Posts Tagged ‘gold’
Press Release: Bill to Protect Salmon Habitat in Oregon Passes House and Senate, Awaits Governor’s Signature
For immediate release
July 8, 2013
Forrest English, Rogue Riverkeeper, 541-261-2030
Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands, 541-844-8182
Salem, OR — Celebrated by fishermen, landowners, outdoor recreation businesses, and river advocates, Senate Bill 838 (SB 838) has just been passed by the Oregon House and Senate. SB 838 is now on the Governor’s desk awaiting only a signature to become law. The bill takes steps to protect salmon habitat throughout Oregon through reasonable reductions in levels of suction dredge gold mining.
“Salmon and clean water are some of the defining characteristics for Oregon’s streams and rivers,” said John Ward of Rogue Flyfishers. “This bill is a balanced first step to ensure their protection as most Oregonian’s desire.”
Although the original bill called for a total statewide moratorium, the final bill is a compromise with three main sections to be implemented over the next 3 years. The first part starting in 2014 will bring the maximum numbers of permits down to 850 statewide – levels not seen since 2009 – giving preference to long-time Oregon miners and making little change to current dredging regulations.
The second portion of the bill directs the Governor’s office to lead agency and public participation in proposing a new comprehensive regulatory framework for the legislature’s approval in 2015. This framework would be designed to meet reasonable protections for threatened and endangered salmon and trout, while simplifying Oregon’s currently complex permitting process for this activity.
“There will be over 2 years of public process to ensure that these new regulations are well thought out, scientifically based and effective,” said Josh Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands. “This is a fair and balanced process that will benefit clean water and salmon into the future.”
The third and final part of the bill—a 5 year moratorium on suction dredging in salmon habitat—will go into effect only if the legislature fails to act in 2015 by adopting the Governor’s new regulations.
“Should the Governor and legislature act in a timely manner, miners will continue to be able to use this mining technique in appropriate areas away from endangered salmon without interruption,” said Forrest English of Rogue Riverkeeper. “Only as a last resort would this legislation enact a temporary moratorium in endangered salmon habitat.”
Suction dredge mining in waterways involves the use of gasoline-powered vacuums, mounted on floating rafts, which suck up the riverbed in search of gold. Scientific studies have demonstrated that the practice harms spawning habitat, invertebrate and bivalve communities that feed fish, and stirs up toxic mercury. There has been a spike in suction dredge mining in Oregon since California enacted a moratorium on the practice in 2009 due to its impacts on water quality and fish populations. Between 2005-2012, there was a 580% increase in suction dredge mining in Oregon, more than quadrupling from 414 to 2,409 permits issued. The increasing number of suction dredgers has introduced new conflicts with other river users and landowners.
Science played a major role in the construction and passage of SB 838. In California, state agencies conducted an exhaustive evaluation of the scientific literature, and concluded that the only way to prevent the negative water quality and health impacts of suction dredging is to prohibit the activity altogether. In early April, the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society sent a letter to Oregon legislators outlining the myriad impacts suction dredging has on fish. One of the letter’s recommendations was to prohibit or greatly reduce suction dredge mining in areas used for spawning by sensitive fish stocks. This followed a similar letter issued by the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society prior to the California moratorium.
“Studies have shown that suction dredging can mobilize toxic mercury, and reduce the spawning success of salmon species,” added English. “This bill ensures Oregon will better evaluate the available science and ensure that water quality and our iconic fish species are protected into the future.”
State Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, has introduced a bill that would expand the inventory of rivers in the scenic system to 30 from the current 19. It’s a modest yet strategically important proposal that would provide protection for one-half of 1 percent of the state’s rivers and streams, up from a current one-third of 1 percent. That’s hardly a conservation overreach, especially given the threat posed by suction-dredge mining.
Protected by a ludicrously outdated and environmentally indifferent 1872 federal mining law, miners have descended on some of Oregon’s wildest rivers with motorized suction dredges to search for gold and other minerals. The dredges suck up rocks and gravel from stream bottoms and dump them in a floating sluice. The gold sinks and is trapped, while the remainder is returned to the river or its banks.
Suction-dredge miners insist they’re merely rearranging the river bottom and are improving fish habitat. The opposite is true. Dredging fills spaces that oxygenate the water and provide habitat for insects that fish eat. Mining clouds normally clear rivers with fine sediment and unearths mercury deposits buried on the river bottom.
Several years ago the California Legislature wisely imposed a moratorium on suction dredging to give state fish and wildlife officials time to study the effects of mining on fish habitat and to devise new regulations.
Oregon lawmakers should have done the same to protect the state’s rivers and fish stocks. They failed to do so despite the urging of lawmakers such as then-state Sen. Jason Atkinson, a Central Point Republican and avid outdoorsman who minced no words in describing the damage caused by suction dredge prospectors: “They ruin — destroy — spawning habitat,” he said.
