Posts Tagged ‘suction dredging’

Aug22

The American Mining Rights Association: A Darwin Award Winner in the Making

By Bob Ferris
 
“AMRA is different than all other non-profit associations, we don’t give you a T-shirt or a bumper sticker for a donation, we give you access to our gold claims.  Proven claims.  We own these claims, and most have been used to provide us with our incomes.  We are expanding our claim holdings in as many states as we possibly can and access to these claims will be provided to our members.  Our wish would be that every member who mines our claims makes back any donation to us in gold.”  AMRA website 
 
Those who have read my blogs and other writings know that I do not suffer bullies (real or cyber), truth-benders, fools or those who purposely ignore laws gladly.  And with Shannon Poe of the American Mining Rights Association we have all four.  
American Mining Rights Association
My first encounter with Mr. Poe (and his present or one-time fiance Ms. Grossman) was when someone told me that he was challenging me to a debate on the AMRA Facebook page.  As he never directly contacted me and I was unaware that there was a virtual chair waiting for my posterior, I was a little bothered when he publicly criticized me for not having the courage to show up—I believe there was even a mention of some missing body parts at one time. He riffed on that for a while until I found out and actually visited his site.  I then asked him to defend several statements he made in one of his too, too long video rants.  
American Mining Rights Association T Shirt
I had many issues with his video that was circulated during the debates on Oregon suction dredge legislation.  But the one gem that I really wanted an answer on was his statement that people along the rivers in Oregon—if those rivers were designated as state scenic waterways—would have to go through an environmental impact process to plant tomatoes.   Really?
 
We had some give and take on this and I kept asking the same questions, which he never answered.  His response was to insult me personally (again) and when he realized that he could not defend his statements and respond to rational questions, he banned me from the AMRA site and removed that portion of the dialog.  The whole incidence bothered me so I took a few minutes to try to figure out who and what AMRA was.
AMRA2
 
My research led me to the fairly functioning AMRA website and on the site they claimed to be a non-profit company.  But in other areas of the site and elsewhere they describe themselves variously as a 501(c)3 entity or as having applied for non-profit status with the IRS.  Since it is illegal in California to solicit funds for non-profit purposes unless you are a registered non-profit, I thought that I would check in with the State of California and the IRS (see above status report).  As he was not registered with either, I filed a simple complaint form with the Attorney General’s Office in Sacramento (see below result).  And that was that.  Until I saw a video posted on our friends and campaign partners the Fish Not Gold site in Washington State.  
AMRA3
Not satisfied with the non-profit violations, Mr. Poe thought that he would rip a page out of Cliven Bundy’s play book and publicly suction dredge in Idaho without the required EPA permit.  His video even stated that he did not have a permit and it included captioning identifying AMRA as a non-profit, which is clearly not the case.  Now I will admit that the federal and state law enforcement agencies have their hands full with a bumper crop of public land duffuses at this point, but the fact that Mr. Poe seems to beg for it and provides his own video evidence should move him to the front portion of this large class.  I would add that given the challenges that salmonids in the West are facing with water flows and temperatures at this juncture, his “my rights were given me by God” action was particularly poorly timed for the fish.
 

 
Now I suppose he could use the Glenn Beck I-got-caught-up-in-the-moment-and-was-spewing-crap defense for his earlier video statements.  After all the camera was running and he therefore had to say something—but his actions in Idaho are something different.  That is also true for his continued claims of being a non-profit even after being sent a notice by the California Attorney General’s Office of problems with his operation and being rejected on similar grounds when he applied for a raffle permit earlier this year (see below).   
AMRA4
And I am still trying to sort out all the problems with the opening statement of this piece from the AMRA website.  All I can conclude is that Mr. Poe is a big fan of Tom Sawyer.  My conclusion is drawn from his concept that people will pay him to be able to work his claims and then give him back the fruits of their labor—in gold, mind you—so that he can buy more claims, pay legal fees or protect their rights as he sees fit.  But the fact that he and others are not required to return their findings to the “non-profit” indicates that he is self-dealing and that they are getting value for the contribution which means it is not a donation nor is it tax deductible even if they were legally a 501c3 non-profit.   In point of fact it makes him exactly like every other mining club selling access, only he wants his miners to return what they find.
 
