California Fish and Game Struggles to Rewrite Dredging Rules

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"It's gold vs. golden trout in the state's historically gold-rich rivers."

It's gold vs. golden trout.

And gold vs. coho salmon and Shasta crayfish.

The California Department of Fish and Game is wrestling—under court order—with a new set of rules to control suction dredge mining in the state's rivers and streams.

Officials must take into account the health of aquatic species and aim to approve new rules by November.

It's a tough task.

Dredge miners—several thousand individuals and hobby clubs—are angry about a moratorium in effect since 2009, and anxious to get back in the rivers now that gold is hitting $1,500 an ounce.

Many of the most popular areas are in the Mother Lode outside Sacramento. A survey of California miners listed Placer, El Dorado and Sierra as three of the top five dredging counties.

Environmental and fishing groups, however, worry that too many miners will be on too many rivers with too little supervision, endangering the species that Fish and Game is charged with protecting.

Some think it's possible to have environmentally responsible dredge mining, while others want to eliminate it.

"Hobby mining that destroys our wildlife and waterways should be left in the dustbin of history," said Jonathan Evans, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco.

California's history, of course, is wrapped up in gold.

And there's some left.

Michael Dunn, who opened Gold Pan California in Concord to make and sell mining equipment in 2008, said it's not unusual for an experienced dredge miner to pick up $300 worth of gold in a weekend.

Except that no mining is now going on in California. It stopped in 2009, when the Legislature passed a moratorium on dredging.

Fish and Game was already forced by court order to stop issuing permits in a lawsuit brought by a Klamath River tribe.

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