News Release #2008-05
March 6, 2008

Contact: Carrie Reinsimar
             Don Drysdale

AUBURN – State and federal agencies today will seal a dangerous vertical mine shaft in Placer County that a golden retriever named Dewie fell into last month. The Department of Conservation’s Office of Mine and Reclamation (OMR), California State Parks and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) will seal “Dewie’s shaft” using expandable polyurethane foam. Once the foam hardens, it will be strong enough to support the weight of a vehicle.

“It’s unfortunate that we found out about this hazard because of an accident,” said Douglas Craig, head of the Department of Conservation’s Office of Mine Reclamation. “However, Dewie is fine and this particular shaft will no longer be a hazard. But we have plenty of work to do around the state. We’re trying to locate and remediate as many of these old mining features as we can, as quickly as we can, particularly if they’re near where people live or go for recreation activities.”

Dewie, owned by Marc and Erica Roper, ventured off of a trail adjacent to the Shirland canal Jan. 21 and fell approximately 40 feet into the shaft that OMR officials believe was part of an abandoned Gold Rush-era mine. The opening, three and a half feet in diameter, was covered only by chicken wire. Luckily, Dewie wasn’t hurt.

 “The old wire fence had been vandalized and wasn’t enough to support the weight of the dog,” noted Mike Lynch, Environmental Resources Supervisor for California State Parks at the Auburn State Recreation Area. “Dewie came through the ordeal just fine. An adult or child falling in the mineshaft might not have been so lucky.”

Dewie’s ordeal serves as a reminder of the dangers abandoned mines in California pose. While there is no comprehensive database indicating the precise location of these mines, OMR has concentrated its efforts on the physical hazards associated with them.
In the past decade, OMR’s Abandoned Mine Lands Unit staff visited nearly 2,500 sites and inventoried more than 16,000 features. Sites that already have proven dangerous to the public and those located close to homes, schools, roadways, or recreational areas are given top priority for remediation.

The shaft to be closed today is located on Bureau of Reclamation property managed by State Parks next to the American River Canyon. After Dewie’s fall, State Parks immediately placed fencing around the mine opening while working with OMR on a more permanent solution. A mandatory environmental review of the vent was also conducted.

The foam plug on “Dewie’s shaft” will be covered with dirt to blend in with the surroundings. Plans are also underway to close other abandoned mines on public lands in the vicinity of the hazard.

“Each year, several Californians are injured or killed because they accidentally came across an
abandoned mine or decided to go exploring in one,” said Cy Oggins, manager of OMR’s Abandoned Mine Lands Unit. “Our motto is `stay out, stay alive.’ ”

OMR has partnered with a variety of local, state and federal agencies to remediate more than 425 hazardous abandoned mining features in 23 counties in the past six years, including 267 features in the last two years. Projects have included bat-compatible closures, fencing, PUF closures, backfilling, and debris removal.

All mines could have multiple human-made “features” such as shafts, tunnels, machinery, facilities or piles of waste rock that can pose either a physical or environmental hazard. Anyone who encounters an abandoned mine site is asked to note the location and to call OMR’s hotline, 1-877-OLD-MINE, so the site can be investigated and ultimately remediated. 

“In the days when `Dewie’s shaft’ was dug, the mining industry was less sophisticated and less environmentally conscious than it is today,” Craig said. “Many of the abandoned mine sites we’ve identified are the legacy of the Gold Rush, and the responsible individuals or companies are long gone. Mining helped make California great, but we must continue to address this unfortunate byproduct of an important industry.”