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Tribe Seeks to Halt suction Dredging on Parts of the Klamath River

Dylan Darling
January 14, 2009

National Gold's Suction Dredge, Klamath River

An American Indian tribe from the Klamath River has petitioned the state to ban a popular form of recreational gold mining on parts of the river and many of its tributaries.

The Karuk Tribe — along with conservation groups California Trout, Friends of the North Fork and the Sierra Fund — filed the petition late last month, asking the California Department of Fish and Game to limit suction dredging for the sake of salmon.

“We are not trying to end gold mining or suction dredging, but we are saying, ‘Let’s not mine in the places that are most important to the fish,’ ” said Craig Tucker, spokesman for the Happy Camp-based tribe.

In the 11-page petition, the tribe asks for a ban on suction dredging where the creeks and other rivers flow into the Klamath. In suction dredging, miners use gasoline- or diesel-powered pumps to suck submerged gravel from the waterway and run it through a sluice box in search of gold.

The state has until Jan. 25 to respond to the request, which also includes some creeks in the Sierra Nevada, said Jordan Traverso, deputy director of the DFG’s office of communication.

“We are reviewing the complex petition from the tribe, and we have not taken a position on this at this time,” Traverso said.

While the tribe says suction dredging creates harmful conditions for salmon and steelhead by clouding the water with mud and stirs up mercury, those who do the dredging say it actually improves the river for the fish.

Silt Created by Suction Dredging

“The worst thing they could do is ban dredging on the Klamath because of the dams on the river,” said Dan Stamps, a Redding man who has been suction dredging for 28 years.

The dams hold back flood waters that normally would have flushed the river periodically, shuffling its gravel, he said. Through suction dredging, he said miners break up packed gravel and create spawning habitat.

As for the muddy water, Stamps said a strong rainstorm creates much cloudier water than suction dredging.

“Mother Nature puts more mud into the rivers than all the miners in California all year long,” Stamps said.

While dredging does bring up mercury — a heavy liquid metal left on bedrock below gravel bars from 19th century gold mining — Stamps said recreational miners are doing a good thing because they then haul it out.

“They don’t throw that mercury back into the creek,” Stamps said.

Reporter Dylan Darling can be reached at 225-8266 or ddarling@redding.com.