Mining Program

Restoring abandoned mine lands and watchdogging mining to protect public health and ecosystems

Legacy Mining and Current Mining Can Present Environmental Health Threats for Sierra Communities

Thousands of abandoned mines continue to harm the people and places of the Sierra Nevada.  The California Gold Rush left thousands of abandoned mines that continue to present physical and chemical hazards that impact forest health, water quality, and community safety. These sites present chemical hazards such as mercury, lead, arsenic, and asbestos which were used or exposed as part of the mining process.

In addition, new mining, if improperly planned and poorly regulated, can present hazards to communities. In particular, a new boom for “transition minerals” to support the clean energy transition is occurring. The Sierra Fund solidly supports electrification to combat climate change and wants to ensure we keep the “clean” attached to this energy revolution.

historic photograph of monitors being used to erode the mountainside in a pit at Malakoff Diggins

Leading Restoration of Abandoned Hydraulic Mine Sites

The process of hydraulic mining for gold extraction power washed away top soils in current and ancient stream beds and used mercury as a bonding agent at the mine sites. These sites continue to contribute large amounts of sediment runoff into nearby creeks and rivers during storm events. Testing has indicated mercury continues to migrate off these sites into downstream waters. The Sierra Fund researched and developed an innovative process and approach to restore these sites using biochar that not only reduces sediment and mercury runoff, but also reduces wildfire risk and restores health to the ecosystem. Now we are working to expand our innovative work and increase the pace and scale of abandoned mine restoration in the Sierra Nevada.

Blue Point Mine

Advancing Brownfields Remediation

Many rural Sierra counties and towns have abandoned hard rock mining sites which, if left untouched, cannot be safely used or accessed by their communities. These community sites are called brownfields. When properly remediated (cleaned up), these sites can be reused as parking lots, parks, and even developed for other commercial or residential uses. The Sierra Fund has been working to link city and county officials responsible for cleaning up these sites to funding and other resources to support increasing the pace and scale of clean-up.

person placing soil sample into a plastic bag

Watchdogging State Mining Regulatory Actions and a Potential Transition Mineral Mining Threat to the Sierra

The Sierra Fund monitors a myriad of dispersed California and county agencies and departments to enforce and improve state mining regulations that protect public health and communities of the Sierra. We work to ensure that a moratorium on suction dredge mining which we won in the legislature continues and that the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act we legislatively improved is enforced. That legislation also covers exploring potential future mining in the Sierra for transition minerals used to support electrification.

The Sierra Fund’s innovation in hydraulic mine restoration, support of brownfields remediation, and watchdogging of mine regulation have positive implications for our health and environment from the Sierra to the sea!”

Joan Clayburgh
Executive Director, The Sierra Fund