US Supreme Court Keeps in Place a Moratorium on Recreational Suction Dredge Mining; Karuk Tribe Pleased

Press release from the Karuk Tribe:

The U.S. Supreme Court [yesterday] rejected a request from recreational gold miners to overturn a California Supreme Court decision upholding a statewide moratorium on recreational suction dredge mining.

The court’s rejection of the request, effectively upholding California’s role in regulating small-scale gold mining, is an important victory for fish, water quality and tribal cultural sites.

“Suction dredge mining is a continuation of the genocidal legacy of goldminers that started over 150 years ago,” said Leaf Hillman, the Karuk tribe’s director of natural resources. “We pressed California to develop stronger protections for our fish, water and cultural sites only to have mining groups sue. Now the courts have clarified California’s authority to regulate this destructive hobby.”

Suction dredge mining typically uses gas- or diesel-powered machines to vacuum up gravel and sand from streams and river bottoms in search of gold. It threatens important cultural resources and sensitive wildlife species, and the California Native American Heritage Commission has condemned its threats to irreplaceable tribal and archeological resources.

Suction dredge mining pollutes waterways with mercury and sediment and destroys sensitive habitat for important and imperiled wildlife, including salmon and steelhead, California red-legged frogs and sensitive migratory songbirds.

“Suction dredge mining recklessly tears up rivers, threatens our waterways and harms imperiled salmon,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “In this time of drought and climate change, we can’t afford to have California’s waterways trashed by a small but vocal group of hobby miners.”

In 2016 the California Supreme Court upheld a statewide moratorium on recreational suction dredge mining for gold and validated mining regulations that protect water supplies, fisheries, wildlife and cultural resources. Suction dredge miners have repeatedly asked the courts to prevent the California Department of Fish and Wildlife from enforcing the current moratorium on suction dredge mining. The moratorium, in place since 2009, is designed to prevent mercury pollution and damage to wildlife, waterways and cultural resources until protective rules are adopted.

Dissatisfied by the California Court’s decisions, suction dredger Brandon Rinehart, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging California’s authority to regulate an activity the miners believe should be governed by federal law. With today’s ruling the California decision stands.

The harm done by suction dredging is well documented by scientists and government agencies. It harms state water supplies by re-suspending toxic mercury, sediment and heavy metals. The State Water Resources Control Board and Environmental Protection Agency urged an end to suction dredge mining because of its significant impacts on water quality and wildlife from mercury pollution.

A coalition of tribal, conservation and fisheries groups have been seeking to improve and uphold California’s laws regulating suction dredge mining. This coalition includes the Center for Biological Diversity, the Karuk tribe, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Friends of the River, The Sierra Fund, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Foothills Anglers Association, North Fork American River Alliance, Upper American River Foundation, Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, Environmental Law Foundation and Klamath Riverkeeper. Members of the coalition are represented by Lynne Saxton of Saxton & Associates, a water-quality and toxics-enforcement law firm.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


The Karuk Tribe is the third-largest federally recognized Indian tribe in California. The Karuk have been in conflict with gold miners since 1850. Karuk territory is along the middle Klamath and Salmon rivers.



  • Look what they do on Gold Rush a wreck the whole environment in Alaska what’s the difference between there and here they can do whatever they want in Alaska

  • Well , i find it odd that fish do better in rivers and streams where the rocks and sand have been classified such as what happens during the dreging process, however while the dreging occures it is less ideal. The heavy metal posioning that is mentioned happens to be from old containiments and not something that is placed in the water or streams during or as a result of modern day dreging. Run off and sediments from activities around rivers and streams pose a far greater threat to fish than dredging. But hey whatever just as with most things today facts dont matter so much as social opionons

    • have you ever fished the Yuba where a lot of these rigs are active? very few fish. compare that to the middle fork feather where you can only hand snipe due to wild scenic protections. the fishing on the MFF is hard to explain, its that good. tons of mercury in both from historical recovery operations.

      • When the bottom is classified, the fish can spawn easier, less silt , the small and large stones are sorted and in general the water is clearer , this is after the dredging of course. When one studies how fish spawn and the surivibility of eggs it is clearly appearant that classified water bottoms is by far the best way to promote fish populations. The derdging could be preformed in times that best suite fish populations. IE during non run times before spawning, granted it would be a window of time per year but it could very well be the best for fish and water health. The problem is most people on either side want things to be all or nothing. Studies and planning could allow for both recational dredging and water /fish restoristation to happen on the same bodies of water. I think many of the problems come from distrust or outright unwillingness to permit activities that one group doesnt agree with , so facts get twisted and used in manors that arent fully true, but suite the purpose or view of one side while ignoring the other side of the same facts.

        • you dredge deep holes or shallow areas with vertical metamorphic formations that act as a trap. neither are spawning grounds. all the silt ends up somewhere down-stream of the discharge and all the gravel and cobbles end up in a pile below the rig to be redistributed during the next high flow. I have snorkeled these rivers extensively and the only positive benefit for the fish is the high concentration of insect larva in the discharge.

        • The clean rocks get covered with delicious algaes.smell good.powder prevents movement of produces dust.unnutritious (limited in ingrediants,elements)dust.powdered inland sea phytoplankton is the most nutritious dust.

  • Nobody wonders who funds the group who funds the bio group?


  • Better then the meth and mayhem legacy the natives are leaving for the last 50 years.

  • Dredges get in the way of the nylon gill nets the natives use to kill fish. Dredgers also find all the discarded sofas and microwaves and firewater containers the natives leave that have washed into the river. Like they really care….another way to mess with pale face.

  • Better then the meth and mayhem legacy the natives are leaving for the last 50 years. And if your response is that it was the white man that brought that stuff ,I use what every tribal member tells me : “we as natives have always used anything we find and adopt it to our culture. We are not just relegated to TeePee’s and clay pots.

    If you want me to envoke some spirit of the past , then live it , don’t use it as a tool to only get something you want. Natives seem to use the ancestors ways as minorities use the “minority card “

  • The holes that dredges make remove lead fishing weights,bullets and also mercury.They also provide cold water refugia for fish during times of drought, DREDGING IMPROVES FISH HABITAT.

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