Suction Dredgers Release the McCracken

By Bob Ferris
"While some people are skeptical about the subject, the condition of “gold fever” really does exist. I know, because I have felt the heat and confusion on more than one occasion." Dave McCracken
Bob Suction Dredging
If there is truly such a thing such as “gold fever” in the West, Dave McCracken—or Dave Mack as he has self-styled himself—is the virus-infected-blanket of that disease. Part aspiring Indiana Jones and part cheerleader, Dave Mack is the leader of the New 49ers (as if the old 49ers did not do enough damage) and he has staked out a claim and is defending a business empire in a mysterious land that seems to naturally hover around the margins of legality and often stomps all over legal intent. He appears supremely comfortable in that Peter Pan land where the boys and girls of suction dredging can live and never grow up.  

If you think the above claim about the The New 49ers and Mr. McCracken living on the legal edge is an exaggeration then perform the following informative exercise: 
1) Read California Penal Code Section 320.5 relating to the operation of raffles.
2) Check the California Charitable Registry listings for The New 49ers or The New 49ers Legal Fund using the handy search function.
3) Do a Google search on the term “New 49ers Legal Fund” and see if you can find anything that resembles a raffle as well as evidence that the raffle was conducted on the internet or that funds from a California raffle might to be used in another state (Hint: you might look 1,2,3,4).
4) Re-read the penal code section, cook up some popcorn and tally your results while watching the above video. 


Suction Dredging Oregonian

Mr. McCracken sells gold dredges, teaches classes and runs a club that is part classroom and dredger indoctrination center involving a complicated scheme that puts gold club members and machines on claims and money in his pockets in ways that were never anticipated by the 1872 Mining Law.  While those who have plunked down up to $3500 to be life members of the New 49ers Club see this as about gold, McCracken himself characterizes it as a "progressive tourism program (with a gold mining theme)" in his on-line resume.  Ironically, he and his followers are overwhelmingly from the anti-government camp, yet are supremely dependent on federal lands, state waterways and natural resources that are owned by all of us for their existence.

Dave Mack also looks to be the go-to guy when mischief or high school prank-like advocacy is needed. I can almost imagine some sort of situation where the suction dredging leadership comes together and in times of desperation loudly proclaims: Release the McCracken.  
Suction Dredge No Sluice Drawing-1
They released the McCracken in early 2013 and unleashed it on the suction dredge moratorium that was passed in California in 2009. The result was that we saw the emergence of the suction dredge that was not a dredge because it was missing the sluice (see above and below illustrations). A petition and court action eventually took that loophole out of the law.
Suction Dredge No Sluice Drawing-2
This year they released the McCracken again and now we are seeing the introduction of the suction dredge that does not suck but blows. And even through the device developers may have earned themselves a place in the Worst Marketing Slogan Hall of Fame with the catch phrase “We used to suck and now we blow,” they clearly do not understand or are trying to actively mischaracterize the physics that makes all these dredges work. Suction dredges and this device too all work on the principle of creating a vacuum (i.e., suction) by forcing water up a hose and having other water–through the nozzle or this hopper arrangement–be pulled in to replace the displaced water.  

I am all for humor—like the poorly photo-shopped picture of me gold panning at the beginning of this piece—and an occasional harmless prank, but the suction dredgers and Dave McCracken have taken this to a level where the mischief causes harm, thumbs its nose at our nation's courts and legislatures, and costs taxpayers money. Moreover, there is something truly sophomoric about these actions that seem ultimately as destructive as the suction dredging itself. Why as a society are we in anyway tolerant of these behaviors?
And more importantly, why are we letting a small, but very vocal and pugnacious minority intimidate us into allowing them to materially impact rivers and waterways where we are investing millions in efforts to restore salmon species that benefit us all? This becomes increasingly questionable when we understand that we are letting this miniscule segment of the population tear up gravel bars and riffles in waterways that have been closed to fishing because their salmon populations are too vulnerable to allow that disturbance. (Please listen to campaign partners Kim McDonald and Kent Lufkin on the Open Fly Show, their part starts about minute 24.)  

These and other inappropriate behaviors–including the threats to those with opposing views–become increasingly relevant as we think about the future fate of the moratorium in California, consider adjustments to regulations in Oregon, and contemplate appropriate controls in Washington state.  Laws and regulations for those who have a history of obeying laws and behaving civilly are necessarily different than similar actions for those who have demonstrated disrespect for laws and frequently behave like rebellious teenagers and thugs.   

