California Fish and Game ordered to stop selling permits |

California Fish and Game ordered to stop selling permits

GRASS VALLEY, Calif. and#8212; The state Department of Fish and Game has suspended sales of all suction dredging permits, following an Alameda County Superior Court order that was reaffirmed Tuesday.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch previously had granted a preliminary injunction, creating a moratorium on the issuance of suction dredge mining permits in California. The moratorium will be in effect until a claim filed by taxpayers asserting that Californians’ tax dollars are being used to illegally subsidize suction dredge mining is resolved.

Tuesday, the court clarified that the July 9 order prohibits the state from expending general fund money, even indirectly, to issue suction dredge permits.

and#8220;The judge confirmed the order and gave the state a verbal reprimand for its attempt to find a loophole,and#8221; said Craig Tucker, the spokesman for the Karuk Indian tribe that was one of the principal litigants in the case.

Miners who already have a permit can continue using dredges and#8212; for now. SB 670, a bill sponsored by the Karuk tribe that passed a few weeks ago, will ban all dredging if it is signed in the next few days by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Statewide, 3,500 dredge permits are issued annually; about 200 people are estimated to mine the waterways and tributaries of Greenhorn Creek and the Yuba, Bear and American rivers.

Vacuum hoses used to suck up heavy metals from the bottom of rivers have the potential to release harmful mercury left behind in the silt from early day miners, dredging opponents say. Suction dredge miners say their practices actually benefit the river and improve habitat for the fish and other organisms that live in it, by removing harmful mercury.

and#8220;My activity creates a salmon habitat,and#8221; said James Butler, 72, a Nevada County resident who said he has been trying to make a living by gold dredging on the Yuba River.

The argument that dredging stirs up mercury is erroneous, he said.

and#8220;Give me a break,and#8221; Butler said. and#8220;Mercury is heavy and it stays in the gravel. You can’t stir it up, it’s not like silt.and#8221;

In 2005, the Karuk tribe sued Fish and Game for allowing the practice of suction dredge mining to occur in areas known to be critical habitat for endangered and at-risk species such as Coho salmon, Pacific lamprey and green sturgeon. The suit ended in a court order in 2006 directing Fish and Game to conduct a CEQA environmental impacts review and amend its regulations by June 20, 2008. Fish and Game has yet to even initiate this process, Tucker said.

and#8220;There are two ways we are trying to get at the issue of dredging,and#8221; he said. and#8220;Litigation and legislation.and#8221;

The court-ordered moratorium on selling dredge permits is different from the provisions of SB 670, which is sitting on the governor’s desk. A decision to sign or veto the bill is expected within the next 10 days, Tucker said. If the bill is signed into law, it will invalidate all dredge permits until Fish and Game completes the mandated EIR.

That review is not expected to be complete until summer 2011, said department spokeswoman Kirstin Macintyre.

and#8220;It’s a very lengthy process,and#8221; she said. and#8220;The bibliography alone is 200 pages. It’s going to take a very long time to get through that.and#8221;

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