Posts Tagged ‘gold’

Jul11

Suction Dredge Reform Bill Passes Legislature

Salem Statesman Journal by Zach Urness
July 8, 2013
 
A bill that would scale back the number of suction dredge mining permits issued in Oregon has passed the House and Senate and heads to the desk of Gov. John Kitzhaber, who is expected to sign the bill into law.
 
 
Senate Bill 838 restricts the number of permits to 850 statewide — the number issued in 2009 — and directs the governor’s office to create a regulatory framework for how, where and when suction dredging can occur. If revisions aren’t implemented in two years, a five-year moratorium on most salmon rivers would go into effect in January 2016.
 
 
The bill, which also limits the number of miners to one every 500 feet on a river and prohibits mining in salmon spawning areas year-round, passed the House 33-27 on Sunday and the Senate 17-13 on July 3.
The bill was spurred by a sharp increase in suction dredge mining on Oregon’s rivers, most noticeably in the southwest on the Rogue and South Umpqua. The number of permits issued jumped from 414 in 2005 to 2,409 in 2012, due largely to a moratorium issued by California in 2009 and the skyrocketing price of gold during the recession.
 
 
Proponents of the bill claimed that section dredges, large gasoline-powered vacuums that suck gravel from stream bottoms and run it through a device that collects minerals such as gold flecks, is damaging to salmon habitat and water quality.
 
 
Miners contend that the practice is harmless — that natural high water events alter stream beds far more than mining — and actually improve fish habitat by breaking up stream bottoms for spawning and removing harmful metals such as mercury.
 
 
“They’re basically killing off an industry,” said Robert Stumbo, who owns the Armadillo Mining Shop in Grants Pass. “Our suction dredge sales have dropped to zero with just the threat of this bill. You can’t grow a business with only 850 permits being issued. Miners that live outside the state won’t be able to come in and work their claim.
 
 
“This bill is not about harming fishing; it’s a personal vendetta against miners.”
Environmental groups say the law provides a chance to step back and come up with common-sense regulations while still allowing miners the chance to use suction dredges. The law gives preference to miners who held permits in 2009, which would largely favor Oregonians.
 
 
“There will be over two 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 bill is something of a compromise, considering the original called for a statewide moratorium.
 
 
"This legislation doesn’t solve the problem,” said Erik Fernandez of Oregon Wild, a Portland-based conservation group. “But it’s an important step forward in dealing with the invasion of Californians looking to mine Oregon rivers.”

Jul08

Press Release: Bill to Protect Salmon Habitat in Oregon Passes House and Senate, Awaits Governor’s Signature

For immediate release
July 8, 2013
 
Contact:
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.”

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Mar04

Protecting Oregon’s Rivers from Suction Dredge Mining

Editorial by the Register-Guard
March 4, 2013
 
Nearly a quarter century has passed since Oregon last updated the State Scenic Waterways Program, which increases protection for the state’s most treasured rivers and limits destructive activities such as suction-dredge mining.
 
The program, overwhelmingly approved by state voters in 1970, is long overdue for an update — especially in light of a recent surge in suction dredge mining on the state’s waterways, including the Rogue, Chetco and Illinois rivers.

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.

 

Oct25

Coho Protection Focus of Suction Dredge Mining Suit

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.

Sep28

General Response to Joe Greene

[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]

 
Dear Joe,
 
Since I did not mention you by name in my Dredging Up the Truth blog, I can hardly see how my post was a personal attack.  It becomes a personal attack only because you see yourself in those comments.  But since you have opened the door here, let’s play. 
 
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)
In the first place, certainly I agree with free speech.  I have defended that right my entire life.  But that is separate from the concept of professional ethics.  You have been involved in dredging for nearly 50 years, so you—as a scientist offering scientific opinions—have a huge conflict of interest.  Your access point to this debate is as a suction dredging advocate.  You have crossed a professional line with your comments and attacks on scientist with actual credentials in this field.  But in addition to the concept of professional ethics there is also a question of the extent of your credentials in this specific arena and the quality and thrust of your commentary.  
 
Having worked as an ecological consultant in 1980s—sometimes on fisheries matters—I was often asked to synthesize masses of studies that dealt either directly or indirectly with the species or habitat in question and draw my best conclusions based on the body of work available and those studies that were most applicable.  Where there were conflicts and confusion I had to dig deeper until I felt comfortable with my ultimate conclusion about that element.  A lot enters into this including examining experimental design and dealing with changing evaluation methodologies and scientific standards.  This was the same careful and considered process that was conducted by Dr. Moyle.  His logic was sound and his use of the literature, cautionary remarks, and conclusions were all appropriate. 
 
On the flip side we have you.  I found it interesting that in your initial comments that you made derisive remarks about Dr. Moyle using the work of his former graduate student (i.e., “So, Moyle stated for science he was relying on data published by his former grad student Bret Harvey.  Great move.”)  Using Dr. Harvey’s work in the context of what Dr. Moyle was asked to do was totally appropriate and you should know that.  What was inappropriate was your comment.  It was both disrespectful and incorrect.
 
So let’s deal with the thrust and quality of your work as exemplified by your traveling power point presentation and advocacy.  Words fail me when I look at this.  It is hard to find a single slide in this presentation that is not purposely misleading or dangerously paranoid.  Working for the EPA you should be well aware that there is a difference between sequestered toxics and those re-suspended in the water column—shame on you.  You also know fully well that the arguments about “very little” becomes a big deal when talking about suspended materials and chemicals that are often measured in parts per million.  And your quoting of water chemistry conclusions from a nearly 75-year old study is pretty much laughable—what professional scientist would do that?  Taken in sum, your presentation is deceptive, unprofessional in nature, and politically and personally motivated.  I could do a slide by slide critique but after about slide 40, it makes me sad that you have slipped so low.
 
