It wasn't dredges which destroyed our rivers. Environmentalists and rafters let this happen.
My name is Darryl Dunn. I have lived by, on and under the American River since I was six years old. Exploring the river as a child I observed thousands of salmon spawning, and dying, among the mine tailings. Seagulls would arrive for the feast and leave their litter all over the place. People complained about the smell and the mess. They don't complain now about dead salmon
As a teenager I attended weekend parties on the upper American River where I first watched people dive for gold using a suction dredge. Nixon had recently taken America off the gold standard, and virtually overnight the price of gold doubled. The old elephant, long asleep, woke once again, and I found myself its newest admirer.
I studied the old maps, learned the history of where gold was found and built a six inch surface dredge, and set out to find a spot to dredge. I learned to operating a suction dredge while breathing underwater was a formidable challenge. I had to clear clog after clog. I dealt with equipment failures and the cold water made progress a miserable and sometimes impossible task. Add large boulders and its a wonder anyone attempts to reach bedrock. Undaunted I added a ten inch submersible dredge to the task. It still took three strong teenagers, eight weeks and two large dredges to move the 22 feet of overburden to reach the bedrock.
After two months of hard work I reached bedrock and found the bottom littered with 1800's trash with only a few small nuggets for my effort.
The gold fields of California are not exactly paradise. Dangerous roads, temperatures reaching over 100 degrees and then dropping into the fifties at night. Living in the river canyon I contended with ticks, fleas, mosquitos, wasps, scorpions, spiders, snakes, poison oak, mountain lions and thieves and felons. The only place I felt safe was underwater running my dredge.
Diving in the fresh water of a cool Sierra river is a sublime, intoxicating experience. Just like the NASA training tanks you experience a weightlessness where you are just floating in the water, hovering above the bedrock. You are able to glide thirty feet across the river bottom with little effort even though you're wearing fifty pounds of lead weights. Because of the more dense environment you can move boulders effortlessly you never thought of moving above water. You feel like a superman. It's no mystery why older people love it. It makes you feel strong and young again. The down side is you can easily drown. It adds some sport to it.
For the next two summers my bachelor friends and I dove to strike it rich. We never found much gold. College, girls, graduation and real jobs eventually came. We all eventually went our own ways. I continued living near the river taking long walks on Arden Bar. Back in 1980 there was life on the river. Little birds nested in the gravel, there were quail, pheasants, ground owls and squirrels. Beaver lived in the ponds left by the huge bucket line dredges. You could see schools of stripers hiding from the sun under the river bank. Few people visited, some saw the place as a blight, but I loved it.
The creation of the bike trail, then the rafting companies, changed everything. The bike trail provided people with easy access. Too easy, to parts of the river where before you had to work to get to. On Arden Bar tailings piles were bulldozed flat, sod rolled out, and a parking lot was created. Then the people came. The beaver's pond was filled and they built a toll booth for the pleasure of parking where the beavers used to play.
Rafting became so popular and rough, all alchoholic beverages were banned from the river. Sacramento's forgotten place had now become a party place and the area was trashed. Volunteers stepped in to clean it up but each year tons of garbage are removed in annual clean ups.
I now must pay to visit an area which was open and un-visited. I've stopped going to Arden Bar and I spend more time at Folsom Lake, which is still, kind of, a river.
The competing demands of career, family and friends and life goes on. Until one day I noticed something missing. For nearly ten years in the morning when I opened my front door to get the newspaper my dog would bolt between my legs to chase the noisy and quarrelsome magpies from the front lawn. A few years passed and the dog passed, and the magpies were no more.
Not just the magpies, but all the birds were gone. My neighbors confirmed for me the mapies and the birds started disappearing a few years ago. So what happened to the birds?
I remember in High School the birds were so noisy in the morning they would wake me up. I had to close my window if I wanted to sleep in. Now I found myself looking for a bird, any type of bird. I remembered the magpies would pick the silicon caulk from around the skylights in my home. When I replaced the caulk the bolder ones would steal the old caulk right from my hand. I had to place the old caulk immediately in a bag to keep them from eating it. I have no idea why they craved silicon caulk so much.
I have watched sparrows tearing at plastic straws and eating them. Apparently these birds are eating the refuse from our civilization with unknown effects.
