Posts Tagged ‘SB 838’


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.”

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.”



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.”


Lawmakers mull gold dredging moratorium


By Jeff Barnard The Associated Press

April 19, 2013
A bill to put a five-year moratorium on using suction dredges to mine for gold in key salmon streams is moving through the Oregon Legislature.
By a 3-2 vote Wednesday night, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee referred Senate Bill 838 to the Joint Ways and Means Committee for further consideration.
Co-sponsor Sen. Alan Bates, a Medford Democrat, said new federal permit requirements in Idaho and a state moratorium in California are pushing thousands of small-scale gold miners to Oregon, primarily the southwestern corner of the state that was home to the 1850s Gold Rush.
He said the moratorium will give time to study how the motorized dredges affect water quality and salmon.
“I still think there is a middle ground, that will allow a place for miners to go if they are careful, and follow the right regulations,” Bates said. “Neither side is willing to come together and talk to each other. People sitting before the committee were raising their voices. The miners feel strongly. I understand that.”
Bates said he was not sure the bill had the votes to clear the Senate, but he was particularly moved by a report from scientists with the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society who pointed out threats to salmon from the dredges.
In written testimony submitted to the committee, miners said fish and water quality already are protected by existing regulations, a moratorium would kill an industry worth millions of dollars and put a financial hardship on miners who depend on gold to feed and clothe their families. They said the state had no authority to restrict work on mining claims on federal land.

When Equal is not Equal You Need a Timeout


By Bob Ferris

During the recent suction dredge hearings Senator Olsen made a point of comparing suction dredgers and river guides as if they were equivalent entities with equal or similar impacts—both plus or minus.  Although I praise him for trying to show that there are two sides to this coin we are really talking about two very different coins.  But since the Senator opened the door, I would say that it would make sense to do some comparisons between the two enterprise types.
One of the themes emphasized by the suction dredge miners during the hearing was one of burdensome regulations that were impacting their operations.  The miners repeatedly tried to characterize themselves as victims and how their regulatory hindrance was much larger than most.  But when compared to river guides and outfitters this does not seem to be the case, as we can see above.  
The validity of pushing this equivalency issue becomes even more tortured when one looks at the economic activity associated with river guides and outfitters and the magnitudes of the population sectors served.  The economic comparisons become difficult because while some studies on the economics of clean river associated economic activity have been done in Oregon the same is not true for suction dredging.  So we have to look for surrogates and make some educated assumptions as we sort through the apples and oranges of these analyses.
Right now suction dredge permits in Oregon stand at around 2400.  In California when they did their analysis on suction dredgers (2010) they had approximately 3500 permit holders that were responsible for the creation of nearly 50 full and part-time jobs as well as $2.5 million in personal income and a little less than $124 thousand in sales tax revenue (see table 5 in Socioeconomic Report in Suction Dredge Permit Program Environmental Impact Report).   As it is likely valid for ball park figures to assume that the Oregon experience will be somewhat similar, these figures applied against Oregon’s 2400 permits will likely translate into 34 jobs and $170 thousand in personal income with nothing in the sales tax column. By comparison, If we look at just the 84-mile Wild and Scenic portion of the Rogue River we observe that waterway in 2008 was estimated to be producing 445 full and part-time jobs and $15.4 million in personal income—more than an order of magnitude above suction dredging’s entire contribution across all rivers on the California economy (see Regional Economic Impacts of Recreation on the Wild and Scenic Rogue River)
“Both rafting and fishing participants were found to experience a high degree of conflict with suction dredging. For rafters, conflicts arise from noise, engine exhaust, and the physical presence of dredgers in the waterway. Fishing participants are affected by access barriers (including intimidation, lack of parking, equipment conflicts), safety issues (e.g., dredge holes), and localized effects on fish caused by turbidity and disturbances. Suction dredging can conflict with other recreational uses, such as hiking, picnicking, and camping, by generating noise and engine exhaust in the vicinity of recreationists. Because these activities generate recreation-related spending, conflicts can potentially reduce use levels and associated economic effects in regional and local economies.” Socio-economic Report in Suction Dredge Permit Program Environmental Impact Report.
We could slice and dice these numbers and look at per capita analyses or other evaluations but in essence we have a big economic number (many times bigger than the Rogue figures once those figures are extrapolated across the Oregon waterways) that is likely put at some unknown risk by a much, much smaller number.  Since the level of this small activity and its associated risk are rapidly accelerating in the face of significant knowledge gaps, inadequate regulation and wrong-size oversight infrastructure, prudency demands that we take a moment until we fully understand the consequences and can get our ducks in a row.  And that is exactly what we are asking for with SB 838—a timeout.  

Bills Introduced to Curb Suction Dredge Mining to Protect Wild Salmon and Clean Water

The Oregon legislature is currently considering: 1) SB 838 which would enact a moratorium on suction dredge mining in Essential Salmon Habitat in Oregon, and 2) SB 401 which would require the state of Oregon to review a list of nearly 30 river segments and make a recommendation as to whether or not they should be included in the State Scenic Waterway system.
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