 

 
Now I will be the first to admit that running a non-profit is complicated.  It isn’t simply a case of paying LegalZoom and then getting a tax number so you can open a bank account.  There are federal filings and state applications as well as officers, meetings, bylaws and minutes to deal with.  Believing a $149 payment gets you a soup-to-nuts solution and a fully-fledged non-profit not needing care and feeding is a lot like thinking having sex is all there is to raising kids.  As we can see by the above dialog on the AMRA Facebook page, Mr. Poe is clearly out of his depth when it comes to the legal requirements for non-profits and thinking that these bare minimum, cookie-cutter Articles of Incorporation are a "license" of any type is telling and indicates his lack of sophistication in this arena.  
 
"showing that miners are not just uninformed, uneducated folks with scratchy beards and missing teeth as our opposition seems to picture us." AMRA Website
 
On one of their pages AMRA bemoans the fact that the public does not have a good impression of suction dredge miners and others who search for gold (see above).  I can understand that concern.  But exactly what impression should the public have of a group of people that continually and publicly misrepresent the science, disregard the laws of our country and act in a threatening, belligerent and bullying manner?  This is not really a matter of underpowered public relations, but a consistent and well documented pattern of behavior that makes the rest of us less and less willing to tolerate these machines and this we-are-beyond-the-law culture in our precious waterways.  
 

May07

Ninkasi T-shirt: Art Imitates Life But Also Inspires Action

By Bob Ferris
 
Our new collaborative T-shirt design with Ninkasi speaks symbolically and literally for rivers (at right). Ninkasi T Shirt
 
For instance, the river flowing out of us on the shirt and into a Ninkasi pint glass graphically represents our work to protect waters and Ninkasi’s significant support for efforts to keep our region’s waterways clean and wild.  This makes perfect sense as both our entities are headquartered in Eugene on the banks of a river and we operate in a region—Cascadia—that is defined by its cascading waters.  We are in water people.
 
the-narrows-viewpoint-north-umpqua-river-myrtle-creek-300x186Cascadia Wildlands' water work is sometimes pretty obvious and upfront such as our efforts to get suction dredgers out of our precious salmon steelhead waters, our work to protect tree-lined, riparian corridors from harm and our advocacy against harmful public lands grazing. And sometimes our water work is a little more cryptic like our battles against coal exports, LNG pipelines and carbon export facilities.   But all of it is directed towards keeping the water that we live near, play in and depend on for life in a wild state.
 
This shirt design should be taken literally as well, because Cascadia Wildlands works to protect the McKenzie and other nearby watersheds which is where Ninkasi other local breweries gets their water.  Our recent, successful lawsuit on the Goose Timber Sale and our efforts now on the ill-advised Green Mountain Project (please click below to take action) all act to protect this globally-known watershed for people, fish and even beer.  
 
 
For all of the above reasons we are proud of this shirt for all it represents.  And we happy that we will be able to start offering this shirt this coming Saturday May 10th at the Hoedown where we celebrate our partners in all of these efforts: You.  
 
So get your tickets now to come square dance, drink some Ninkasi (and Oakshire) brews, play games, eat monumental vegetarian chili and cavort around a campfire with the finest bunch of people found in Cascadia.  Yee Haw!
 

 

Apr23

Interior Department: The Need for a Gumption Pill

By Bob Ferris
 
gump•tion  [guhmp-shuhn]  noun Informal.
1. initiative; aggressiveness; resourcefulness: With his gumption he'll make a success of himself.
2. courage; spunk; guts: It takes gumption to quit a high-paying job.
3. common sense; shrewdness. 
From Dictionary.com 
 
There are times when I fantasize about products that I would like to see.  One of those products that is high on my list right now would be gumption pills.  For if this product existed I would send cases of !cid_0BAFA484-1336-41EC-865D-6D83DF8F3EE6these pills directly to 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20240.
 
