Supreme Court Denies New 49ers Petition to Hear California Dredge Case

Suction dredge miners were dealt a blow in their battle to reinstate the practice in California waters when, on March 18, the Supreme Court rejected a petition to overturn an earlier decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  

The Appeals Court ruling last June stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the Karuk Tribe in 2004 alleging that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) had violated the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) when the agency approved mining operations in ESA listed coho salmon habitat in the Klamath River watershed.

Recreational mining group, The New 49ers, filed the petition with the Supreme Court asking that they overturn the lower court decision, but the petition was denied. The Supreme Court’s denial of the petition lets stand the earlier appeals court decision and could set a precedent in battles between Endangered Species Act (ESA) laws and mining laws.

Beginning in 2003 and 2004, the forest service allowed suction dredging and related practices known as highbanking and power sluicing on more than 35 miles of the Klamath River and its tributaries. According to mining law, miners must file a Notice of Intent (NOI) with the USFS district ranger before mining. If the district ranger determines that the operations will likely “cause significant disturbance of surface resources,” the miner must submit a proposed plan of operations to the district ranger detailing the extent of their impact on the river. In this case, district rangers were approving mining operations by approving NOIs without requiring suction dredge operators to submit a plan of operations and without performing any formal ESA required review or public notice.

The agency argued that the NOIs exempted it from compliance with federal environmental and wildlife protection laws.

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