Posts Tagged ‘Salmon’

Nov23

Thermal Damns and the Need for Angry, Active Anglers

Bob Ferris
 
Recently I posted something on Facebook about the peril faced by marine fish species in British Columbia due drift creekto record ocean temperatures (see Record North Pacific Temperatures Threatening B.C. Marine Species) and a new friend reposted it with a query about what she called “thermal damns.” It was a classic Freudian slip, but a really elegant one as these too-warm spots in rivers and streams (thermal dams) that block fish passage do act as physiological dams and they do start the process of damning us in Cascadia to a future likely bereft of ocean running salmonids—mainly salmon and steelhead.  
 
I talked about this issue recently with Mike Finley of the Turner Foundation and they are working with the Wild Salmon Center to preserve salmon runs in Kamchatka so that when all this fecal matter hits the air moving appliance, as well as the associated ocean acidification, that we have some refugia for salmon so that seed populations would be available post eastern Pacific salmon collapse for repopulation.  And while I thought this visionary, commendable and necessary, the idea that this thinking and action were necessary made me angry.  I am not sure that I am comfortable with just accepting that we are "thermally damned."
 
“EPA has an extensive track record of twisting the science to justify their actions,” Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), head of the House Science Committee in Science Insider
 
This mood of mine was not improved by the fossil-fuel-funded-fools in the House of Representatives that passed bills that would hamper the US Environmental Protection Agency's use of science on climate change.  (No, this is not a story in the Onion.)  Sure…why we would want the agency that looks after our well-being and that of our supporting ecosystems to be guided by the best science?  But it was a story that cruised through like a coal-ladened freight train while most of the US was focused on the latest celebrity break-up or cute cat video.  
 
fly fishing for assassins
I am not completely sure why, but this makes me think of that utterly silly scene in that absolutely silly, but visually pleasing movie, Salmon Fishing in Yemen, where the character played by Ewan McGregor suddenly spies a gun-wielding assassin and realizes that he holds an effective weapon—his Spey rod (see review where I got the photo here, if you feel you are missing something).  He, in that special moment of time, became a bug-flinging super hero.  For all of the reasons cited above we need some fly fishing super heroes now to help us with our thermal damning issues.  And this really begs the question: When are we as anglers going to understand that we need to be our own super heroes in this regard and that we are already holding an effective weapon in our hands through our collective political power?  
 
“If you got a politician who's running for office who thinks he is smarter than 98 percent of the world’s climate scientists—they’re crooks or they’re dumbasses”  Yvon Chouinard 
 
The good news is that anglers are starting to understand the need for action and long-time heroes like Patagonia founder and environmental funder Yvon Chouinard are turning up the volume on climate change.  But others are emerging also like those joining Yvon in the below video clip.  We very much need more of this.
 

At the close of the above video, there is a quote by Albert Einstein: Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.  Likewise those who enjoy fishing—particularly in Cascadia—need to grasp that angling is part casting and catching but also must involve protecting and enhancing habitats as well as stewardship of our political system.  Certainly this means taking action on pressing issues like the proposed Coos Bay LNG export terminal that will enable more greenhouse gas emissions in the US and China.  But it also means protecting important salmon habitat in Oregon's Elliott State Forest or Alaska's Tongass, taking a stand against suction dredge mining in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, questioning the use of forestry herbicides and making sure that any changes to how the O&C Lands in Oregon are managed protects rather than reduces stream-side buffers.  
 
So as you are pushing yourself back from the Thanksgiving table this coming week, take some time to be an angry, active angler.  Please get engaged in these issues and make sure to support those organizations that are carrying on this important fight.  Investing in all the gear out there will do little good unless you also invest in those actions and entities that help keep fish coming back to our rivers and streams.  
 
 

Mar19

Of Dynamite, Lead, Mercury, Storms and the Myths of Suction Dredging

By Bob Ferris
 
About a decade ago I watched a giant front-end loader pull a metal culvert  that was restricting fish passage out of a steelhead stream in Southern California.  It was fun to watch and gratifying because my organization at the time had a hand in making it happen, but I did not for one second think that front-end loaders in streams were always good for fish.  I suspect being part of a discipline like ecology that has a lot of special rules and exceptions helps with this type of discernment.
 
