The sun sets on California gold miners

With the huge rise in the price of gold, mining was poised to become a significant contributor to an economy desperate for help when the two year ban on suction dredge mining ended later this year. Now most miners expect this type of mining by individuals is over for good. But make no mistake, plans to mine the rivers are underway and have been for some time.

Sunset over the river, by Albert Bierstadt

According to the web site of the Sierra Fund, an environmental organization heavily involved in cleaning California’s rivers, in 1853 alone 93 tons or 2.7 million troy ounces of gold were mined, at today’s gold prices that comes to over four billion dollars. While that amount of gold is not likely to be found in California again anytime soon there is still a tremendous amount of gold in the rivers that Sierra Fund plans to clean of mercury pollution, and which they can do only by use of a suction dredge, the same equipment banned for use by gold miners. The Sierra Fund says it has engaged regional indigenous tribes; health clinics; consultants; watershed and conservation groups; and local, state, and federal government land management technical staff and regulators, and worked with scientists, professors, and doctors to provide it’s Initiative with an underpinning of science and clinical observation. Gold miners, the very people with hands on knowledge of the rivers and their problems, were noticeably not mentioned in the report as having been consulted.

Gold rush justice

To effectively eliminate mercury the rivers will have to be scoured from high in the mountains to as close as possible to San Francisco Bay. While the Sierra Fund’s plans include using contributions from generous donors as well as your tax dollars to finance this clean up they do not spell out what they intend to do with the millions of dollars in gold they recover. And a huge amount of gold will be recovered. Perhaps the Sierra Fund intends on tossing that gold back into the rivers, much like a conscientious fisherman, so that the rightful owners can recover it later from a beautiful, clean, healthy stream. But that seems doubtful.

Near the end of their report the Sierra Funds states that ‘The Gold Rush was a huge giveaway of public or indigenous resources to private profiteers, a mass production of long term poverty disguised as a carnival of riches . . .a form of enterprise . . .in which nature and the public domain could be squandered for private gain, in which the many were impoverished so that a few could be enriched.’ They go on to add, ‘The nation owes the gold fields of California, the people displaced from them, and the people who live on the pollution left behind its support in cleaning up gold mining’s toxic legacy.’ Do they then plan on taking the gold in California’s rivers away from the legal, and rightful owners, the claim holders and property owners, and then redistribute it to people of their choosing, people they alone have deemed worthy? And do they plan on doing this without the consent of the voters of California? It sure sounds that way.

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