Last week, April 20-21, over 200 experts in their field came together at California State University, Sacramento, to address the issue of the ongoing impacts from legacy mines in California.
This bi-annual conference, presented by nonprofit organization The Sierra Fund (TSF) of Nevada City, was attended by local, State, and Federal level agencies, technical experts, scientists, universities, non-profits, watershed groups, tribal entities, political representatives, and lay people.
“There is a growing recognition that California’s abandoned mines need to be addressed from multiple angles,” said The Sierra Fund CEO, Elizabeth Martin, “so TSF’s 2015 conference program featured tracks focusing on both technical and policy issues.”
Proceedings of Reclaiming the Sierra 2015 will be posted on the conference website www.reclaimingthesierra.org including most of the event’s presentations (pending speakers’ permission), videos of select presentations, student posters, notes on each session, and more. Additionally, some photos are available here.
Presentations and panels were composed of representatives from a wide variety of agencies and organizations including: Department of Conservation Abandoned Mine Lands Program and Office of Mine Reclamation, Department of Water Resources, Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, United States Geological Survey, Earthworks, Center for Science in Public Participation, McCord Environmental, Nevada Irrigation District, Teichert Materials, California Indian Environmental Alliance, Fair Mining Collaborative, Fair Jewelry Action, Ethical Metalsmiths, Sierra Nevada Conservancy, Tuleyome, Senate Natural Resources Committee, San Juan Ridge Taxpayers Association, South Yuba River Citizens League, California League of Conservation Voters, Resources Agency, The Sierra Fund and others. Conference participants included students from CSU Chico Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, who presented posters on their mining-related research during Tuesday’s program.
The opening conference program on Monday, April 20, featured a fun and innovative talk-show styled panel of keynotes hosted by The Sierra Fund CEO Elizabeth Martin. Keynote panelists included Greg Valerio, Marie Barry, Frances Spivy-Weber, Vice Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, and Mark Nechodom, Ph.D., Director of the California Department of Conservation.
Keynote speaker and international gold advocate Greg Valerio reminded the crowd that the destructive practices we associate with the heyday of California’s Gold Rush are still being used today in third world countries around the world. Valerio put the impacts of gold mining in a larger context, and encouraged conference goers to approach the issue from a position of integrity. His perspective was complemented by that of Biologist Marie Barry, who worked with the Washoe Tribe on assessment and remediation of the massive Leviathan Mine in Alpine County, a Superfund site. Barry suggested looking to the fish for solutions, explaining that for thousands of years the native people of California survived because of access to fish as a food staple. Now, populations of indigenous fish species have dwindled, and many struggle in watersheds impacted by mining related heavy metals, mercury, and sediment. Throughout the event, Mark Nechodom, Ph.D., Director of the Department of Conservation, challenged the group to not just envision solutions, but to envision solutions that add value to the California landscape.
The second day of conference proceedings began with Gary Parsons, who sits on The Sierra Fund Board of Directors. Parsons encouraged the audience to envision a reclaimed Sierra region, with clean water and willow-secured river banks. His keynote was complemented by an articulate presentation by Michael Singer, Ph.D. of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, followed by Toby Minear, Ph.D., of USGS. Following the conference opening plenary session, participants had their choice of 12 breakout workshops to attend over the course of the day, focusing on topics as diverse as technical presentations on best available techniques for cleaning up mine-impacted lands, to challenges and opportunities associated with Proposition 1 (Water Bond) funding for legacy mine cleanup.
Conference attendees who participated in last Monday’s boat tour of the Yuba Goldfields had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of Parsons’ vision during a stop at a restoration site undertaken by the South Yuba River Citizens League in an effort to restore characteristic floodplain habitat to a portion on the Yuba dramatically altered by hydraulic debris that washed downstream during legacy operations. Conference attendees on the day’s other tour offering, the Gold Country Mines Tour, visited the source of significant amounts of debris, Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, where they heard presentations by Carrie Monohan, Ph.D., Science Director of The Sierra Fund and Charles Alpers, Ph.D., of United States Geological Survey.
The conference closed in a ballroom abuzz with inspired conversations among attendees, and a presentation awards. The Sierra Fund’s Sierra Crest awards are presented to an organization, an agency, and an individual demonstrating exceptional leadership and initiative in their work to address the impacts of historic mining in California. This year’s awards were presented to the Geological and Environmental Sciences Department at California State University Chico; the Abandoned Mine Lands Program at Department of Conservation, and Stephen McCord, Ph.D., of McCord Environmental.
Additionally as part of the Tuesday evening closing reception and awards ceremony, first, second and third place winners were announced for the Student Poster Session, and presented with cash prizes. Kathleen Berry-Garrett of CSU Chico took first place for her poster titled “Soil Quality and Health at Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park; A comparative study to characterize soil conditions;” Alexandria Keeble-Toll of CSU Chico took second place for her poster titled “Methylmercury in fish of the American and Bear Watersheds: Tissue analysis and strategies for minimizing health risks;” and Genevieve Sparks of CSU Sacramento took third place with her poster titled “Mercury and Methylmercuy related to historical mercury mining in three tributaries to Lake Berryessa, Putah Creek Watershed, California.”
The Sierra Fund wishes to thank everyone who made Reclaiming the Sierra 2015 such a success, including Gold and Silver level sponsors of the event Department of Conservation, Sierra Nevada Conservancy, CSU Chico Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Flower Essence Services, and the South Yuba River Citizens League.