So Joe, I can absolutely live with disappointment from you.  I might actually wear it as a badge.  And I am glad that you get reinforcement and compliments from the mining community because you certainly will not get them from your former peers or from the scientific community where it actually counts.  I suspect it is also gratifying that your contrarian views and emerging status in the mining community affords you a notoriety that you never enjoyed during your career as a federal bureaucrat—I hope it is worth it.  
 
–Bob Ferris
 
P.S. In terms of your characterization of my qualifications as being non-biological, my undergraduate degree is in Environmental Studies and Biology which means that I completed the degree requirements for both majors.  Moreover, my exit requirement for biology involved being above the 75% mark on the subject GRE which was easy and why I later was accepted into masters and PhD programs.  Much of this is not on my LinkedIn profile because the later 20 years of my career are more relevant.  So I left out paid teaching assignments (not unpaid courtesy appointments) at San Jose State University and UC Santa Cruz (full courses not short courses) as well as my ecological consulting and research experience in the 1980s.  
 

Sep18

The Impacts of Suction Dredge Mining

Oregon Coast coho salmon continue to face a myriad of threats, including suction dredge mining. (Jeremy Moore)

Suction dredging harms fish and other wildlife. Suction dredging reduces the ability of fish to see, feed, and spawn. Additionally, the turbidity and increased sedimentation caused by suction dredging can clog fish’s gills. These impacts further threaten Oregon’s fish and other aquatic wildlife, including endangered salmon species.
 
Suction dredging decreases water quality, which harms the environment and decreases recreational use of Oregon’s rivers. Suction dredging causes increased turbidity, which decreases the clarity of the water. Additionally, it can cause riverbed sediment to released toxins, introducing mercury into the food system. Many of the rivers mined by suction dredge operators are popular sites for fishing and whitewater rafting. The harm to fish and increased turbidity caused by suction dredging makes these rivers less ideal spots for recreational activities.
 
The practice of highbanking, where suction dredge operator mine riverbanks, heightens the environmental risks of suction dredging. Highbanking harms vegetation, increases erosion, sedimentation, and turbidity, and can increase river temperatures. This creates further negative consequences for fish and other aquatic species.
 
Suction dredging operators often camp at the riverside for weeks at a time. This encampment can also have serious consequences for wildlife and for the environment. Noise and lights associated with these encampments can disturb aquatic wildlife, land animals, and birds. Human waste may make its way into the river. Operators often do not leave clean campsites when they leave. Additionally, their encampments may conflict with other recreational uses of Oregon’s rivers.
 
Suction dredging provides no measurable benefit to the state of Oregon. In addition to these harms to wildlife and the environment, the state of Oregon must pay significantly more to cover the costs of suction dredging than it brings in from permit fees. Suction dredge operators pay only $25/year for their permit to mine recreationally. Many operators have set their sights on Oregon’s rivers after the state of California banned suction dredging because of the environmental consequences. The environmental and economic costs don’t add up. Suction dredging in Oregon must be banned.
 

Sep17

Suction Dredging…Sucks

By Bob Ferris
 
My access point to my career in the conservation field came originally from fish.  I caught my first trout on the Eel River in northern California while my family was on their way to visit the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle.  As we were on our way north, my mother grudgingly allowed me to fish for 15 minutes—no more.  And on my premier cast with my older sister’s telescoping metal pole and an ancient JC Higgins reel, I felt that first electronic jolt that changed my life.  (Yes, this was a salmon egg catch, but I did not know any better at the time.)
 
That memory is golden to me and the thought of anyone taking any action that would rob someone of a similar moment rankles me no end.  That’s why the notion of some yahoo sticking a 4”-6” inch motor-driven suction hose into the hard bottom or gravel of a trout or salmon bearing stream and muddying the water literally makes me just a little angry.  And that ire only rises a little higher when I learn that these “modern 49ers” seeking flakes of gold in the silt they are spraying around are being egged on and legislatively supported by some modern day equivalent of snake oil salesmen hitting the KA-CHING button with each $8900 suction dredge they sell.  
 
It’s an old game where the “pick and pan” salespeople make the real money preying on the suggestible and greedy.  And part of the pitch seems to be that mucking up rivers flowing through public lands is an honest-to-goodness, Don’t-Trend-On-Me, All-American right.  Poppycock!  Suction dredging sucks and the sooner we all gravitate to that point of view, the better for all concerned.  (Okay so the dredge dealers will not be happy, but I can live with that quite comfortably, Thank You.)
 
Doing the “gold fever” math: Proven placer claims yield in the vicinity of 0.025 ounces per yard of material processed or roughly $45 per yard.  Recreational suction dredgers can move up to 25 cubic yards per year before being classified as commercial operations.  So if they are lucky and gold prices hold they can gross $1125 annually in Oregon.  When the cost of the machine and gear as well as other costs such as permitting, trailer registration, gas, and maintenance are factored in it becomes crystal clear that the “gold strike” here is for the equipment sellers rather than these hopefully prospectors.   
 
Suction dredging is not a “right” nor is mucking up the water for the rest of us—particularly in streams and rivers that run though public lands or hold imperiled species such as Coho and Chinook salmon or bull trout.  We and many others who have worked hard to clean up and protect waterways throughout Cascadia see only one solution to this issue:  An all-out ban on suction dredging in the salmon-bearing water systems of Cascadia.  The practice is banned in California and restricted in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Idaho.  We think it is high time that all of us who would like to see the return of vibrant salmon and steelhead speak up on this issue with one voice.  
 
Please check out our suction dredging and high banking page, sign our petition to the governors of Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Idaho, and pass this all along to others 
 

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