I wonder if suction dredge miners have this same discernment “chip” or if they hope others do not.  The reason I raise this issue is that dredgers seem to be promoting the notion that because suction dredges are occasionally used to clean gravel beds in waterways hopelessly choked with silt or to move materials quickly, that suction dredgers and dredges are actually good for fish.  
 
East Fork of the Lewis
One example that at least one miner is using to seemingly prove this point is his participation in an impressive restoration project on the East Fork of the Lewis River near Vancouver, Washington (see above from Northwest Mineral Prospectors Club facebook page).  This project was undertaken by Friends of the East Fork who are really doing some incredible work to restore chum salmon and other salmonid runs in fish-poor wastelands created by gravel mining and other activities.  
 
While I would like to commend suction dredgers for the work of some dredgers to restore streams and rivers, that does not balance out or change the fact that they are doing much more damage at other times. (The above poster of this Facebook story, for example, neglected to mention his Hydraulic Project Approval permit issued in 2009 to move up to 50 cubic yards of material in the same waterway system). Can suction dredges be an effective tool for fish habitat restoration? Yes in rare instances, but the same can also be said for dynamite, front-end loaders and other agents of destruction.  
 

Lead Better
 
Suction dredgers are also quick to crow about how much lead they remove from waterways as a rationale for their presence on the water.  This too is not as it seems.  While lead is certainly a huge problem for birds while it remains mixed with the surface materials and accessible, legacy lead—older lead that is buried—is not as serious a problem once it sinks beyond the reach of birds
 
With the banning of lead shot for waterfowl hunting in 1991 and awareness in the fishing community about the dangers of certain lead devices, "new" lead in the system has been greatly reduced and the rest continues to do what lead does best: Sink.  Therefore, claims of massive amounts of lead recovered by suction dredgers has less to do with environmental benefit and more to with massive amounts of materials moved and damage to waterways and streambeds. 
 

The Mercury Blues
 
"The impacts of suction dredging on mercury mobilization and transport are potentially more significant than what is presented in the report." From Mercury section of External Peer Review of the Water Quality Impacts of Suction Dredging for Gold Presented in the Draft Subsequent Environmental Impact Report of February, 2011
 
Another of the “benefit myths” promulgated by suction dredgers and probably the most complicated is the one dealing with mercury removal.  We all know that mercury contamination is an important environmental issue and that gold miners polluted waterways with this toxic metal during gold rushes of the past.  While it is commendable that suction dredge gold miners want to remediate the sins of their predecessors, the question remains: Are they best equipped to do it?  And when that question has been asked of experts, the answer given is: No.  
Gravel and cobbles that entered the sluice at high velocity caused the mercury to flour, or break into tiny particles. Flouring was aggravated by agitation, exposure of mercury to air, and other chemical reactions.
 
"Gravel and cobbles that entered the sluice at high velocity caused the mercury to flour, or break into tiny particles. Flouring was aggravated by agitation, exposure of mercury to air, and other chemical reactions." From Mercury Contamination from Historical Gold Mining in California
 
A study conducted in 2005 that examined the removal of mercury by suction dredges found that the dredges removed 97% of the elemental mercury.  This is the finding that the suction dredgers tend to focus on and promote.  But there is a "Paul Harvey" moment here too, and that is that the discharge from those dredges would be considered a toxic waste and contains “floured” mercury which is mercury that is easily transformed into a biologically harmful form and transported in the river current.  An independent review of the 2005 study reinforced the findings and said that the peril described was conservative.  
 
The basic message being that it is better to leave the mercury where it is and undisturbed than to try and remove it with recreational suction dredges.  Now suction dredgers—wanting to confuse the issue—have claimed that a proposal to remove mercury from Combie Reservoir in the foothills of the Sierra using modified suction dredges for sediment acquisition proves that suction dredgers should be allowed to perform this “service” and they see this as equivalent to their actions.  My only possible and appropriate response is: Poppycock. 
 
Combie Reservoir
 
The proposed Combie project protocol takes the water and sediments, and pumps them into what is essentially an onshore laboratory which uses centrifuges to extract elemental mercury (see above excerpt from Combie plan).  Then the remaining materials are subjected to sophisticated magnetic and chemical treatments, before being sent to the equivalent of a high-tech sewage treatment facility with frequent testing happening at every step of the process.  Comparing recreational suction dredge mining with the above process is about as appropriate as comparing an abacus with a modern calculator.
 

