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Forest officials want volunteers to help crack down on gold panning in San Gabriel Mountains

If you've ever visited the San Gabriel River in the mountains north of Azusa, you've probably seen folks standing ankle deep in the water panning for gold.

You're not supposed to do it, but there hasn't been much enforcement.

Now the U.S. Forest Service wants to crack down on gold prospectors. Since 2014, this area has been part a national monument and that means increased environmental protections. 

The new plan for the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument says “mineral collection for non-commercial personal uses is not suitable.”

That prohibition covers activity within the monument's 340,000 or so acres.

A map from the U.S. Forest Service shows the boundaries of the newly designated San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.
A map from the U.S. Forest Service shows the boundaries of the newly designated San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

Mining is allowed if you hold a claim. But forest officials say those existing mining claims exist in less than 2,000 acres of the monument. For the most part, according to the management plan, those mining operations don't disturb the ground. 

So what about recreational miners?

It was already illegal before the national monument designation. But enthusiasts worried from the start that authorities would start enforcing the rule. The new plan notes that the people did speak about the "value in recreational gold panning" during public comments. 

The next sentence: "An additional plan standard and a revised suitability of lands table updated the Monument Plan to emphasize that prospecting, including recreational gold panning and mineral collecting are prohibited activities."

The new plan calls for coordination between local, state and federal agencies to enforce the rules. One way they believe they can do that is to "develop partnerships with local volunteer groups to document illegal mining activities."

They also want to educate visitors about the ecological damage of illegal mining. The forest service says it wants to protect habitat for threatened species like the yellow-legged frog and fish called the Santa Ana sucker.

The area has a rich Gold Rush history, and there are still remnants of those days. From the management plan: 

It remains to be seen how lawless gold prospecting remains in the monument. The designation did not include additional resources for enforcement and the plan appears to rely on existing relationships and volunteers.

If you want to share your thoughts on the final version of this plan, the public has the next 45 days to comment.

Here are the details: