay no eggs...
    NOTE: dredging not even mentioned

  • russau wrote on 03/07/2009 03:50:17 AM:

    leaf grow up! youve failed in everyother attempt to stop dredgeing using the enviroment as a excuse when really you only want a casion on the rez.! you dont even have fishing rights in the karuk tribal name.your tribal leaders and peoples dont even like or respect you so whos mouth peice are you really? some wacoenviromentalists that promised you the moon! or the green lawyers that told you how to make a bunch of money and are using you to do their dirty work and making THEM rich!wake up!

  • rivraton wrote on 03/06/2009 11:50:03 PM:

    the Karuk Tribe's last remaining dip net site at Ishi Pishi Falls.


    The miners are operating within federal law on their legal mining claims The Karuk are violating both federal and state law by taking protected species( they have no federally granted fishing rights and the state has no authority to grant them any special fishing privileges)


    Due to the poor runs of salmon left on the Klamath, the tribe is lucky to harvest 200 fish a year, which falls far short of meeting our subsistence and ceremonial needs. The few fish we do harvest are consumed locally by tribal members in their homes and during ceremonies – none are sold commercially.

    You can buy fish from the backs of pickup trucks and trunks of cars all up and down Hwy 96 (I was even once offered smoked salmon by a Karuk in Merced, CA over 400 mi from the Klamath)

  • rivraton wrote on 03/06/2009 11:47:24 PM:

    “However there is a catch – the whole program is illegal. Fish and Game Code Section 5653 authorizes the Department of Fish and Game to issue permits for in-stream suction dredge mining only after it has determined that the operation will not be deleterious to fish.”
    A full environmental impact study was conducted that found no detrimental effects when suction dredging is done within the guidelines set forth in the DFG regs.

    In 2006, the department itself admitted in sworn statements that suction dredge mining in the Klamath, Scott and Salmon river watersheds under existing regulations was having a deleterious effect on endangered coho salmon and therefore the department was not in compliance with Section 5653.
    One employee of the DFG sated that in his opinion there might be some harm NO STUDIES or FACTS were introduced.


    In retaliation, a mining club on the Klamath called the New 49ers has petitioned the department to close t

  • ccmc wrote on 03/06/2009 08:47:54 PM:

    This is just pathetic. Why doesn't the Bee get their facts straight before they print this garbage. No wonder the newspapers are struggling to stay in print. We have used a dredge, only during the dredging season. Dredging is closed most of the year and is not open during spawning season. Dredging does stir up the river, and you have fish right there in your face eating all the natural feed stirred up. We have never known anyone that has put mercury, bottle caps, lead weights,glass or any of the other junk from the river bottom back into it. We haul it out. Most of us haul out the crap others leave behind. We personally have taken a little of everything out including dirty diapers. If there is a shortage of fish it is from over fishing. Right here in the Sac area, we have been offered plenty of the salmon from the Karuk tribe.

  • charlos2 wrote on 03/06/2009 08:13:18 PM:

    Look up the legal definition of "deleterious" as I did, at the local Law Library. Also research the history of suction dredge mining regulation, beginning with legislative history back in 1964 (more or less). Also review the public input and Department findings back in 1994 when the EIR/Adoption of Suction Dredge Regulations occurred. When you know-it-alls who oppose suction dredging are done with that, come back and report what you found.

    In the meantime, certain fat trout, which shall remain anonymous for their own protection, are patiently awaiting the sound of their dinner bell when I return in the spring -- the sound of my dredge starting up.

    Have a nice day. Charlos

  • dredger49er wrote on 03/06/2009 08:00:52 PM:

    And as to the number of Karuk businesses and facilities in Happy Camp and Yreka, how do they exist? Primarily through taxpayer subsidies, that's how. I do not begrudge any tribe having these facilities but expect them to go by the same rules as anyone else. The last EIR done recognized "there is a long history of other impacts to California rivers and streams.... Those activities include construction, rafting, fishing, road building and logging. In comparison the cumalative effect of these activities are MORE significant to the overall health of fish and fish habitat than the impacts of suction dredging. However, these activities are not the subject of this EIR." EIR for dredging? Let one be done for all uses. Dredgers are not trying to stop the EIR, the environmentalists and the Karuks are. The dredgers welcome it.