Dredging Only Mimics Natural Processes
 
The last related myth we see is that some are arguing that suction dredging mimics natural processes like storm events and what suction dredgers do is no different than what nature does.  There are obvious problems with that in terms of timing and magnitude.  Our salmon have evolved over the years to make the best use of fluctuating, but fairly predictable cycles of rain, snow melt and dryness.  The lifecycles and life stages of these fish are dependent on these cycles.  Suction dredges inject disturbance during a time when these systems are least able to deal with disturbance.
 
The magnitude issue is a little more complicated.  Winter storms bring massive changes to rivers, streams, and other waterways.  These seem absolutely chaotic and without pattern or purpose, yet they also leave significant elements and often those are gravel beds and riffles that have become “armored” by a complex combination of cobble, gravel and silt over time.  Suction dredging disassembles these structures and redeposits the constituent parts in tailings that are more likely to be scoured from the streambed.  
 
While this may be characterized as trivial in the big picture view of rivers and tributaries, when you are dealing with endangered and challenged fish, actions that cause or are likely to cause redd failure cannot be allowed or enabled.  
 
*******
AMRA Salmon
People who love an activity are very resistant to being told that it causes problems. Because of that, a system of myths has been developed by those who want to feel good about their actions or who gain economically from the continuance of the activity.  Unfortunately, for the former, these myths are simply not supported by science or experience.  
 
 

Mar08

The Suction Dredging War Starts in Washington: Gentlemen Do Not Start Your Engines

By Bob Ferris
 

 

The above clip came to mind when I was dealing with a recent posting on a fishing site about suction dredge mining in Washington State.  No one expects the Spanish Inquisition and most are not prepared for the onslaught of vitriol, misinformation, threats and bullying typically unleashed by the suction dredge crowd anytime anyone questions their “rights” to run wild and go motorized in our precious and vulnerable salmon-bearing waterways.  
 
This rapid fire electronic carpet bombing by internet trolls is part of an escalating pattern that we have seen over the past decade or so as the idea of sucking up gravel and silt from the bottom of rivers and streams using noisy machines has gained public scrutiny and attention.  
 
Another element of this pattern are states and federal agencies that are wholly unprepared to deal with this issue.  Collectively they have historically worked to enable and simplify permitting without giving any substantive thought to the need for monitoring, enforcement and a consideration of the cumulative and material impacts of this destructive activity—particularly in waterways with struggling salmonids.  The agencies are as unprepared for this assault as we often are.
 
 
In Washington State the agencies seem much like Bambi—the fawn portrayed above.  They have written a nice pamphlet and have a rudimentary permitting program. They have even formed some ill-advised partnerships with suction dredge miners to undertake mercury removal in spite of strong and repeated evidence that this is not a good idea. And now the “Godzilla” created by the ban in California and the restrictions in Oregon is striding purposely towards them one giant, reverberating footfall at a time.  Boom.
 
And who exactly is this horde presently in and now heading north to Washington State?  If you read the comments section of this site and the steelhead site as well as follow what the miners are doing in Southern Oregon, the answer to that is not positive.  In short, they are generally folks with extreme views and behaviors with a high level of resentment to regulation.  And even though they appear largely without advanced education—as evidenced by spelling, grammar and correctness of expression—they appear to lack a corresponding humility because their frequent claims to know more about law than lawyers and more about fish and fisheries impacts than ichthyologists.
 
Racist Tribe Quote
 
The suction dredge miners are also monumentally unaware.  Cascadia is a region defined by rivers frequently named for and still held sacred by tribes working hard to cling to their aquatic heritage.  These are important and valued characteristics of the region to many of us who work with tribes to fulfill the dream of recovered salmon runs and fully functioning coastal ecosystems.  This is in sharp contrast to the overtly racist tone we frequently see from suction dredgers in comment sections.  The quote above (click to enlarge) from a poster known as Terry McClure is particularly offensive but it is by no means unique.
 

In addition, one of the frequent commenters on the Washington dredge piece is a fellow who dredges throughout Cascadia and also sells dredge concentrates on the internet to those who want to pay $50 a pop to pan for gold.  This dredger’s LLC is called Blue Sky Gold Mining which sounds very close to the title of the song by the Australian rock group Midnight Oil—Blue Sky Mining—that became an environmental anthem highlighting the deleterious impacts of mining.  I wonder if he understands the irony in that name?
 
