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Panning in protest: Activists mine for gold in defiance of EPA regs

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July 3, 2014: B. Dennis Dutcher pans for gold along the Salmon River near Riggins, Idaho. (Reuters)

The American West was settled in part by gold miners exploring a new frontier, and now modern-day prospectors are fighting to keep that tradition alive.

A group of miners began illegally dredging for gold this week in Idaho’s Salmon River to challenge what they call federal government overreach into the waterway, Reuters reported. They are protesting regulations by the EPA that forbid suction dredging and other mining in the river in order to protect the habitat of endangered fish.

"This is the United States of America, not the 'United State' of America. The feds can't come in here like storm troopers and start running our lands and rivers," organizer John Crossman, the head of the Southwest Idaho Mining Association in Boise, told Reuters.

The EPA last year ruled that suction dredgers need permits to operate in the state. Permit regulations forbid suction dredges in streams with threatened or endangered species such as salmon, steelhead and bull trout.

However, the miners said they refuse to get a permit because they do not recognize the authority of the EPA to regulate the rivers. About 60 miners came out to a demonstration on Tuesday, according to Reuters, and the week-long protest will culminate in a July 4 rally.

Crossman said people are traveling from all across Idaho and the West to show their support against “government tyranny.”

"It's a matter of states' rights," he said.

A spokesperson for the EPA told Reuters that the agency respects the right of citizens to peacefully protest, but dredging the river violates federal law.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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