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On Suction Dredge Mining
By James Foley, Klamath River
Guest Opinion, Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, CA, January 14, 2009

It is unfortunate that the leadership of Karuk Tribe, allied with fishing and environmental interests, have set out on an agenda to deprive people of their rights, namely, their statutory right under federal law to mine their claims. This article is a response to a Karuk Tribe press release published in the Eureka Times Standard, June 19, 2008.

The Karuk press release is intended to misinform the public to the reality of what suction dredge mining is and convince people who know nothing about suction dredge mining that it is harming fish. As such, it is full of misinformation and outright lies. The lies have been proven false in numerous peer reviewed scientific studies and in numerous court actions, as well as a 1994 EIR promulgated by the California dept. of Fish and Game.

These people are not stupid; they know that science and law have debunked their ridiculous assertions about suction dredge mining for years. But they also know that if you just keep saying a thing long and loud enough, people will believe it.

The rest of this article will include the Karuk's assertions and lies in Italics and my response to them in normal text.


"The rest of the gravel and potentially toxic sediment is simply dumped back into the river," the release stated. "Depending upon size, location and density of these machines, they can turn a clear running mountain stream or river segment into a murky watercourse unfit for swimming."


If we assume that there is "potentially toxic sediment," it must have been in the river in the first place. The truth is that it is simple sand and gravel. A suction dredge adds nothing to the river that was not there in the first place.


The second part of this statement is, "they can turn a clear running mountain stream or river segment into a murky watercourse unfit for swimming."


These conclusions are from reputable scientists who have actually done the science concerning suction dredging. These excerpts are only two of many that reach the same conclusion.

"The effects of suction dredging would appear to be less than significant and not deleterious to fish." (By Joe Cornell)

"Studies to date have not shown any actual effect on the environment by suction dredging, except for those that are short-term and localized in nature." (Bret C. Harvey)


"At the same time, opponents say, the dredging disturbs spawning gravels, killing the salmon eggs and immature lamprey that live in the gravel."

The truth is that suction dredge mining regulations do not allow miners to work when spawning fish or eggs are in the river. The Tribe and fishermen know this, so why would they say this other than to spread misinformation?

Here is the truth about disturbing the spawning gravels from reputable scientists:

"Salmonids spawned in the vicinity of the previous season's dredging, but, in one study, salmonids redds were not located in tailing piles. The gravels dispersed by the high stream flows, which included dredge tailings, certainly composed a portion of the suitable spawning gravels each year. Dredge tailings have been observed to provide good salmonid spawning ground due to the loose condition of the sand and gravel. In some places, mining debris may provide the best or only habitat."  (By Joe Cornell)

"A five-inch dredge could improve the intergravel environment for both fish eggs and benthos.  Weighing all factors, dredging can improve the gravel environment for both fish eggs and aquatic insects." (By Joe Cornell)


"In a system like the Klamath where salmon can be stressed due to poor water quality, having a dredge running in the middle of the stream affects the fishes ability to reach their spawning grounds," Karuk Tribe lead fisheries biologist Toz Soto said.


Any suction dredge miner, including this writer, can tell you that a suction dredge does not disturb fish in any way. We see fish around us and the dredge all the time. They are attracted to the outfall of the dredge to feast on insects that pass through the sluice box unharmed.

Mr. Soto's assertion would lead people to believe that a suction dredge blocks fish access. He is speaking of the Klamath River, which is a very large river. A common suction dredge is about three feet wide, while the river is many times that wide at it narrowest. Fish can pass by if they choose not to stop for a snack provided by the dredge.

"The effects of suction dredging would appear to be less than significant and not deleterious to fish" (CDFG, 1997)

The results from scientific investigations presented in the environmental impact reports prepared by the state of California, Clearwater National Forest and Siskiyou National Forest, provide all the evidence required to support the determination that small scale suction dredging is "De-Minimus" and impacts from these dredges are "Less than Significant." Even the USEPA's own study has classified suction dredging as "De-Minimus."


Toz Soto said. "There is a lot of mercury settled on the bottom of these rivers from gold smelting operations from the 1800s. Dredging reintroduces mercury to the stream creating a toxic hazard for fish and people."


You would think that a biologist attempting to inform people would at least know what he is talking about and tell the whole story, not just a part of it. Mr. Soto claims the mercury is from "smelting operations in the 1800s" Smelting is a refinery process that does not use mercury. Any mercury in rivers was deposited there by hydraulic mining practices that used mercury to recover the gold, this is not done any more, there are more environmentally friendly ways of recovering the gold.

Mr. Soto asserts that dredging reintroduces mercury to the stream. This was the conclusion of a test (not a scientific study) done by California Water Boards. The rest of the conclusion was that suction dredges removed 98% of the mercury that passed through their sluice.
So then, Mr. Soto would have us believe that it is better to leave 98% of the resident mercury in a watercourse than to take it out??? What kind of skewed logic is that? As of this date, suction dredge miners are the only entity working to remove mercury and lead in the form of fishing sinkers old batteries and bullets from our rivers and doing it at no charge to citizens or our state.


"We need the governor to take a stand with Native People and the 2.2 million anglers in California -- not 3,000 recreational gold miners," Karuk Tribal member Leaf Hillman said.


Mr. Hillman and his fishing interest allies assertion may be seen for the hypocrisy that it is by the following rebuttals.
There is absolutely no evidence or science to show that a suction dredge has ever killed a fish. And yet these special interests are on a crusade to eliminate a natural resource user who has a statutory right, granted to him by federal law to legally mine his claims.

According to Mr. Hillman 3,000 gold miners who have never harmed a fish should be eliminated and deprived of their rights so that 2.2 million fishermen can kill fish. To make matters worse, the State of California sells permits to fishermen so that they can kill fish, while regulating miners who kill no fish to the point of elimination.

How many fish do you suppose 2.2 million fishermen kill in one season? How many fish does the Karuk Tribe kill? This is a Tribe that has no reservation and therefore no fishing rights, yet the Dept. of Fish and game allows their illegal activities.

This hypocrisy is brought to a grand finale by an event called "Salmon Aid," that is put on by a coalition of west coast commercial, recreational and tribal fishermen partnered with environmental organizations.

How hypocritical is it to accuse miners of killing salmon when these special interests are killing and selling the very fish they are telling others they are trying to protect from miners, loggers, farmers and ranchers? Mr. Hillman of the Karuk Tribe claims that they do not even have enough salmon to fulfill their ceremonial needs, but they can kill and sell them and blame others for the decline in the salmon population? Hypocrisy at its best!

By James Foley
Property and Mining Rights Advocate
Klamath River, California

Footnotes and credits:

Josiah H. Cornell, III
P.O. Box 881
Grants Pass, OR. 97528
To whom it may concern;

This letter is a statement of my qualifications to comment about environmental controversies of the Pacific Northwest.

B.S.  Geology,  U. of Kentucky,  1967
M.S.  Geology,  U. of Oregon,  1971

Employment and Experience:
Engineering Technician, 1969-1973, seasonal,
USDA Forest Service in western Oregon.
Geologist, 1973 to 1994, (Retired, 1994)
USDA Forest Service in western Oregon.
Peter B. Bayley
Dept. Fisheries & Wildlife,
Oregon State University
104 Nash Hall, Corvallis OR 97330

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