And I wonder if salmon restoration supporters, the tribes, Washington legislators and the state and federal agencies can come together to deal with the existing issue and the looming increase before our salmon and waterways pay the price of this laissez-faire approach to suction dredgers.  Join Fish not Gold and get active. 
 

Nov26

Press Release: Sen. Wyden Drops Logging Turducken* Before Holiday

November 26, 2013
For Immediate Release
 
Contact: Josh Laughlin, Campaign Director, 541.844.8182
               Francis Eatherington, Conservation Director, 541.643.1309
 
Eugene, OR — Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands today expressed disappointment with the O&C forest legislation released by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) that affects management of over two-million acres of public forestland in western Oregon. The conservation organization believes that it is a bad deal for the environmental values that make Oregon special and is committed to working with the Senator to see it drastically improved.
 
“At a time when the demand for clean water and fish and wildlife recovery is high, Congress should be doing all it can to ensure these Oregon values are embraced, not eroded,” says Josh Laughlin, Campaign Director with Cascadia Wildlands. “This bill guts the landmark Northwest Forest Plan’s environmental protection measures, limits citizen participation and judicial review in forest planning, and doesn't solve the funding crisis faced Buck Rising Variable Retention Harvest 2by some western Oregon counties.”
 
Cascadia Wildlands has worked closely with Senator Wyden's office in the recent past on some of the Wilderness proposals in the bill, including Devil's Staircase and Wild Rogue, but believes those efforts should not be coupled with the logging bill for western Oregon. In the current legislation, the conservation gains are far outweighed by the costs to clean drinking water, fish and wildlife, and recreation opportunities. The bill unravels the framework of the 24-million acre Northwest Forest Plan by shrinking streamside buffers in half that were designed to benefit salmon and clean water and eliminating the old-growth forest reserve system established to protect older forest-dependent species.
 
“Some of the things in this proposal are what we saw George W. Bush and Big Timber attempt during that dark period, notably trying to weaken the conservation standards for fish and wildlife in the Northwest in order to ramp up the cut,” says Francis Eatherington, Conservation Director of Cascadia Wildlands. “Instead of squeezing our cherished public forests for every last penny, Congress, state and county politicians should take a fresh look at the timber harvest and severance tax in the state, the absurdly low property taxes in some of the most affected counties, and capitalize on the jobs and raw logs being shipped to Asia.”
 
Cascadia Wildlands has long supported federal forest management in western Oregon that prioritizes restoratively thinning dense tree farms, which generates timber volume for local mills, employs a steady work force in the woods, and raises revenue for counties. Senator Wyden’s bill moves away from this restorative approach toward a controversial clearcutting practice called “variable retention harvest” in forested stands up to 120 years old where 70% of the trees are logged.

* Turducken (dictionary.com): a deboned turkey that is stuffed with a deboned duck that is stuffed with a deboned chicken.

Take action by sending Senator Wyden a personalized comment.

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Sep27

We are Salmon

By Bob FerrisMattCasselman_1598Frasier reds

When reading Tim Egan’s recent op-ed in the New York Times on salmon I was reminded of an “aha” moment I recently experienced at the Tongass talk I gave for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry Science Pub.  Towards the end of the talk I asked the crowd of 90 or so if anyone had never eaten salmon.  No one raised their hand.  No one.

"…what if I told you that the trees are here, in part, because of the salmon? That the trees that shelter and feed the fish, that help build the fish, are themselves built by the fish?" Carl Safina, essayist for “Salmon in the Trees” by Amy Gulick (2010)

When I say “we are salmon,” it is really quite literal because some part of our chemical makeup comes from salmon.  When we consume salmon we certainly derive energy and enjoy taste but our body also takes part of that salmon and incorporates it physically. As Carl Safina suggests above our forests are built in part from salmon, but so are we and we should remember and honor that happenstance.  

Wyden Rally Poster FINAL 10.1.2013Perhaps this is why it is or should be so important for us to fight for salmon and why it has become so important for this organization to stand up against clearcutting of the Tongass, the Elliott and the O&C lands.  It is also the reason why we have opposed GMO salmon and suction dredging for gold in our rivers.  While it is great that we have taken these public stances, you need to channel your inner fish and do likewise.  The good news is that there are many opportunities for this locally, regionally and nationally.

