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San Jose Mercury News, July 28, 2009

Moratorium on gold dredging permits in California
By Jeff Barnard, Associated Press Environmental Writer

The California Department of Fish and Game has stopped issuing permits for gold miners to use suction dredges in rivers until it develops new rules to protect salmon.

The moratorium announced Tuesday stems from an injunction out of Alameda County Superior Court barring the department from spending state general funds to issue the permits after it missed a June 2008 deadline to develop new rules protecting threatened and endangered salmon.

Department spokeswoman Kirsten Macintyre said that rulemaking process has now begun.

Meanwhile, a bill that would go even farther and stop suction dredge mining until a scientific review is conducted is awaiting the governor's signature.

The injunction stems from continuing efforts by the Karuk Tribe, salmon fishermen and conservationists to force Fish and Game to enforce regulations barring suction dredge mining where it harms fish.

"It is morally reprehensible and illegal for California Fish and Game to continue to use tax dollars to subsidize the destruction of our salmon fisheries, especially so in the midst of a budget crisis," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, which represents California salmon fishermen and was a plaintiff in the latest lawsuit.

Since 1994, state regulations have barred suction dredge mining unless it can be shown it does not harm fish. About 3,500 permits are issued each year.

A 2005 lawsuit from the Karuk tribe argued that the department was violating that regulation, and a judge ordered Fish and Game to conduct an environmental review and write new rules, if necessary, to protect fish listed as threatened or endangered by June 20, 2008. But it was not done.

Arguing there was no line item in their budget concerning the mining permits, the department did not stop issuing them after the injunction was originally issued July 10. The moratorium was imposed after Judge Frank Roesch told the department that the injunction covered any expenditure of state funds, including turning on the office lights, in conjunction with the permits.

Telephone calls and an e-mail to the New 49'ers gold mining club in Happy Camp, Calif., and a telephone call to their attorney in Portland, Ore., were not immediately returned.

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