In 1983 soda came in returnable 2 liter glass bottles. When I was a boy straws were made of paper. They would get soggy. Candy came in parchment, and milk came in glass or cardboard cartons. Now everything comes in, or is made of, plastic. Plastics have entered the environment in a massive way, and it has created the silent spring we all feared would arrive. It wasn't mercury, it wasn't DDT, it was your plastic.
I say to the EPA and the Food and Drug Administration, "Thanks for nothing." You allowed big energy to sell us products made from their waste slage as good and safe and you damned the environment. If anyone tries to stop Big Plastic from destorying the earth, they are politically and financially crushed. To the environmentalists - good luck saving the environment if you dare take on Big Plastic.
To the California Department of Fish and Wildlife: I just recently learned of the ban on suction dredges. I thought, if the most ecologically friendly, and clean, method of extracting gold from the environment is illegal, will looking for gold in California be a thing of the past? I think you're looking at the wrong people if your goal is to preserve wildlife.
I attended the March 29th public meeting in Sacramento curious to find what all this was about. I was shocked to see how old the attendees were. Are we the last of the Argonauts, are we the tail of the elephant? I listened to people complain how state law is locking their money in, or try to refute scientist's reports who were paid millions - by the State.
The nosie of a dredge engine doesn't disturb the birds. You already killed the birds, but anyone who spends time on the river knows you can't hear the sound of a dredge engine from around the next bend, certainly not beyond the next rapid, but you know this isn't about noise, don't you? I stayed at the meeting long enough to make a few comments, then went home.
It angered me to watch the process the State is using to strip all gold prospecting from citizens. It reminded me when the head of BLM locked up Shirt Tail Canyon, the richest canyon in the State, then sold it to his own family.
I decided I wanted to see my old dredging areas and wondered if things had changed since the 1980's. I wondered why the State would care about a handful of old dredgers out in the middle of nowhere. I drove to my old river access to only find NO PARKING signs along new access roads, and everywhere there were pay to park boxes. Down at the river a new road had been built to the top of Rucky Chucky Rapids. There was no safe access to the rapids in 1980. Now everyone has access. Why would we need to get to the rapids? Rafters.
I drove up to Oxbow Reservoir to see what had changed. Pay stations, bathrooms, more parking areas, raft launching areas, just eveything a raft company could want. If launched here rafts can float through the diversion tunnel at Horse Shoe Mine. Just like the American River, this area will soon be trashed.
I then drove to Mammoth Bar. Same thing, only worse. Raft removal areas, parking right on the bar, horse trails, pay boxes and a moto-cross track right next to the water all oily and black.
What hypocrisy. I am standing on the filthies bar I have ever seen yet you think it's our dredges which are the environmental threat.
Do you people at the Department of Fish and Game truly believe outlawing my dredge is going to save a single fish? In 1849 one hundred thousand desperate miners wing dammed the rivers and flipped them upside down. The fish survived.
From 1855 to 1888 over a billion cubic yards of gravel were washed down these rivers and the fish survived. After the anti-debris act of 1888 the drag lines and factory dredges flipped the rivers upside down again and the fish survived.
From 1942 to 1970 hundres of dams were built in California. Shasta, Englebright, Oroville, Folsom, Comanche, Pardee, New HOgan, Don Pedro, Lake McClure and many others. The fish did not survive.
Starved from above, and choked off from the sea the rivers and the environment are dying. Yet you blame my dredge. Without the rivers the fish perish, without the fish the land starves. Yet you blame my dredge.
My dredge didn't cause this problem, and banning my dredge won't solve the problem. You may want to look at Big Agriculture shipping water south and poisoning the water. Or Big Oil creating energy for an ever growing population.
After seeing the differential treatment of rafting companies and finding the rivers turned into mere theme parks I can't honestly believe this has anything to do with saving the environment.
There's something more going on here.
I believe you are simply using suction dredges to try to demonstrate you are doing something, however feeble it may be. It's just political cover to satisfy the environmentalists you are beholden to, and who don't seem to understand what the environment really is. You can't read about it in text books.
I believe this dredging ban is simply an opportunity to gain more control over California waters using enforcement to secure more funding and grow your agency even more. What agency doesn't want to grow?
California treats its mining history like a crazy uncles no one wants to talk about. Eureka may be the State motto, but I no longer believe it.