"The U.S. Department of the Interior protects America’s natural resources and heritage, honors our cultures and tribal communities, and supplies the energy to power our future." From US Department of Interior website.
 
What is there?  This is the address of the US Department of Interior whose mission is stated above.  And they could surely use this attribute of gumption at this point.  
 
Why would I say this?  Well let’s start with the fact that the Department in the form of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) just let an abusive and cantankerous cowboy parley his family’s $10 investment in 1948 in 160 acres of desert land with some water rights into a standoff of monumental proportion and consequence.  
 
Had this agency been taking gumption pills, they would have solved this situation two decades ago rather than letting it linger and fester.  As it was they had to be dragged kicking and screaming towards resolution by lawsuits and then they dropped the situation like a super-heated spud ending with a greater mess than when they started.   In the absence of gumption the squeaky wheeled bullies prevailed, the cattle are still there, and the American public lost on so many levels.  
 
020213Minam_odfw-1But this is not the only symptom that might be treated by the gumption pills.  We also have the recent proposal to delist the gray wolves in most of the lower 48 states.  Here again the Interior Department agency involved—the US Fish and Wildlife Service—listened to noisy bullies in the form of state wildlife agencies and anti-wolf trophy hunters and came up with a “plan” that was universally criticized by the scientific peer-review team and by conservationists around the globe.  
 
Then there is Powder River Basin coal.  I get the “supplies energy to power our future” part of Interior’s mission but how in any rational system of thought is selling coal to foreign companies and global corporations at prices that make it profitable for them to ship it 7000 miles to China an element of powering our future?  The same goes for fracking and LNG export, particularly when it should be balanced with the “protect America’s natural resources” aspect of their mission.  
 
And what is true for cattle grazing, wolves, coal and natural gas is also true for trees and forests.  The BLM has control of more than two and half million acres of federal forest lands in western Oregon.  Here the chainsaws of the forest industry seem to be heard better by BLM than those in Oregon or coming to Oregon to work in industries that are actually growing rather than shrinking in terms of economic contributions.  Here again BLM is faced with the choice of listening to the noisy few or the quiet many who come and stay in Oregon because of the natural amenities not because of clearcuts, landslides, or their love of jake-braking logging trucks.  
 
Unfortunately I could go on and on here, but the catalyst for this rambling rant is that suction dredge miners in Idaho are notifying the BLM that they are planning a protest to be staged on BLM lands and mendoAu ripping up bankperpetrated in the waters of the iconic Salmon River.  The suction dredgers plan, as I understand it, is to assemble themselves and their suction dredges on the banks of the Salmon and then run those machines in the river in protest of their recent legislative failure to get the US EPA banned from Idaho.  The legislation failed because it was judged unconstitutional so the suction dredgers—who frequently and passionately invoke the US Constitution as well as the 1872 Mining Law—are basically protesting the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution which is exactly what they invoke when they say that that state or local efforts to exclude suction are trumped by the 1872 Mining Law, which incidentally, does not mention suction dredging anywhere in that 1872 act.  
 
Robin Boyce, acting manager for the Cottonwood Field Office, said the BLM is working on a response to the event planned on the Salmon River in central Idaho near Riggins around the Fourth of July, the Lewiston Tribune (http://bit.ly/QCPIVP) reported Tuesday.
 
"We are still trying to figure out how this would work and when and if it is possible on BLM property," Boyce said.  From the Idaho Statesman April 22, 2014
 
In any case, the BLM response to this above was gumption-less.  It was a “we have to talk to our parents” sort of response.  Had they had their gumption pills the response could have been something along these lines: We will not grant you permission to use the federal lands under our care to break federal pollution laws.  Or simply: Hell no.  The latter would be so refreshing.
 