  • dredger49er wrote on 03/06/2009 07:48:13 PM:

    Only 200 fish harvested in one year? Has anyone ever took a trip down to their fishing areas and at the mouth of the Klamath? You can see 200 caught in one single day. My wife and I have seen salmon being sold out of the backs of pickups right here in Yreka by members of the tribe. The acting Director of the DFG is a biologist and turned down the recent attampt of the Karuks to stop dredging. Some posting in here have spoken of "fish biologists and specialists" who testify that dredging is harmful to the fish. To them, I say, post the reports and names or is it htat you can't? The states of Washington and Alaska and studies done by the Army Corps of Engineers, BLM and USGS all come to different conclusions than yours. Are their specialists lying? A conspiracy? Get real! The attempts of the Karuks are getting more and more frantic as the time comes for the next DFG EIR to be done. Could it be they do not want the EIR to be done as it will prove, again, that no harm is done?

  • jenclary wrote on 03/06/2009 06:37:19 PM:

    Tribes, state and federal agencies, and water providers are spending millions to try and save fish populations, while at the same time these miners are actually being subsidized to destroy valuable habitat. This makes no sense economically or environmentally - and I'll bet its even harder for out-of-work fisherman on the coast to comprehend.

  • ecrosby wrote on 03/06/2009 05:16:41 PM:

    That last line should be "Maybe your issue with replying is you know deep down, the body of science doesn't support your position that suction dredging is not deleterious to fish and fish habitat." Also just get a copy of the comments submitted to CDFG, and not one fish biologist either from academia or agency defended your hobby. Actually the only folks championing your cause were fellow hobby miners and those who mine them.

  • ecrosby wrote on 03/06/2009 05:01:01 PM:


    It's a freaking OP-ED piece, not written by a Sac Bee reporter. Maybe your issue with replying is you know deep down, the body of science doesn't support your position that suction dredging is deleterious to fish and fish habitat.

  • ecrosby wrote on 03/06/2009 04:51:45 PM:

    A better question would be how many people do the new 49er's employ year round?. The Tribe is the largest employer in Happy Camp of Native and Non-Native people on the river. I believe they are the second largest in Siskiyou County. These are year round jobs, not just a trickle of tourist dollars the new 49ers bring in. The only person making any money off the new 49ers is the new 49ers mining miners. Consistently begging for money for the defense fund while they auction paper claims and yearly travel to SE Asia. Those "pick-up" loads of salmon never show up in Orleans or Somes Bar which are close to Ishi Pishi Falls. They may come from the downriver tribe which has a commercial harvest. Maybe if you ever left Happy Camp you would know what you are speaking of.

  • PLP_President wrote on 03/06/2009 04:24:38 PM:

    Another example of poor reporting. Why didn't you print the letter from Jim Foley? This is just another in a string of slanted opinions from a severly left wing newspaper. No wonder papers are going bankrupt. Try telling the truth for a change and maybe readership will go back up, even in the land of left wing liberals. I don't even know where to begin contermanding this garbage.

  • JMBGRB wrote on 03/06/2009 03:54:32 PM:

    Leaf says "Miners already have taken so much from the Karuk people.Today's miners take nothing from the Karuk. In fact the New 49ers club actually support the Karuk. The club is one of the only business in Happy Camp that actually brings money into this depressed town. Our miners buy grocery, fuel and lodging auto supplies,hardware an meals.It is always good to hear from the poor oppressed, starving, blanket brothers. It is a shame but in the time I have lived in Happy Camp I have never met one! I do meet, work with and share the road with a lot of wonderful people that are Karuk. They shop in Perry's market like me. Eat at the local restaurant like me and live in warm dry house like I do. Subsistence fishing? I have never met a Karuk that lived on the fish he caught. I do however see several pickup loads of salmon for sale in town every year, maby that is what they call subsistence. That must be it since Leif just assured us "none are sold commercially".

