Department of Fish and Wildlife Issues Emergency Rule on Suction Dredge Mining

SACRAMENTO – The California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced June 7 that it proposed to issue an emergency rule closing a loophole in the present moratorium on suction dredge mining.

While the moratorium on suction dredge mining has remained in place, TSF and other organizations have noted that individuals have exploited the strict regulatory definition of what constitutes a “suction dredge” to continue mining in a manner that is hazardous to the environment.

Under current California regulatory code, in order to be covered by the moratorium, a “suction dredge” must consist of “all of the following components…operating together”: a hose, a motor, and a sluice box. Following the announcement of the moratorium, some suction dredge miners have simply removed the sluice boxes from their machines, thus avoiding the moratorium altogether and enabling them to continue stirring up toxic debris and threatening the fish that live in the rivers where they mine.

Once photographic evidence documenting the practice was submitted, DFW began work on language that would eliminate this loophole. Having now announced the language, DFW will accept public comment for five days following formal submission of the language in conformity with California administrative law.

The Sierra Fund has issued a press release and will submit public comments supporting the revised language, which makes the clear spirit of the regulation explicit. Suction dredge mining is highly hazardous to the health of rivers and the greater ecosystem. The use of a hose to vacuum debris has been proven to aggravate toxic material that is currently dormant in the sediment, releasing a plume of toxic sediment to be absorbed into the river ecosystem as it travels downstream.

Elizabeth Martin, CEO of The Sierra Fund, stated, “This Proposed Emergency Regulatory Action responds admirably to the threat of unpermitted, unregulated, and unacceptable suction dredge mining conducted in such a way as to evade the clear spirit of the moratorium on suction dredge mining. Moreover, the adaptation by miners to avoid the moratorium makes suction dredge mining even more dangerous for river systems by eliminating the container for hazardous materials like mercury in the mining process while not eliminating the use of hazardous materials or irresponsible practices.”

Public comments will be accepted as soon as the proposal is submitted on the DFW website. DFW has stated that will be “no sooner than” June 17. Once the proposal is posted on DFW’s website, the Office of Administrative Law must approve or reject the emergency language within ten days.

The order, along with all other DFW materials related to suction dredge mining, can be read in full at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/suctiondredge/.

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