Gold Prospecting: Dredging, Mining and Panning
Please Note: The State of California has passed SB 670 which prohibits the use of vacuum or other suction dredging equipment for instream mining in any California river, stream or lake effective August 6, 2009.
This moratorium will remain in effect until the Department of Fish and Game completes an environmental review of its dredging permitting program and revises its regulations.
BLM will not issue recreational use permits for suction dredging until this moratorium is lifted.
Additional information can be found at www.dfg.ca.gov
If and when the SB 670 moratorium is lifted, opportunities exist for recreational dredging on lands administered by the Mother Lode Field Office which are excluded from mining claims. This type of gold prospecting is usually done by people without mining claims, who dredge for the sheer enjoyment of it. This is more of a recreational activity rather than a commercial enterprise. The Mother Lode Field Office's concept is to provide areas to dredge, set some reasonable rules, and minimize conflicts with other resource users and mining claimants.
Those who wish to use a suction dredge need to contact the Mother Lode Field Office before they go out on the rivers. Permits are required by both the State of California and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The State Department of Fish and Game (DFG) issues the state permits. BLM permits are issued out of the Mother Lode Field Office. BLM permits are not issued by mail, they must be picked up in person by the individual who will be doing the actual dredging. Permits will be issued starting May 15th for the Yuba and after June 15th or spring runoff for the Merced River.
Much of the public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management's Mother Lode Field Office is open for the filing of mining claims under the Mining Law of 1872. Under the Mining Law, the claim holder has exclusive rights to valuable minerals which may be found on the claim. Currently there are roughly 5,000 mining claims on the public lands administered by the Mother Lode Field Office.
Persons who wish to stake a mining claim should contact the BLM State Office in Sacramento to find out if a site is already claimed or not. The BLM must be notified prior to the use of mechanized equipment on a claim. Mining claims may not be filed for the purpose of living on public land.
California State Office Mineral Resources Homepage
Because of the Mother Lode Region's history as a gold-producing area, there is high public interest in casually looking for a gold nugget or two. Unfortunately, the most promising public lands are already under claim and cannot be worked without the claim holder's permission.
There are areas within the jurisdiction of the Mother Lode Field Office, however, that are available for casual prospecting: the South Yuba River, the lower Merced River and the South Fork of the American River. Gold seekers can try their luck in these areas.