Recreational gold mining using suction dredges along Northern California's Klamath River must be reviewed by federal wildlife officials if threatened coho salmon might be harmed, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
The 7-4 ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the U.S. Forest Service violated federal endangered species protections by approving the mining practice along the Klamath without consulting wildlife officials. The Klamath starts in southeastern Oregon and empties into the Pacific Ocean about 40 miles south of the California-Oregon border.
Friday's decision, which overturned rulings by a district court and a three-judge appeals' panel, came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Karuk Tribe. The Northern California tribe challenged the Forest Service's 2004 approval of suction dredge mining, contending it harmed coho salmon, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Suction dredges pump sand and gravel from riverbeds, which environmentalists say clouds rivers and disturbs habitat and spawning of trout and salmon.
Judge William A. Fletcher, writing for the majority, said federal law required the Forest Service to consult wildlife agencies before approving activity that might harm an imperiled species. The required review will delay approval for mining operations in endangered species habitat in the circuit's nine states.