Feel Your Fins and Let Your Activism Swim:

Comment on the Tongass clearcutting schemes

Attend the October 1st Rally for Forests in Portland and Send Senator Wyden your thoughts on the O&C Lands  

 

Sep24

Rally to Protect Western Oregon’s Forests, Waters and Wildlife • October 1, Holladay Park, Portland

Join Cascadia Wildlands and conservation allies across the state at a rally to protect western Oregon's public lands, clean rivers and wild fish runsWyden Rally Poster FINAL 10.1.2013 on Tuesday, Oct. 1 from 12:30-1:30 at Holladay Park (NE 11th and Holladay St.) in northeast Portland. 
 
Late last week, through legislation co-sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio, the House of Representatives passed a bill that will effectively privatize 1.6 million acres of public forestland in western Oregon and transfer this land into a "logging trust" to be clearcut in perpetuity. Sen. Ron Wyden is currently considering introducing his own bill that will likely increase logging on public lands in western Oregon.
 
As we have learned from the past, runaway clearcutting will degrade drinking water supplies, erode salmon runs and harm other wildlife. The impending Senate bill could weaken environmental safeguards and limit public input in the quest to ramp up logging.
 
We can't let this happen. We're turning up the heat on Sen. Wyden in the hopes that he will do the right thing and help protect what makes Oregon so special.
 
We've asked you to take action on this issue recently. Now we are requesting your presence at the rally. We're rallying outside Senator Wyden's office at Holladay Park office to send a clear message: Oregonians want our public lands, waters and wildlife safeguarded into the future!
 
If you can't make the rally, please call Senator Wyden's office on October 1 (or anytime before or after) and tell him to protect our western Oregon forestlands for the clean water they provide, the recreational opportunities they offer, and for the salmon and wildlife they harbor. Washington, D.C. office: 202-224-5244; Portland office: 503-326-7525; Eugene office: 541-431-0229. You can also take action by personalizing a letter to the senator.
 
To carpool to the rally from Eugene: Meet at 9:45 am (for a 10:00 am sharp departure) in the parking lot behind FedEx Office at 13th and Willamette St. Contact Cascadia Wildlands for more information: 541.434.1463. Bring a vehicle if you have one, your friends and neighbors, and hand made signs and banners. Hope to see you on Oct. 1!
 

Sep12

Blog: Rhetoric on Tongass Doesn’t Match Actions

by Gabe Scott
 
A nail is being driven in the coffin on Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Is it a coffin for the old-growth logging industry; or for Tongass wolves, deer and salmon? It is up to you to decide.
 
Recent announcements by the Obama administration offer glimmers of hope. Secretary Vilsack’s July 3, 2013 announcement stated they’ve decided to speed the Waterfall, Coastal Alaska south of Cordovatransition away from old-growth logging. This is welcome news.
 
But the rhetoric doesn’t match actions on the ground. The Forest Service recently decided to log the Big Thorne timber sale. Logging over 6,000 acres of ancient forest on Prince of Wales Island, Big Thorne would be the biggest, most destructive Forest Service sale in a generation.
 
Ironically, Big Thorne is dubbed a “stewardship” project. That’s nonsense.
 
Environmentally, Big Thorne would demolish critical old-growth habitat. Prince of Wales Island has already been logged within an inch of its life. Logging the big tree stands that remain spells disaster. David Person, the world’s foremost expert of Alexander Archipelago wolves, writes that Big Thorne would likely cause “the collapse of a sustainable and resilient predator- prey ecological community.”
 
Second-growth logging isn’t any solution either. Unlike the Pacific Northwest, Alaska’s forests aren’t suited to farming. The second-growth that exists is too small to log. Mills can’t use them. And unlike the Pacific Northwest, where fire-suppression provides an environmental rationale for second-growth thinning, Tongass forests will be most productive by leaving them alone.
 
The problem as well as the solution is seen in the vast network of degrading logging roads on Prince of Wales. A generation of building new roads, while neglecting the old ones, has created a maintenance backlog of tens of millions of dollars. Old roads dump sediment into streams. Old culverts block fish passage.
 
