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Rebuttal to Leaf Hillman

Guest Opinion By Dave McCracken, President of The New 49'er Prospecting Association, Happy Camp

Pioneer Press, April 1, 2009

Here follows my rebuttal to the OpEd piece by Leaf Hillman published on March 6 in the Sacramento Bee 3/6/09, "Leaf Hillman: Taxpayers help miners hurt fish habitat:"

The OpEd piece by Leaf Hillman published on March 6 in the Sacramento Bee was an astonishing distortion of reality, an Alice-in-Wonderland version of history combined with vicious and baseless personal attacks. Unfortunately, many readers who are unfamiliar with the issues may have been deceived by Hillman's half-truths and full-fledged falsehoods.

Let me bring the fresh air of truth into this discussion, beginning where Hillman began with a slanderous claim that the gold miners of the 19th century were guilty of, in his words, "attempted genocide" of his Karuk tribe. That is an absurd and ugly charge. Hillman knows there is not a shred of historical evidence to support his claim.

That does not stop Hillman. He only uses his "genocide" claim as a way of vilifying today 's California gold miners, shamelessly attempting to portray us as part of a continuing conspiracy against the Karuk that dates back 150 years. The charge would be laughable in other circumstances, but it cannot go unchallenged. If Hillman gets away with his lies, he will steal the livelihoods of honest, productive citizens of California.

Hillman, backed by well-financed environmental extremists, is obsessed with banning suction dredge gold mining in California, an industry that provides jobs and helps sustain the economies of rural areas badly in need of economic development. He will go to any lengths to win this battle, and he certainly won't let the truth stand in his way.

Hillman claims our gold mining threatens the salmon in the Klamath River. He has picked a particularly poor time to make that accusation. A few days ago, the Times-Herald of Eureka reported that while the number of Sacramento River salmon is near record lows, the Klamath salmon run is "booming" this year.

Even more important, there is not a scrap of scientific evidence that suction dredge mining has ever hurt a single salmon. The same cannot be said of Hillman's own Karuk Tribe. With monotonous regularity, the Karuk kill Klamath River salmon year in and year out. How many? No one knows. Why does no one know? Because no one is watching. The State of California has deliberately turned a blind eye to the Karuks' wanton destruction of salmon from the Klamath.

Hillman also claims that the Karuks have a tribal right to fish for salmon. That's not true. The federal government has never granted them fishing rights. In spite of this, the California Fish and Game Commission has allowed the Karuks special rights to fish, without accountability, from a river that has been the subject of countless environmental battles over the years.

The Department of Fish and Game acknowledged not only that it does nothing to regulate Karuk fishing, but that it has no idea how many Coho salmon and other fish are taken from the river by the Tribe. Press reports and survey data indicate that the Karuks take roughly 2,000 fish a year, and may underestimate the actual take. Since many of these killed fish are going upstream to spawn, you can multiply the actual fish loss by hundreds or thousands of times!

In fact, no one keeps count of the number of salmon the Karuk kill each year and no one knows whether the salmon actually wind up on Karuk dinner tables - or how many might wind up in restaurants and at markets. No one knows because no one is watching.

While the Karuks do as they please, suction dredge gold miners operate under regulations developed after a thorough environmental review in 1994. Unlike the Karuk, we play by the rules. We are willing to live with these regulations, but we are not willing to have our livelihood destroyed by false and self-serving accusations.

The simple truth is this: Hillman and his well-financed environmental extremists are not really concerned about the fate of Klamath salmon. If they were, the Karuk would stop their unchecked destruction of salmon. Their larger goal, adopted last July by Tribal vote, is to exercise Tribal jurisdiction over "all lands, waters, natural resources, cultural resources, air space, minerals, fish, forests and other flora, wildlife, and other resources, and any interest therein, now or in the future, throughout and within the Tribe's [newly and substantially expanded] territory".

If the extremists win, their power grab over all natural resources along the Klamath River will not only destroy productive industry, but they will also take away jobs from hard-working people in the midst of a recession. If they win, it will be a victory based on lies.
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