We all need to work together to put the McCracken back in the bottle and secure the cork tightly. Our precious salmon and wildland experiences should not be victims of his efforts (and those of the "McCrackheads" in the above videos) to find loopholes in the 1872 Mining Law and legislation enacted to reduce the impact of this destructive enterprise. Please join our efforts in Cascadia, specifically on actions in Oregon and Washington, to make sure that this brand of "gold fever" does not spread and compromise our real wealth.

15 thoughts on “Suction Dredgers Release the McCracken

  1. john citizen says:

    Get the’s there…Dredging helps fish habitat. ..doesn’t hurt it…The Santa Ana Sucker fish is an endangered specie that thrives and survives onEast Fork River in

  2. bob says:

    You have absolutely no basis for that claim.  Here is what the listing petition says about suction dredging, please see their conclusion at the end after sorting through the comments:

     The petitioners contended that suction dredge mining has increased 
    in the Cattle Canyon tributary to the East Fork of the San Gabriel 
    River, threatening the Santa Ana sucker. However, the petitioner did 
    not provide evidence that suction dredging poses a threat to the 
    existence of the fish. We received a comment during the petition review 
    process indicating that no suction dredging has occurred in Cattle 
    Canyon and suggesting that the petitioners took Moyle and Yoshiyama 
    (1992) out of context. (G. Hobbs, Public Lands Action Committee, in 
    litt. 1996). The commenter also questioned the veracity of the report 
    by Moyle and Yoshiyama and suggested suction dredging is beneficial to 
    Santa Ana sucker.
        The CDFG, (P. Wolf, in litt. 1996) indicated they are not aware of 
    suction dredging in the Cattle Canyon tributary to the East Fork of the 
    San Gabriel River. However, they had issued nearly 200 Special Dredge 
    Permits for the East Fork of the San Garbiel River in 1995, the first 
    time the East Fork had been dredged in 15 years.
        Surveys in June of 1996 and 1997 indicate the East Fork of the San 
    Gabriel River continues to maintain a healthy Santa Ana sucker 
    population (R. Ally, CDFG, in litt. 1996; J. Hernandez, CDFG, in litt. 
    1997). Few studies exist on the impacts of suction dredging on fishes 
    and none that specifically address Santa
    [[Page 3918]]
    Ana suckers. In their review of the literature, Harvey et al. (1995) 
    concluded that small larvae of fish such as suckers are easily damaged 
    by physical disturbance, but adults and juveniles are unlikely to be 
    directly affected by entrainment because they either avoid or survive 
    passage through suction dredges. The impact of increased suspended 
    sediment is difficult to predict because of the variability in 
    production of suspended sediment and the ways biota may be affected. 
    Possible impacts associated with suction dredging include changes in 
    stream substrates or food supply. Based on this information, we 
    conclude that suction dredging may impact larvae and eggs of Santa Ana 
    suckers, particularly if dredging is concentrated in an area containing 
    spawning suckers.
  3. Will says:

    Just watched the State of California using a BIG suction dredge to SAVE the fish which have become stranded in the very low rivers and streams. Biologist were telling the reporters, “We’re saving all the fish!” While we watch millions of salmon fry get sucked into tank trucks. Yep, sucking-up the fish on purpose…. and not causing any harm!

    Dredging causes no harm to fish populations what-so-ever.

  4. bob says:

    You see, this is exactly how rumors and myths start in your community.  For weeks and weeks we will be hearing the chant that suction dredges saved salmon and that the are good for fish.  Only they did not use a suction dredge, they used a fish pump.  A fish pump is a specially designed device that moves water and fish from one place to another.  The pump has special impellers that are constructed so they do no harm to fish and they use large pipes so fish are taken through the system safely.  The hoses have flared ends rather than constricted ones to lessen the impact rather than concentrate the suction.  

    And as we have discussed many, many times on these pages–salmon fry are not the most vulnerable element of the life cycle to suction dredging, we are concerned about eggs, eyed-eggs, gravel beds, riffles, invertebrates, siltation and a whole host of other impacts which have been documented.  Next thing we know, suction dredgers will claim that they cure cavities because people use Water Piks to clean their teeth and isn’t that just hydraulic mining?  If you believe that, hold a Water Pik to your eye and then you will understand what we are talking about–suction dredging does not impact things that are insensitive but those that are sensitive are impacted greatly.

