CA Supreme Court Bans Dredges for Mining Gold

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on August 22, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

This is bad news for gold miners who invested in expensive equipment designed to suck up tons of earth. Today, the California Supreme Court ruled that despite federal rules allowing citizens to mine for gold on federally owned land, state rules that ban certain mining practices trump those federal rules.

The case is still developing, but we continue to examine possible justifications for the courts' ruling.

Regulation of a Practice

While some consider placer mining for gold to be a fun summer past-time, gold is serious business for others. In the aptly named Golden State, a fair bit of placer gold of high purity has already been panned out of deposits in gold-rich streams. Since the Forty-Niners, some accounts claim that more than 750,000 pounds of gold were discovered (and carted out) of the state's waterways and stones. In a word, all the low-hanging fruit is long gone.

Plaintiffs: "Ban on Mining"

Many miners have invested in technology that allows them to reach deposits towards the middle of waterways -- where less determined persons fear to wade. The practice does yield results, but it requires the investment of capital.

From what we can tell, defenses' argument might actually be taking the route of consistency between federal and state law and that no "trumping" is actually taking place. Associate judge Kathryn Werdegar has commented that the federal rule allowing mining places no regulations on how mining is done and supports state regulations on mining practices.

The state also argues a state interest in protecting the environment and wildlife. The dredges violently suck earth from the bottom of river beds, disrupting habitats of animals that live within the waterways.

Plaintiffs argue that allowing the state to ban the use of river dredges effectively amounts to an unconstitutional ban on mining (conflict with federal law) because increased use of labor is prohibitively expensive and makes mining uneconomical.

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