Reclaiming the Sierra


The widespread distribution of toxins associated with the Gold Rush, including mercury, arsenic and lead, constitutes the oldest and longest neglected environmental problem in the State of California.

The California Gold Rush, while it contributed enormously to the prosperity of the state and the nation, devastated the land and people of the Sierra Nevada. The continued presence of mining toxins perpetuates this devastation today. Sierra residents encounter elevated levels of arsenic and asbestos when recreating outdoors, excessive arsenic in groundwater, and high levels of mercury in fish. Native Peoples cannot practice traditional ceremonies or activities without risk. Since the Sierra is the source of more than 60% of California’s drinking water, the entire state is affected by this pollution.

Since 2006, The Sierra Fund has led the effort to assess and address gold mining’s toxic legacy. This Initiative has brought together partners from state, federal, and tribal governments as well as from the academic, health, and environmental communities to examine this issue.

In March, 2008 we published our Mining’s Toxic Legacy report, the first comprehensive evaluation of what happened during the Gold Rush, including: the cultural, health and environmental impacts; the obstacles to addressing these impacts; and a strategic plan for taking action on this vast issue. (Click here for more publications and resources.)

This coming May, join us for Reclaiming the Sierra, our second public conference to address mining’s lasting impacts in the region. This historic event will be held May 3-5, 2012 at the Miners Foundry in Nevada City.

The Initiative is a multi-year project that lays the groundwork for development and implementation of a comprehensive plan to remediate environmental problems, develop health interventions to reduce the risk to historic gold mining communities, and protect the health of humans and wildlife throughout the Gold Country.

Currently, The Sierra Fund is incubating a regional Mining Toxins Working Group, to increase coordination and community involvement in all efforts to address legacy mining toxins in the Sierra. Initiative advisors met in October 2009 to discuss how best to implement this group, and in May 2010 TSF published Building a Mining Toxins Working Group: A Blueprint for California, a document outlining the results of this thinking.

Launched with help from The California Endowment, the Richard & Rhoda Goldman Fund, and the True North Foundation, and with continued support from The California Wellness Foundation, the Cal/EPA Environmental Justice Program, and the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, the Initiative is building a significant voice for addressing the long-neglected issue of mining toxins in the Sierra Nevada.