Cascadia Wildlands and other similar organizations regularly sue the Interior Department agencies.  We do so not because we like to but when the Department—in its many guises—lacks the gumption to enforce their own laws or regulations.  We do so not in a casual and reflexive manner but after long discussions and many notices to the agencies involved.  And when in the end they fail to act as the laws and regulation proscribe, we in essence become the “gumption pills” they need.  
 
I would love for the US Department of Interior to suddenly develop gumption and bring constructive resolve to all of the above issues from the Bundy fiasco to the weak wolf plan and from energy to the suction dredger lawlessness.  I am ready and willing to be surprised by agencies following the law and maybe even doing a little bit more.  But I am also prepared—along with my colleagues and partners who represent the un-listened to public and the speechless critters and ecosystems—to be the gumption that this is lacking in this important federal department.
 

Apr09

Pop Go the Weasel Words

By Bob FerrisPine marten
 
When my wife and I lived in Santa Barbara our house was up a brushy canyon and we had trouble getting fire insurance.  The real estate agent joked about an old saw in the area that goes something like this: It is not “if” your house is going to burn in Santa Barbara but “when.”  
 
This saying is common in the area and our house—after we sold it and left Santa Barbara—did in fact burn to the ground during a canyon fire.  Not only that, but it would have burned a second time had it been rebuilt.  So certainly there was some truth in the saying, but is it too strong considering that some houses do not burn in Santa Barbara?  Perhaps a more cautionary statement with caveats is in order including the use of so-called weasel words?
 
“The key is that suction dredging represents a chronic unnatural disturbance of natural habitats that are already likely to be stressed by other factors and can therefore have a negative impact on fishes that use the reach being dredged.” Dr. Peter B. Moyle 
 
Every scientist who has ever written a recommendation or a report is familiar with the term “weasel words.”  Those are the words that we have been trained to use.  We use them because we have been aggressively taught the necessity to be “right” much more often than we are “wrong.” In this context, we also are all painfully aware that when we test something and are 95% sure that it works that way, 5% of the time it will not.  Pop go the weasel words and we preload our statements with this uncertainty.  
 
“Timber harvesting could possibly cause what is likely an inevitable event to occur sooner.” Noel Wolff, a hydrologist who worked for Washington State writing about the timber harvest above the deadly landslide on the Snohomish River in Washington in the Seattle Times
 

Oso Slide

But those who interpret “may” as “won’t” or “could” as “will not,” do so at great peril (see AP photo of the Oso, Washington mudslide at left).  This becomes even more problematic when we deal with complex, multi-variant natural systems where uncertainty and confusion are accounted for with even more cautious language and phrasing.
 
Interestingly, the level of complexity and the level of consequence often track one another.  Unfortunately, the financial rewards of inaction also track both these measures too.  So the fiscal benefits to the fossil-fuel industry, timber companies, livestock interests and suction dredgers for actively clouding the science on climate change, geological stability, predator-prey relationships and disturbing rivers are incentivized.  Essentially the complexity provides both opportunities and shelter for those wanting to invest profitably in misinformation.  
 
Original Language: "Many scientific observations indicate that the Earth is undergoing a period of relatively rapid change."
 
Modified Language: "Many scientific observations point to the conclusion that the Earth may be undergoing a period of relatively rapid change."
 
Weasel words come from this caution, but they are also frequently injected into documents for political and economic reasons too (see language changes above from 2002 report on climate change).  Climate change policy documents in this country are rife with statements that are altered not by the scientists themselves but by those who edit or provide comments in order to dampen the call for action.  
 
Likewise, many of these documents and the cautions of scientists are removed via the consensus process that is sometimes insisted on by special interests groups.  A good example of this is to compare habitat comments and recommendations relating to forestry and grazing practices in a document prepared by black-tail deer biologists and one completed under a consensus process that included timber and livestock interests in Oregon.   
 
