This editorial appeared in The Sacramento Bee.
The California Department of Fish and Game said "no" to fish this week and "yes" to gold miners. Even though experts within DFG have said that suction dredge gold mining is having "deleterious effects on fish," including endangered coho salmon, the department declined to further restrict gold miners who use giant dredges to vacuum up rock and sand from creek and river bottoms, likely killing fish in the process.
In a petition to the state, the Karuk Indian Tribe and several environmental organizations had asked the department to curtail dredging on sensitive stretches of waterway. The department said it could not act until it completed a court-ordered review of the issue. But DFG was supposed to complete that review last July. It hasn't even begun.
Meanwhile, so serious is the decline of salmon that federal regulators banned fishing off the coasts of California and Oregon last year. State officials say the mining restriction requested by the Karuks would do nothing to address ocean conditions, which are suspected to be the main cause of the decline. Suction dredge gold miners insist that global warming and dams are the culprits and that their mining operations actually improve fish habitat.
No doubt global warming, dams, logging, pesticides and other human activities kill fish and destroy habitat, but the bulk of the science strongly suggests that suction dredge mining harms fish, too.
As salmon populations dwindle, the state agency charged with protecting them protects gold miners instead.
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