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California lawmakers accused of acting like 'claim-jumpers'

California’s history includes one of the biggest gold rushes ever. Hundreds of thousands sought, and many made, their fortunes, with many profiting from selling food and shovels to miners rather than gold itself.

A surge of 300,000 people arrived by land and sea in seven years after the first gold flake, now held by the Smithsonian, was found at Sutter’s Mill in 1848.

Apparently, it’s a good thing it happened back then, before the state effectively banned many gold-mining operations, an action which now is the subject of a federal court case.

“California’s ban on suction-dredge mining frustrates federal policy and is preempted by federal law,” said Pacific Legal Foundation lawyer Jonathan Wood.

“For nearly a century and a half, federal law has encouraged enterprising Americans to discover and mine for gold on federal land. Prospectors have a right to stake out mining claims on federal land, and they have a right to work their claims. And states have the authority to impose reasonable regulations on mining,” Pacific Legal said.

“But California lawmakers have acted like claim-jumpers, banning mining regardless of whether the particular mining has any impacts or can be mitigated, rather than regulating it. As our challenge argues, the state is acting unlawfully.”

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The issue is the suction dredges that many miners use to search for gold.

In California, the legal team explained suction dredge mining “is the only commercially practicable means of working streambed claims.”

“A suction dredge is essentially a vacuum with a lawnmower-sized motorized suction hose that draws sediment from the streambed, runs it through a sluice box to collect valuable minerals, and then returns the remaining sediment back to the stream from which it came.”

The process has been used for decades, the legal team said.

But in 2009, state lawmakers banned it.

They fretted about a possible impact on fish, and although the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said the problem could be handled with revised rules, “the legislature has dragged its feet in giving the agency the authority to do so. All the while, the outright ban has remained in place and there is no end in sight.”

See the legal team’s concerns:

But in the U.S., states are not allowed to create an insurmountable obstacle for legal actions under federal law, and the national Mining Law of 1872 declares federal lands are “free and open” to mining.

A case was brought in federal court on behalf of Brandon Rinehart, a California miner who was prosecuted as a criminal for engaging in mining on federal land.

“This case is not about whether the state can regulate suction-dredge mining,” said Wood. “It’s about whether the state can simply prohibit suction-dredge mining rather than regulating it. It can’t. Federal mining law is designed to promote resource development by encouraging mining on federal lands. California’s prohibition on suction-dredge mining contradicts that federal law by denying miners the ability to work streambed claims, without regard to whether the mining has any adverse impacts or, if so, whether those impacts can be mitigated. Therefore, California’s ban is unlawful and preempted.”

The legal dispute now is at the point of being submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court, where earlier rulings affirmed the right to mine.

“The Supreme Court should take this case because the core principle is clear: The state has no authority to undermine Congress’ choice to encourage mining on federal lands,” Wood continued. “While California may regulate mining’s environmental impacts, it may not simply prohibit mining in lieu of regulating it.”

Rinehart holds a federal mining claim in Plumas National Forest and was cited for using his own property.

The question being posed is whether the California Supreme Court, in contradiction to rulings from the 8th Circuit, the Federal Circuit and the Colorado Supreme Court, was mistaken when it permitted a blanket state ban.

The question presented is whether “states, in lieu of regulating, can simply forbid federally encouraged activities on federal lands.”

“Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare Is Becoming Our Reality” chronicles how America has arrived at the point of being a de facto police state, and what led to an out-of-control government that increasingly ignores the Constitution. Order today!