The “take home” messages here are to listen carefully to what scientists say and why.  The insurance industry has done this well and as a consequence was one of the first industries to recognize the perils of climate change.  Some sportsmen groups and hunters are starting to understand that prey species are more often limited by habitat and land management regimes than by predators.  And legislators in Maine recently listened to the message delivered by scientists and will no longer allow suction dredging in Class AA rivers occupied by important salmon and trout species.  Keeping it wild means paying attention to the science–weasel words and all–and letting that point both to peril and also opportunities to make the world a little wilder.
 
 

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.  
 
 

Aug15

Governor Signs Bill to Protect Salmon Habitat by Reducing Impacts of Suction Dredge Gold Mining on Oregon Rivers

For immediate releaseMendoAu dredge
August 15, 2013
 
Contact
Forrest English, Rogue Riverkeeper, 541-261-2030
Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands, 541-844-8182
Erik Fernandez, Oregon Wild, 503-283-6343 x202
Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch of Oregon, 541-708-0731
 
Governor Signs Bill to Protect Salmon Habitat
Bill to Reduce Impacts of Suction Dredge Gold Mining on Oregon Rivers
 
Salem, OR — Anglers, landowners, outdoor recreation businesses, and river advocates celebrated yesterday as Governor John Kitzhaber signed Senate Bill 838 (SB 838). The bill takes steps to protect salmon habitat throughout Oregon through reasonable reductions in levels of harmful 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 first step to ensure their protection as most Oregonian’s desire.”
 
The signed bill is a compromise with three main sections to be implemented over the next three years. The first part starting in 2014 will bring the maximum numbers of permits down to 850 statewide – the number of permits issued in Oregon before California banned this type of mining, driving a large increase of out of state miners to Oregon rivers.  The legislation gives preference to long-time Oregon miners and makes lonely minor changes to current dredging regulations.
 
The second portion of the bill directs the Governor’s office to lead state agencies in the development of  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 suction dredging.
 
“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 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.
 
"While this bill doesn't solve the problem it's an important first step in better protecting Oregon's drinking water sources from mining pollution,” said Erik Fernandez of Oregon Wild.
 
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.
 
"In response to this growing threat to Oregon's iconic rivers and streams, a broad coalition of fishermen, conservationists, outfitters, and other river enthusiasts asked the legislature this year to take reasonable, science-based steps to protect these invaluable resources," said Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch of Oregon's Southern Oregon Program Manager. "We commend our legislative leaders and the Governor for taking this first step toward better protection of our state's rivers and salmon runs."
 
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,” said Forrest English of Rogue Riverkeeper. “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.”
 
 
                                                                                           ####

Jul23

Fantastic Fourth Float

To celebrate the recent passage of the suction dredging bill and in an effort to remove myself from the computer, a friend of mine Kyle who works for a local watershed council and I decided to paddle down the Willamette River from Eugene to Independence Oregon, just south of Salem.  Growing up paddling in the Ozarks, I had been missing these types of excursions, and jumped at the chance to camp on gravel bars for a few nights.  We took advantage of some days off for the Fourth of July weekend and borrowed a Wenonah Spirit (17 foot all-purpose canoe).  We planned for three nights of meals and four days on the river and after realizing we forgot a stove, resolved to cook over fires.  

We put in at Armitage State Park in Springfield, actually on the McKenzie River, only a couple of miles from the confluence with the Willamette.  I was hoping we would get to shoot the roller under Autzen Bridge on the way through Alton Baker Park, but I realized later that my friend had purposely avoided this route, likely in an effort to preserve his expensive fly-fishing gear that was brought along.  

This first stretch of the river contained a fair deal of fast water, and some narrow turns, the first of which almost spilled us as I turned the bow a little too soon and caught an eddy current that put the edge of the boat on the water line, and turned us 280 degrees.  The Willamette took some time for me to adjust too, the sheer quantity of water forces you to prepare your turns much earlier, and I eventually learned to prepare my line far before a large strainer was upon us.