With California’s rivers off-limits to suction dredging until 2016, miners have turned to the rivers of Southwest Oregon, which feature some of the finest runs of salmon and steelhead in the lower 48 states. Miners have staked out claims along the Chetco, South Kalmiopsis, Illinois and Rogue rivers. A few have ventured as far north as the Metolius and John Day, as well as Quartz Creek, a tributary of the McKenzie River.
Bates’ bill would protect the Chetco, Rogue, Illinois and other Southern Oregon rivers that have been at the center of the dredge mining debate. It would also protect other waterways, including the Metolius, John Day, Grand Ronde, Sandy, Middle Fork Willamette and Yachats rivers, as well a portion of the upper McKenzie that is not already listed as an Oregon Scenic Waterway.
If these and other rivers proposed by Bates are added to the scenic waterways system, protection would extend to land a quarter mile on each side. Mining, logging, road building, construction of new buildings and other activities in those corridors would be subject to review by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (existing development would not be affected and property owners would retain the right to use land outside the corridor).
Suction dredge mining has no place in Oregon waterways, and Bates’ bill is on target. The Legislature should give it careful consideration, reviewing the rivers proposed for protection and considering additions, and then take the necessary action to protect the state’s rivers.
Mail Tribune by Mark Freeman
Three environmental groups are suing the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest for allegedly failing to protect threatened coho salmon from suction dredgers mining for gold in the Rogue River Basin's coho country.
Filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Medford, the suit seeks to require that NOAA-Fisheries biologists review suction dredging operations here to ensure they don't harm wild coho and their habitat before miners can operate on forest-managed streams.
The suit maintains that these reviews, called consultations, are required under the federal Endangered Species Act before dredgers can operate on federally designated wild coho habitat. That includes reaches of the Rogue and its tributaries accessible to coho, which were listed here as a threatened species in 1997.
Forest Service officials, however, did not undertake these consultations before approving suction dredging operations that could illegally damage wild coho spawning and rearing habitat, the suit states.
The suit comes on the heels of a June 1 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that any Forest Service actions that impact wild coho must go through the consultation process with NOAA-Fisheries.
"If the Forest Service is going to say 'mine here' or 'don't mine here,' they have to follow the requirements of the Endangered Species Act," says George Sexton, conservation director of the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, one of the plaintiffs in the case.
"There's a step here, consultation, that we're asking them to do," Sexton said.
The suit further seeks to ban suction dredging on Rogue River-Siskiyou forest streams until the consultations are completed.
The suit was filed "so mining on public lands is focused on areas where it does the least harm to endangered salmon," Sexton said.
"I think it's a values clash," he said. "It comes down to what people value public lands for."
Forest spokeswoman Virginia Gibbons declined Tuesday to comment on the lawsuit, which Forest Service officials were reviewing.
Gibbons also declined to discuss any aspect of the forest's dredging program, including how many miners were authorized to dredge each of the past three years and how many miners were denied operation.
Cascadia Wildlands and the Ashland-based Rogue Riverkeeper groups joined the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center as plaintiffs in the suit. The civil case was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Owen Panner.
The rising price of gold and a ban on suction dredging in California has created a surge in dredging in the Rogue Basin, including Forest Service-land streams such as Sucker Creek and Althouse Creek in Josephine County.
Under the current program, would-be miners looking to dredge streams on Forest Service lands must file notices of intent to dredge. The suit claims the Forest Service approved or authorized such dredging without consulting with NOAA-Fisheries, despite the agency in 1997 identifying dredging and mining in general as activities that may require special management considerations for wild coho.
Dredges can remove or destabilize spawning gravel and cause undue turbidity – factors that can reduce wild fish production, according to the suit.
[Editor's note: When the New 49er's griped about the bias of scientists involved in the public advisory committee for suction dredging in California, the State eventually acquiesced allowed the New 49ers to invite two people with science degrees from their camp. They selected Joe Greene and Claudia Wise retired EPA scientists from Oregon and current officers in the Millennium Diggers organization. These parties were invited by virtue of their positions on the issue rather than their expertise on the topics at hand. Both have made comments characterizing themselves as "experts" and not initially disclosing their memberships in Millennium Diggers or their participation in or passion for suction dredging. Ms. Wise has posted few comments, but Mr. Greene has posted numerous comments to both suction dredging posts (Suction Dredging...Sucks and Dredging Up The Truth) requiring a general statement to him personally]
Former EPA scientist Joe Greene, an avid gold prospector who has been suction dredging since the 1960s, is less than impressed with the EPA’s propaganda and Tomten’s claim that dredging is illegal under the CWA (see here)