Logging is only a minor part of the economy; salmon are a huge part. So it makes sense to take some of the $200,000-per-job subsidy of the Big Thorne sale, and spend it instead restoring streams and fixing roads.
 
Cascadia, with our close allies at Greenpeace, Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, and the Center for Biological Diversity, have appealed the Big Thorne sale. But lawsuits are a weak tool compared with grassroots pressure.
 
That’s where you come in. I encourage all Cascadians to sign the following petition (and share it with your friends)!
 
 

Aug15

The Fate of Western Oregon’s O&C Forest Lands–Please Join Us

Please join Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild, Forest Web of Cottage Grove, Eugene Weekly and other concerned community members for a presentation about the future of western Oregon’s public forestlands, also known as the DSCN4482O&C lands.  These forest provide 1.8 million Oregonians with clean drinking water, offer habitat for imperiled fish and wildlife, and store incomparable amounts of carbon, yet politicians are looking to ramp up the cut on the these “backyard” forests in order to fund county services.  Come learn about what is at risk, alternative solutions and what you can do. 

When: Monday August 26, 2013, 6-8PM
Where: Eugene Public Library

Speakers:

Josh Laughlin, Campaign Director at Cascadia Wildlands

Chandra LeGue,Western Oregon Field Coordinator at Oregon Wild

Shawn Donnille, Vice President of Mountain Rose Herbs

Ernie Niemi, Senior Economist at ECONorthwest

Moderator:

Camilla Mortensen Eugene Weekly

Event Sponsors:

Cascadia Wildlands  

Mountain Rose Herbs 

Oregon Wild 

Forest Web of Cottage Grove 

Eugene Weekly

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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May02

County Votes Against Anti-mining Effort

Eugene Weekly by Camilla Mortensen
May 2, 2013
 
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife killed sea lion number CO22 (or as activist group Sea Shepherd dubbed him, Brian) April 16, for eating too many salmon, but conservationists say that it’s suction dredge mining, sucking up riverbeds in giant vacuums, that poses a bigger threat to Oregon’s rivers and their fish.

There are currently two bills in the Oregon Legislature that could protect Oregon’s rivers from suction dredging and the Lane County commission’s conservative majority recently voted not to support one of them, Senate Bill 401. The other one, SB 838, did not come up for county vote.

SB 401 started off as a bill to put a Scenic Waterway designation on more of Oregon’s rivers and tributaries. Portions of the McKenzie River are already protected as an Oregon Scenic Waterway, but SB 401 would protect the water of the lower McKenzie and its summer steelhead, endangered spring Chinook salmon, endangered bull trout, rainbow trout and cutthroat trout.

Scenic waterways protection means that the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department must be notified of activities proposed within a quarter mile of the bank, such as cutting trees, mining and constructing roads, railroads, utilities, buildings or other structures. The conservative majority of the County Commission bristled at this during their April 23 meeting. They also appeared to not be up-to-date on the current version of SB 401, which according to Josh Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands, as it has been amended would only require the state of Oregon to review a list of 30 stretches of waterways named in the bill and make a recommendation in two years whether they should be included as scenic waterways.

Commissioner Jay Bozievich said at the meeting he thought that if the parks department “can’t seem to maintain their current parks,” citing issues with Glass Bar Island, then adding more rivers to the list would be problematic. Farr agreed, but specified he was not opposed to protecting drinking water. Commissioner Faye Stewart said he had been contacted by people up the McKenzie concerned about how the river protection might affect “what they can and cannot do on their property.” Pete Sorenson was the only commissioner to vote that the county should endorse SB 401 and look to protecting the river. “Voting against the bills means they are voting against clean water and wild salmon recovery. That is not a popular position this day and age,” Laughlin says.

Stewart also brought up a moratorium on suction dredge mining, but that moratorium is actually part of SB 838, which the county did not vote on. Laughlin says 838 would put a five-year moratorium on suction dredging in state-designated essential salmon habitat until a modernized suction dredge system was implemented.

Laughlin says not only is suction dredging bad for salmon, it can affect human health when mercury becomes converted into methyl mercury, a form that’s toxic to humans and moves easily through the food chain. He says he finds it “incredible that Oregon takes great efforts to protect and restore salmon, like shutting down the commercial fishery periodically or shooting sea lions at Bonneville Dam, but we allow gas-powered vacuums to suck up river bottoms in critical salmon streams.”

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