We entirely spaced the confluence between the McKenzie and the Willamette, but apparently it is not that significant.   It consisted of at least two separate smaller streams feeding into the main channel of the McKenzie, but shortly after realizing we had missed the confluence, we noticed that the river had gotten much larger.  

The first night we camped about ten miles south of Corvallis, west of Brownsville.  We had found an excellent large gravel bar on a secluded stretch of the river, figured it was around 5 or 6 (we put in at 11am), and gathered plentiful drift wood for a nice fire to clear any bugs and prepare dinner.  It was the fourth and we were camped at a bend in the river allowing us to see up at least a couples of miles of straight river that pointed to Corvallis.  After a horrible dinner of mac and cheese and hot dogs (‘merica) that settled like an enormous stone in our stomachs and set the stage for emergency pull-overs the next day, we played some cribbage and luckily we able to catch the majority of the firework show in Corvallis that was above the tree line.

We had plenty of wood leftover for coffee and bacon in the morning (make sure to bring some sort of work gloves when cooking over open flames) and got on the water relatively early in an effort to catch some wildlife.  The river has slowed a fair deal, which allowed Kyle to fish from the bow, although apparently the fishing is not very good that far north.  We stumbled upon a lot of blue herons, bald eagles, kingfishers, the occasional deer, and frequently spotted fish swimming alongside the boat.  This early stretch of the river was filled with beautiful large gravel bars, plenty of nice camping spots, and good looking river banks.  

We soon passed through Peoria and Corvallis, where the Willamette is joined by the Marys River.  We were joined on the river by some partying college students that were enjoying the sun.  After Corvallis we also noticed a couple of motor boats on the water; we were passed by a large police boat that despite our efforts decided to corner the flotilla of OSU kids.  Aside of the riverside parks after the confluence with the Calapooia (Kyle’s watershed council), the river began to take on a totally different look.  Very agricultural, prominent erosion on the banks and every once in a while, a large piece of rusting farm equipment half submerged.  The water had slowed dramatically; we figured we were covering around 2 miles an hour with slight paddling.  Camping opportunities, aside from crowded boat ramp parks, became scarce in this section as well.  As the day wore on, we became slightly worried about finding a decent gravel bar to post-up on.  We decided to push through Albany, and attempt to hit a two-mile long island that we were confident  would have some camping.  

We were not making good time and as the sun started to approach the tree-line, we started paddling hard in an effort to find this ominously self-titled island.  We reached the island as the sun was setting.  We beached the boat at the tip of the island, and hiked around briefly to decide where to camp.  There was a great spot, although boggy, on the east side of the island, which also shielded us from the noise of the road on the far west bank of the river.  We quickly gathered some wood, and started a smoky fire to keep away the bugs we knew the frequent pools were sheltering , and given the hard paddling for the past few hours, elected to cook our ribeyes and twice baked potatoes that I had prepared and wrapped in foil days before.  Kyle retied early, but I decided to prop myself up in two camping chairs and weather the night next to the fire.  The north portion of the island had a large stand of cottonwoods and firs, that as I soon realized, harbored an enormous bat population.  Watching the stars, I felt like I was looking through a screen door there were some many bats preying on the bugs those pools were producing.  There was also a beaver nearby that I heard throughout the night, who was also evidenced by the nice chewed on hardwood sticks I was using to fuel the fire.  In the morning we prepared coffee and bagel and sausage sandwiches.  After a morning swim, we were able to load the canoe quickly and hit the water. 

