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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.

 April 2, 2006

-Press release; National Land Rights League

Klamath Miners respond to Karuk accusations

On January 12, 2006, a press release from the Karuk Tribe was printed in the Siskiyou Daily News entitled "Minor restrictions placed on suction dredge mining."
In the interest of providing a balanced view of this situation we would like to address what we view as misinformation presented by Sandi Tripp, Natural Resources Director for the Karuk Tribe and Leaf Hillman, Vice-Chair of the Karuk Tribe.
The caption on that press release would lead readers to believe that the settlement reached by the tribe and the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), and the resulting restrictions, are nothing more than a minor inconvenience to suction dredge miners.
Nothing could be farther from the truth; the restrictions placed on suction dredge miners, who are valid mining claim holders, amount to a "taking" of private property. The word "taking" is a legal term, meaning that government has taken private property without monetary compensation. Mining claims are private property as defined by statute and upheld by courts.
The act of closing streams to suction dredge mining, or of severely limiting the season for this activity without going through the proper legal channels, has the effect of taking a miner’s claim, because he can no longer work it; or, in the case of a limited season, cannot work long enough to make a profit in such a limited time.  A great many miners are actually small businesses and depend on their ability to mine for their living. In many cases miners have thousands of dollars invested in equipment and fees, and the money they bring to the local community supports those businesses that provide services; hotels, motels and RV parks, as well as restaurants, markets, gas stations, beauty shops and many other small businesses in our communities.  Many of those businesses depend on this income to stay in business, and the loss of that business is definitely not a "minor inconvenience."
Miners come to Siskiyou County from many different states, providing a huge boost to the economy of the county and its businesses. If their ability to mine is taken from them, they will not come.  It’s as simple as that.
It can be seen from our severely limited press release, that this settlement and the resulting restrictions are much more than a minor inconvenience; they strike at the very heart of private property rights and severely impact the economy of the county and the towns within it.
Sandi Tripp and Leaf Hillman are quoted as saying, "This should not be interpreted as Indian versus miner issue."  "Miners still have over 255 miles of river open to them."
This action and resulting restrictions cannot be interpreted in any other way. Miners are not attacking any other water resource users. The Karuk Tribe has set mining firmly in their sights as an activity to be eliminated. Just last year the tribe sued the USFS in an attempt to eliminate miners through a very complicated process of USFS permitting which, if implemented, would have the effect of stopping suction dredge mining within the national forest. The tribe lost that lawsuit, using the same arguments they have used in this litigation. 
Miners do not have unlimited river resources to mine in, or 255 miles. Suction dredge mining can only be successfully done where the gold comes to rest and where it is accessible by a suction gold dredge. This statement by Sandi Tripp and Leaf Hillman speaks to their limited understanding of both suction dredge mining and river conditions that may or may not be conducive to suction dredge mining. Their statement would lead readers to believe that the entire river is blanketed with gold and all a miner has to do is put his dredge in the river anywhere he chooses and gold will be recovered.  If gold were that easy to find, it would not be worth nearly so much!
Gold only accumulates in places that are favorable to stopping its downstream movement.  These places have to be found; they do not encompass the whole river bed. Many places in our rivers and streams are too deep in both water and gravel to be successfully dredged. Many places have limited or no access to the river. In many places the water is moving too fast to be dredged.
Hillman and Tripp are quoted as saying, "Despite the clear recognition that salmon and other fish are in trouble, Fish and Game continued to allow suction dredging during spawning and migration. This agreement redresses the issue."
The truth is just the opposite of this assertion. The California Department of Fish and Game protects fish by establishing dredging seasons that are outside the period of fish spawning and egg hatching, in areas used by the salmon for spawning.
An inference that suction dredge mining is harming fish is not supported by science.  There is no evidence of this in the many studies that have been done by universities, government and individual scientists, in this or in any other state.   Compare this with the Karuk Tribe claim that suction dredge mining causes harm to salmon stocks that are in trouble, while at the same time they continue to take salmon even though they admit that they have no federally mandated fishing rights.
This, coupled with DFG not enforcing fishing regulations by simply looking the other way, leads one to ask this question. "If harm to salmon stocks that are in trouble is the real issue at hand, which activity has the most impact on salmon; suction dredge mining with no evidence of ever having killed a fish, or tribal fishing without regard to the law of the land that other users must adhere to?
 They accuse DFG of allowing suction dredge mining during the spawning and migration of salmon, while at the same time they take those very same salmon, effectively reducing the returning stocks as well as juvenile salmon in their second or third year and the future salmon stocks in the form of eggs within the returning salmon.
The truth is that suction dredge mining has taken place on the streams of California for the last fifty years, and in that time there have been peak and low cycles of salmon. To single out one activity and take private property from citizens on mere speculation, or due to a special interest group’s vague agenda is patently wrong and patently illegal.
Recent scientific studies show that the salmon crisis is not due to anything that man has done.  Specifically, a naturally-occurring increase in the temperature of the Pacific Ocean off the coast caused a sharp decline in salmon by destroying most of the salmon's food supply and increasing the number of fish that prey on salmon.

The marked decline in the salmon catch beginning in the late-1970s corresponded to an increase in the temperature of the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. This warming has had a most detrimental impact on salmon survival rates. No one can deny that reasonable measures should be taken to protect the salmon population, especially when natural conditions sharply lower survival.

While it is true that everyone wants a healthy fishery, everyone certainly does not want another "spotted owl" fiasco in this county.  There is litigation in motion right now to force the delisting of the Coho salmon (Oregon has already delisted it there), since the listing was done by not counting all the fish……..  A false emergency and regulations that take income from the struggling businesses of this county, destroys more livelihoods, uproots families, and brings economic disaster to our communities again, would be criminal.  There have been many studies, and only the results of these studies – the science, and not probabilities or opinions, should form the base for further regulation, after conducting the appropriate studies, following administrative procedures, and the law.

Miners are generally a solitary type, content to just be left alone, but there comes a time when attacked by special interests, environmental interests and government, that they will fight back. That time has come. They are taking action to protect their property and activity through the court.

James Foley
National Land Rights League




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