    Bob Ferris

  5. Rob says:

    A fish pump is the same thing as a dredge pump. I've used both. Only difference is the fish pump is 10x larger.

  6. bob says:

    Rob, The pump used in a suction dredge and the pump used in a fish pump are similar–save size and design–but that is very, very different than the claim that suction dredges were used to save fish.  Method, design and context are important when talking about these issues.  Using this same broadly aplied logic, I could say that many adults love to play football and that would be true.  But that does not mean that football or other contract sports are great activities for infants or late-term pregnant women.   The “devil is in the details” and these type of unqualified statements from suction dredgers continue to demonstrate that suction dredgers as a group do not understand or are purposely trying to mislead folks on the details which are very important when looking at life cycles and impacts.  You futher injure your credibility with each argument like this that you promulgate.

    Bob Ferris

  7. Wild Willy says:

    Bob Farris,

    I have been a suction dredge miner for over 40 yrs. In all of those yeras I have never harmed or killed a single fish by operating a suction dredge in any river or strean in California or Oregon. 

    Your reasoning is getting old. Where is the documented science that you refeer to to back up your claims that we suction dredgers hurt the enviroment or fish ? It is all now in the California Superior court system to be decided if in fact there is any harm. 

    All I hear you doing is cry, cry, Wolf with nothing to back it up with but "what if"," we think", "it might" do harm.

    Suction dredging does not kill fish, "Fisherman kill fish" !!



  8. bob says:

    Dear Jim Yerby,

    Really?  Is it any coinicidence that your adress and the New 49ers address are the same?

    Because our need to raise funds is immediate, once again, we have our ever-vigilant member, Jim Yerby, to thank for organizing yet another set ofvery valuable prizes for a prize drawing – which is already in progress. In addition to 53 very nice prizes which have been donated by others, we also are expressing a big thank you to Jeff Kuykendal at Proline for donating a brand new 3-inch Proline dredge (worth $2,500.00) as our main prize, and to Louie Welding for donating a 2 ½-inch dredge/high-banker combo!”

    My sense is that your grasp of legalities as well as your grasp of environmental impacts and what consitutes science, might be somewhat challenged.

    Bob Ferris


  9. Wild Willy says:

    Well Bob your are correct on one point, and that is who I am. 

    I also have been an avid fisherman for about 60 yrs.


    You are entitled to your opion on what consitutes legalities. But the bottom line is a court of law will decide. We have the sciece behind us, and it will be interesting to watch the out come.

  10. bob says:

    I always like to know who I am chatting with and their associations.  Bob

  11. bob says:

    Jim, Courts do not decide on science–never have.  Legal actions are based on processes and laws.  And you do not have the science in any case.  You did have two suction dredgers with science degrees–not fisheries scientists and not published in a relevant field–but those two have not had the courage to show their faces of late.  All scientists and scientific societies that hve voice an opinion on the California Moratorium and the Oregon legislation have been in favor of both measures to restrict this activity.

    Bob Ferris

  12. Wild Willy says:

    Well bob, it sounds like you are beating the drumb for your own support ? Legal actions are based on processes and laws that are backed up by (legal testimony), in this case that is documented scientific studies.

    Federal preemption supersedes State law. Federal Mining act is still on the books, alive and well. Granted by Congress in 1866 & 1872, and has been attacked many times over the years.

    As far as I know those two that you refeer to are still alive and well, and very involved, and there credentials speak very loud.

    Now this is my opion, as soon as one suction dredge permit is denied in the State of Oregon you will see many major law suits filed in Oregon court. The new Oregon dredging regs, are not necessary and have nothing to do with fish or the enviroment.

  13. bob says:

    Jim,  Joe Greene and Claudia Wise were extremely vocal for a year and then went silent–they have no credibility in this arena beyond your limited universe.  Federal law gives you a right to mine but does not give you a blank check on methods–suction dredging is method not a right.  If you want to dispute that, please cite me the section that mentions suction dredge mining.  


  14. Wild Willy says:

    Bob, you are fishing for info. Come on, you are smarter then that.

    This is playing out in California court system as we speak.

    Sorry but I can't let the cat out of the bag. Keep a close eye on California court cases this year. And make sure you have some heart pills close at hand.

    Enjoy your evening !!

  15. bob says:

    Jim, I am perfectly willing to let you keep your cat in the bag.  I admire your optimism and appreciate your concerns about my health.



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