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Tentative signs of US gold rush

There's much talk of the world being back in 1929, another Great Depression. For some, it is more like 1849.

Back then, hundreds of thousands flocked to California in search of their fortune after gold was discovered there, founding the iconic image of men standing knee-deep in water, desperately sorting away the sediment in search of treasure.

Now, there are tentative signs of a new gold rush in the US, according to the Gold Prospectors Association of America (GPAA).

Searching the rivers

The group has seen a 20% in membership in the last year, driven by the deepening recession and the high price of gold.

"It starts off as a hobby with the hopes of something more," Corey Rudolph, a member and a full-time prospector, told the BBC.

"The more you learn, the luckier you get."

The gold that prospectors are looking for consists mainly of small bits that have broken off the surrounding mountains and settled at the bottom of rivers and valleys.

GPAA said mining claims in California, which is the most gold-rich state, have grown by more than 3,000 in the past two years.

But it added that does not tell the whole story, because many parts of the US do not need a claim for mineral rights.

Record highs

Gold touched an all-time high of $1,011 per ounce last March and has since been trading at near $900, as investors sought the traditional safe haven of the commodity to escape the chaos in the rest of the financial markets.

Mr Rudolph has been prospecting for the past 30 years. He said he usually goes to Alaska in the summer, where he once found 60 ounces of gold in four weeks.

That's worth almost $53,000 at current gold prices.

"A lot of guys are hoping to strike it rich, but that doesn't usually happen until you've learned all the little tricks," Mr Rudolph said.

Other areas booming are Arizona, Washington state and New Mexico.

Environmental concerns

The new rush has given rise to concerns about the impact of such activity.

While many prospectors go with pans and sort out the sediment and gravel looking for gold, others are using suction dredges to suck up the rivers, sort it and dump the leftover gravel back in.

Critics say that this kills marine life and generally harms the rivers. The GPAA say prospecting can improve the health of rivers by removing lead and mercury.

There are seasonal limits on prospecting in many states and California is looking into tightening the rules.


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