The Last Undammed River in California

(US Fish & Wildlife Service photo)

This is the Cosumnes River, the last undammed river flowing down the western flank of the Sierra Nevada Mountains into California’s Central Valley. It is being ripped to shreds by unlawful gold and gravel mining, risking one of the valley’s few healthy runs of chinook salmon.

“Healthy,” however, is a relative term. The population of wild, fall-run chinook salmon in the Cosumnes River near Sacramento has dropped by half in recent decades as illegal mining grew and grew along its banks. Most of the Central Valley’s other salmon runs are in far worse shape.

California could lose not only the salmon to the illegal mining, but a source of clean water and recreation for generations.

In the Cosumnes, miner Joseph Hardesty never met an environmental law he wouldn’t defy. For this, he has won the unsolicited admiration of Tea Party sympathizers everywhere.

He now faces 23 counts of breaking a wide variety of environmental laws. and faces trial in El Dorado County in June along with business partner Rick Churches.

(Originally published in the Sacramento News & Review in May 2011).

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