A 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling ordering the U.S. Forest Service to consult with wildlife agencies prior to granting Notices of Intent to weekend hobbyists using suction dredges to mine for gold in northern California was allowed to stand by the nation’s highest court Monday.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, The New 49’ers, Inc., et al. v. Karuk Tribe of California.
Environmental NGOs and the Karuk Indian tribe, which filed the original litigation to stop gold dredging in the Coho Salmon critical habitat in northern California called the original June decision an historic one.
While the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judge who wrote the dissenting opinion on the case–believed the 9th Circuit ruling has ramifications well beyond the weekend hobbyist miners who dredge for gold along the Klamath River.
The decision “effectively shuts down the entire suction dredge mining industry in the states within our jurisdiction,” wrote Circuit Judge Milan Smith, Jr., in June 1, 2012. These states include the mining states of Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Washington.
Prior to the 9th Circuit decision, informal Notices of Intent allowed low-impact mining projects to proceed within a few weeks on Forest Service lands. “In contrast ESA [Endangered Species Act] interagency consultation requires a formal biological assessment and conferences, and can delay projects for months or years,” Smith observed.
“Most miners affected by this decision will have neither the resources nor the patience to pursue a [ESA] consultation with their jobs and businesses that have invested in the equipment used in relevant mining activities will lose much of their value.”
“The majority’s opinion effectively forces these people to await the lengthy and costly ESA consultant process if they want to pursue their mining activities, or simply ignore the process, at their peril,” Smith argued.
The Karuk Tribe originally filed the lawsuit in 2004 against the U.S. Forest Serivce in an Oakland, California, federal court. The New 49’ers, a group of weekend mining hobbyists with gold mining claims along the Klamath River in the Happy Camp mining district, intervened as a defendant in the original litigation, and, subsequently, appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Environmental attorney Roger Flynn, director of the Western Mining Action Project, who represented the tribe, stated in June 2012 that the Karuk Tribe of California v. USFS decision “sets a major precendent across western states.”
“The government and miners had argued that the archaic 1872 Mining Law…overrides environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act,” he said, stressing that the 9th Circuit Court opinion “re-affirmed this guiding principle of federal public land management.”