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Klamath River gold-mining permits violated law, court rules

June 1, 2012 | 12:53 pm

Gold mining on the Klamath River.

The U.S. Forest Service violated federal endangered-species protections by approving gold mining along Northern California's Klamath River without first consulting wildlife agencies, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The 7-4 ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Karuk tribe, which depends on coho salmon, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The tribe challenged the Forest Service's approval of suction dredge gold mining along the river, arguing that it was harming coho salmon.

Judge William A. Fletcher, writing for the majority, said federal law required the Forest Service to consult wildlife agencies before approving activity that could affect a species protected by federal law.

Judge Milan D. Smith Jr., dissenting, said the majority's decision would reduce jobs in the region and effectively end dredge mining on the river.

California, he said, issued about 3,500 permits for such mining in 2008, and 18% of those miners received a significant portion of their income from dredging.

"By rendering the Forest Service impotent to meaningfully address low-impact mining, the majority effectively shuts down the entire suction dredge mining industry in the states within our jurisdiction," Smith wrote.

Miners, he added, "will simply give up, and curse the 9th Circuit."

California, in response to a state lawsuit, has already imposed a moratorium on suction dredge mining. But the 9th Circuit noted that the state ban was temporary and failed to prohibit other kinds of mining at issue in the case.

As recently as December, the Forest Service approved mining activities in coho salmon habitat along the Klamath without consulting wildlife experts, the 9th Circuit said.


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Photo: Gold mining on the Klamath River. Credit: Shaun Walker / Associated Press