ST. PAUL -- A Waseca man believes there's gold in Minnesota rivers and streams and asked lawmakers Wednesday to make gold prospecting rules more flexible for people like himself.
''We're talking about individuals, families,'' said John Wilkus, a buyer for an electronics manufacturer. ''The state's laws are not set up for amateur prospectors.''
The Department of Natural Resources opposes the bill, saying other states have had problems with erosion and the disturbing of fish and wildlife habitat.
Wilkus has been searching for gold in Minnesota and other states for about three years. Earlier this month, he started the Minnesota Gold Prospector's Association, which currently has 22 members.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dick Day, R-Owatonna, would allow people to prospect without a permit if it were done with hand shovels or other non-motorized tools, a suction dredge less than 4 inches in diameter or a metal box, called a sluice, of less than 10 square feet.
A $25 recreational permit would be required for motorized recreational gold prospecting with a larger suction dredge or sluice.
Motorized equipment would be limited to 12 horsepower or less and would be prohibited in streams narrower than 4 feet. In these cases, prospectors also would need to get the written permission of landowners.
Currently, a commercial permit is required for using anything more than a simple pan to look for gold in Minnesota waterways.
That type of permit must be approved by at least four government agencies, which Wilkus said is overkill for recreational prospectors.
A good day with a pan means finding 25-30 tiny flakes, he said.
''What do you do with the gold?'' said Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bob Lessard, DFL-International Falls. ''Is there a scale small enough to weigh it?''
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