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Suction dredge mining rejected on Clearwater’s North Fork

A federal administrative law judge has rejected plans for suction dredge mining along a prized cutthroat trout stream in northern Idaho, the Lewiston Tribune reports. Judge Robert Holt, with the U.S. Department of Interior, concluded that recreation opportunities like fishing and camping and the archaeological history along the North Fork of the Clearwater River trump the miners' quest to pull gold from streambed. In the last several years, at least 30 placer claims have been filed along a 30-mile stretch of the river that runs through the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. Click below for a full report from the Lewiston Tribune via the AP.


Judge nixes miner plans to dredge N. Idaho stream
  

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — A federal administrative law judge has put the brakes on plans by hobbyist miners to set up suction dredging operations along stretches of a prized cutthroat trout stream in northern Idaho.

Judge Robert Holt, with the U.S. Department of Interior, concluded that recreation opportunities like fishing and camping and the archaeological history along the North Fork of the Clearwater River trump the miners' quest to pull gold from streambed.

Holt also agreed that government lawyers made the case there is not enough evidence showing the river holds enough gold deposits to warrant exploration.

“Even if the claims could produce a profitable mine, full-scale placer mining would substantially interfere with other substantial recreational and cultural uses,” Holt wrote, according to a story published Tuesday in the Lewiston Tribune (http://bit.ly/11MeIsK).

In the last several years, at least 30 placer claims have been filed along a 30-mile stretch of the river that runs through the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. The river provides prime habitat to cutthroat trout and is a popular destination for anglers and campers willing to make the drive into Idaho's backcountry.

Concern over the mining claims peaked last summer when anglers and other visitors found signs posted at some of the river's undeveloped camp sites warning them not to interfere with private property or mining.

Forest administrators took up the a challenge to the claims and argued at a hearing before judge Holt in January that recreation and the need to protect Native American artifacts along the river outweigh the interests of miners seeking to scour and sift the streambed for gold flecks and other metals.

“We have mining on a lot of other tributaries to the North Fork and the North Fork of the Clearwater was an area that I felt should be more (for) fisheries and recreation as opposed to suction dredging, more of a quiet recreation,” said Kathy Rodriquez, the district forest ranger.

The decision comes at a time of heightened concern and efforts to regulate suction dredge mining. Earlier this year, lawmakers in Oregon and California sought to impose new restrictions on suction dredging. In April, the Environmental Protection Agency created a new permit and rules for recreational miners who dredge with intake nozzles 5-inches in diameter or less.

The agency also imposed a set of best practices and limits on how and where suction dredging can occur, including an outright closure on the Salmon River, main stems of the state's biggest rivers and waters passing through all tribal lands.

For miner Clark Callear, the decision by judge Holt means he should be reimbursed by the same government denying his right to work his mining claim.

“The Constitution requires if they are going to take away our private property, they have to pay just compensation and they did not do that and they are not going to do that,” said Callear, of Orofino. “They basically just took away our mineral rights.”

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Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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