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Starting again: R. Dutton, a miner for Sutter Gold, which is opening up Lincoln Mine in California for production as gold prices rise
It's more than 150 years since the first prospectors headed to California in search of an elusive prize - gold.

But now their ghosts are being revived as mining companies seek to reopen the old pits and find the thousands of dollars worth of ore they left behind.

With gold selling at more than $1,300 an ounce, mining has become an attractive business prospect in the state which kicked off the Gold Rush in 1848.

Last year U.S. gold mine production increased for the first time in more than a decade, fuelled mostly by Nevada.

Now the original Gold Rush state, where mining dried up after World War Two due to price controls, is looking to join the fray.

'People say the Mother Lode's mined out. But that's not the case,' David Cochrane, vice-president of Sutter Gold Mining told the New York Times.


Gold ghosts: The old Lincoln mine, which is being reopened by engineers seeking thousands of dollars of ore left behind from the 1850s
His firm believes the 'Mother Lode', the gold-rich expanse of the Sierra Nevada which prospectors flocked to in the 1850s, could still make today's miners rich.

Sutter Gold estimates there could be more than $800million-worth of ore under its 3.6-mile stretch of the Sierra alone. It already has the federal, local and state permits it needs, and its Lincoln Mine could be open by next year.

Mesquite Mine, in Imperial County on the Mexican border, reopened in 2008. Last year, it produced 170,000 ounces of gold - 4.8 tonnes - far exceeding company estimates.

And Briggs Mine, on the edge of Death Valley where many would-be prospectors lost their lives, produced $30million-worth of gold in 2010, just one year after it reopened.

But environmentalists are greeting the return of the miners with caution - they have not yet forgotten the impact of the first Gold Rush, when prospectors used dangerous chemicals like mercury and cyanide to help process the ore.
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Fertile valley: An aerial view of Lincoln mine, in the gold-rich stretch of California's Sierra Nevada known as the Mother Lode

Izzy Martin, chief executive of the Sierra Fund, a preservation group, told the New York Times: 'There's a lot of toxic materials in there. And you have to clean it up.'

She is concerned companies may abandon their projects halfway, leaving the area with 'this gigantic eyesore'.

But the new mining companies say they will take care of the environment.

Emgold, a Canadian-based company which is seeking to reopen the Idaho-Maryland mine 50 miles north-east of Sacramento, says its mine will be 'a forward-thinking, environmentally responsible business.'

Its chief executive, David Watkinson, said: 'The concept of a "gold rush" is no longer applicable in today's world. All anyone can expect to see is resurgence, not a rush.'