  • ecrosby wrote on 03/06/2009 03:37:19 PM:


    Actually those are sworn statements are based on facts by two different CDFG Fishery Managers (Neil Manji, Banky Curtis). Since you do not provide a link or title to the study you are referring to than I'll assume you are using this for your "information" http://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/harvey/HarveyLisle.pdf If it is please read the whole thing and pay special attention to the conclusion. By the way if all the recreational mining supporters are using this website as a "source" of information, please note the examples are cherry picked "excerpts", not the whole study/paper. http://www.akmining.com/mine/excerpts.htm

  • Riveruser wrote on 03/06/2009 03:13:58 PM:

    There are so many half truths, and mis-statements in Leaf Hillman's press release that they can not all be addressed, in this forum. In a court hearing when a CDF&G biologist offered " his opinion " the dredging caused harm to fish, it was just that an opinion, NOT A FACT. The only scientific study ever done on dredging in the Klamath River, determined that dredging caused NO Harm to the river fishery. Mr Hillman continues to waste the Karuk people's money on frivolous lawsuits against all river users, and when the tables are turned, he claims we are taking away his rights, while he does the same thing with his ridiculous lawsuits on others. It is time for the rational Karuk people to take back their tribe, from the current poor leadership, and become the respected tribe it once was...thanks

  • ecrosby wrote on 03/06/2009 01:46:08 PM:

    The op-ed clearly points out CDFG has been operating a illegal program since 2006 by refusing to regulate recreational instream mining which by it's own admission is deleterious to fish. On top of that the recreational miners are given a pass on the Clean Water Act. No other recreational or even economic activity in CA is allowed this free ride. So when the Tribe draws attention to it, their subsistence fishery is threatened. If CA history is any indication of the future the state apparatus will gladly continue to acquiesce to the hobby miners. I maybe wrong, but not holding my breath.

  • lookinforau wrote on 03/06/2009 01:01:54 PM:

    Its high time miners played by everyone elses rules. Does anyone really think that vacuuming up the river bottom doesn't hurt fish? Of course it does. The Indians have been caretaking the river and eating its salmon for thousands of years and all they want to do is dip at one site? Really, it is the LEAST we can do. Lets put the Klamath back together - stop the mining, remove the dams, and make the world a little bit better than we found it.

    And I had no idea there were so many racists that could read much less post on a website!

  • bcooper530 wrote on 03/06/2009 11:59:46 AM:

    Fair's..Fair's What other subsidies do the Karuk people get from the taxpayers while they live in their glass house?

  • rowdygirl wrote on 03/06/2009 07:42:50 AM:

    I'm afraid the State of California has bigger fish to fry these days. It's a lousy time in history to be pushing this agenda. "He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, will be victorious.' --Sun Tzu

  • egbillc wrote on 03/06/2009 07:35:45 AM:

    Interesting.....here is a google on this dude:



    North Coast Journal 8/23/07

    On Monday evening, the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Department arrested Karuk Tribe Vice Chairman Leaf Grant Hillman in Happy Camp. The previous Friday, Aug. 17, the Siskiyou County District Attorney's office had filed a felony domestic violence charge against Hillman. ...Hillman, who lives in Orleans, is charged with one count corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant, and with two special allegations: inflicting great bodily injury and using a deadly weapon. Hillman's bail has been set at $50,000.

    ...the victim had been "hit on the head with a beer bottle" ...Clausen also reported that several tribal elders asked the Karuk Tribal Council to "ask Leaf Hillman to resign his position as tribal vice chairman."

  • rdsmith47 wrote on 03/06/2009 07:27:55 AM:

    Hey Leaf:get a life. A few small dredges mining for gold are not the end of the world. I've been watching my local stream here in the hills run brown for days during this heavy rain. Where's the outcry? Apparently God can make muddy water but man cannot.
    The Bee-ess has been on this issue lately like a politician on an earmark. Big deal.Pretty small potatoes compared to the budget crisis, the economy and the Socialist president ruining the country. BTW, I've seen Indian gill net fencing stretched completely across the Klamath at Wietchpec years back. It's a wonder any fish at all got past that fence to spawn upstream. Maybe you ought to look in your own backyard for the reason for poor fish runs. A few small recreational dredges in the river don't mean nothing. Why take away one more freedom in this over-regulated state?

  • egbillc wrote on 03/06/2009 07:27:15 AM:

    whaaa-whaaa-whaaa...there, you've had a good cry, now suck it up and KNOCK IT OFF!!! Yes, I too am tire of all the whining and crying from every "special interest group". Geez, someone give me a rod and reel so I can go fishing....

  • drimola wrote on 03/06/2009 07:07:16 AM:

    So Indians can kill fish because they consume them (but don't need them) but miners can't mine because it might kill fish. You know why salmon levels have dropped, because of unnatural predators that have made it into the streams and rivers.

  • mccauley444 wrote on 03/06/2009 06:42:11 AM:

    IS anyone but me sick of these enviro-whacks?


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