Monday, March 16, 2009

Karuk Tribe Vows to Protect Traditional Fishing Grounds on Klamath River from Recreational Miners

Klamath Tribe battles ‘recreational genocide’

Native American Times

March 16, 2009

BOZEMAN, Mont. – Over the past many months, new threats to the Klamath River salmon populations have prompted decisive action by the Karuk Tribe in California. Leaf Hillman, Vice-Chairman for the Tribe, told Native American Times in an interview this week that the recent attacks upon their ancestral fishing grounds are, “Nothing more than Recreational Genocide.”

Dams, drought, developmental expansion and environmental contaminations have plagued the local rivers and experts have said that California may be faced with the worst fisheries collapse in history.

In 2008, the Karuk Tribe, California Trout, and Friends of the North Fork formally petitioned California Fish and Game to restrict suction dredge mining. This controversial gold mining technique has brought strong criticism from local groups who demand that state agencies limit the recreational mining technique.

The Karuk, aided by support from the Tsi-Akim Maidu Tribe, the Sierra Fund, various sport-fishing groups, and several other conservation organizations are fighting to protect the endangered fish populations. Despite strong opposition by all of these groups, the agency decided not to act on the petition, allowing the recreational mining to continue.

As a result of the Karuk Tribe filing a lawsuit in 2006, the Fish and Game department is under a court order to re-write mining permit rules statewide. Due to extreme budget constraints in California, however, the agency has yet to act on the new mining rule mandate.

Recently, a recreational gold mining club, referring to themselves as, “The New 49ers,” legally challenged the Karuk Tribe’s right to fish at their ancestral fishing area, Ishi Pishi Falls. The hobbyist miners contend that this violation of the California state constitution, allows the Tribe to kill far more salmon than gold mining and other activities combined and that the commission has illegally granted fishing privileges to a specific group of people, specifically, the Karuks.

Dr. Craig Tucker, spokesman for the Karuk, told Native American Times, “Depending on how far the mining groups want to challenge the ancestral fishing rights, the tribe may seek federal fishing rights as a remedy. In the meantime, we are asking the Department of Fish and Game Director, Don Koch, to immediately implement emergency restrictions on where and when suction dredging can take place. This same authority is used to restrict recreational and commercial fishing when the fish runs are low.”

The groups banding together to protect the fish species in the Klamath River are battling against a mining process called “suction dredging.” These dredges, powered by gas or diesel engines, use powerful vacuum hoses to pull the gravel and sediment from the bottom of riverbeds. This sediment material passes through a sluice box and allows the heavier gold particles to settle into a series of riffles. After the gold is removed, the balance of the dredged material is often dumped back into the river.

This dredging technique is known to redistribute toxic mercury into the environment. As stated in earlier press reports, Izzy Martin, Director of the Sierra Fund, explained, “There is a lot of mercury settled on the bottom of these rivers as the result of gold mining operations in the 1800’s. Dredging reintroduces mercury to the stream creating a toxic hazard for fish and people.”

Mercury contamination has become a global concern as it applies to fish species in that testing has revealed increasingly high levels of mercury in fish populations that may be harmful when consumed. Exposure to mercury can lead to mental retardation, birth defects and neurological damage.

Suction dredging has come increasingly under attack as declining numbers of fish species such as steelhead, Coho salmon, green sturgeon, and lamprey are reported. Damage to the spawning grounds for the fish and the environmental impacts to critical river habitats are drawing the varied groups, including the Karuk Tribe, to take strong action to stop recreational mining.

“Dredging disturbs spawning gravels and kills salmon eggs and immature lamprey that reside in the gravel for up to seven years before maturing. In a system like the Klamath where salmon can be stressed due to poor water quality, having a dredge running in the middle of the stream affects the fishes ability to reach their spawning grounds,” explained Toz Soto, lead fisheries biologist for the Karuk Tribe, in previous press reports.

California Fish and Game manages suction dredge permits and opponents to this type of mining state that the CFG sustains a significant financial loss since the mining fees fail to cover expenses. Figures given by these groups explain that this amounts to spending $1.25 million per year to subsidize the destruction of California fisheries by gold mining hobbyists.

Many of the recreational miners come into California from other states because the mining laws are less restrictive there.

The Karuk Tribe, indigenous to the Klamath River region, states that the threat to them is greater than ever. Vice-Chairman Hillman told Native American Times, “The first gold rush killed more than half our people in 10 years. This modern gold rush continues to kill our fish and our culture.”

Hillman added, “The salmon populations have been effected in so many ways from dams on the rivers to environmental damage and mining. As it is now, we cannot harvest enough fish for our ceremonies or to meet our families’ food needs. The recreational gold miners are just a repeat of what began over 100 years ago.”

Though the Karuk Tribe does harvest salmon for food and ceremonial use only, the Tribe rarely harvests more than 200 fish. Since the population of the Tribe is approximately 4,200 members, the amount of fish taken from Ishi Pishi Falls doesn’t begin to meet the needs of their members. With recent drought warnings across California being issued, the Karuk fear that the salmon numbers will be far less given the stresses all ready upon the fish.

In response to the newest attacks from the recreational gold miners, The New 49-ers, Leaf Hillman stated, “Our fishing grounds have been used by the Karuk long before this land was called ‘America.’ We still use traditional dip nets to fish for the migrating salmon and our way of catching them allows us to release the more endangered species back into the river so that their populations can increase.”

Vice Chairman Hillman concluded by telling Native American Times, “We will not be removed from our traditional fishing grounds in favor of these miners. Harvesting and consuming salmon is a fundamental part of our Karuk culture. The recreational miners now threaten more than the survival of fish, they threaten the culture of the Karuk.”


Copyright © 2009 Native American Times

Native Rights News is making this material from available in accordance with a Creative Commons License. This article is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Im new at gold panning ,after reading this I promise never to suction dredge.I dont believe in braking up rocks either it leaves the environment looking unnatural. I only hope more people will be as considerate.

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