Just several miles north of our camp spot we hit the confluence of the Santiam River, which was marked by an enormous and awesome gravel bar.  This stretch of the river altered dramatically as well.  The agricultural traces began to fade and we began to come across large bluffs and gravel bars.  Having made good time the following day, we stopped and enjoyed the sun for a bit and got in some more fishing.  We also took a lot of time to fish the frequent sloughs along the river.  These sloughs were sluggish, frequently dead-ending, side-channels of the river.  Kyle was sight fishing for carp, looking for murky disturbances in the water (sign of feeding), attempting to spot the three feet fish scared out by our shadow, and then dropping the line right in front of the fish in hopes it would take hold.  We had several good opportunities, but never landed one.  It was incredible to see these huge fish, in these very shallow and isolated back channels, where they spend their entire lives.  

Despite resting the majority of the day on improvised dry-bag back rests, we still arrived at our take out in Independence that third night, where there was no camping allowed.  We had totaled around 90 miles in three days, likely averaging around 3-4 miles per hour.  There is a big fourth celebration in Independence, Oregon (given the name) on that Saturday night and allow tempted to stay and experience the town, we decided to load up the car and head back into Eugene for the evening.  All in all it was an incredible trip and novel way to spend a holiday.  I was amazed by the resilience of this heavily abused river that has been able to recover quickly and still provide an easy escape from town.  What’s the saying: “Nature bats last.”

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.”

                                                                 ####

Apr29

Southern Oregon miners file injunction to stop legislation on motorized mining moratorium

By Yuxing Zheng, The Oregonian 
April 26, 2013
 
SALEM — A southern Oregon mining group is seeking an injunction in federal court to stop bills under consideration in the Legislature that would place a moratorium on motorized mining.
 
Galice Mining District and four representatives filed the request in U.S. District Court in Eugene on Tuesday. It names Gov. John Kitzhaber; Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem; Sen. Jackie Dingfelder, D-Portland; and Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford.
 
The group argues that the federal General Mining Law of 1872 protects the rights of miners to extract minerals. They seek to stop four Senate bills, two of which are still alive in this session.
 
Senate Bill 838 would place a moratorium on motorized mining, including suction-dredge mining, until January 2018. Senate Bill 401 would require the State Department of Parks and Recreation to study adding additional rivers and streams to the list of scenic waterways.
 
 "It is the position of Galice Mining District that these bills are not only unlawful and unconstitutional, but also constitute possible criminal activity," the complaint said.
 
Dozens of environmentalists and miners testified for four hours during an April 15 public hearing on the two bills.
Jeff Manning, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Justice, questioned the case's legal merits.
 
"We can safely say we are unaware of any mechanism that would allow a party to challenge a not-yet law," Manning said. "It wouldn't be ripe for adjudication."
 
Legislative immunity also provides that lawmakers "can't be sued for what they do in their capacity as a legislator," Manning said.
 
Bates, a leading supporter of both bills, said he was notified of the filing Thursday afternoon and had not had a chance to review it in detail.
"I have a hunch it's not going to be upheld," Bates said. "My bottom line is that I want to see those streams and rivers protected. If there's some middle ground, that's fine, but right now, I haven't seen that middle ground yet."
 
Kitzhaber's spokesman called the injunction request "unusual" and declined further comment.
 
The Galice Mining District was established in 1853 and serves the miners of Douglas, Josephine and Jackson counties, according to its website. A spokeswoman for the district declined to answer questions when reached by phone and e-mail Friday.
 
 
Background Links Related to Article Comments
 
FONSI not Fonzie (explanation on suction dredging impacts)
 
 
 
 
Actions to Take
 

Apr26

FONSI not Fonzie

 

By Bob Ferris

 
"…not once during the many hours of public testimony was the committee presented with scientific evidence that the practice of small-scale suction dredge mining is damaging to fish populations or the environment." Oregon State Senator Olsen in an op-ed in Oregon Business 
 
During the recent hearing on suction dredging in Salem—where I counted no fewer than four scientists presenting evidence of fish and environmental impacts—much was made about this issue of the California analyses that produced several conditional Findings of No Significant Impact–FONSIs in agency speak sounding just like the leather jacketed icon of Happy Days’ fame.  
 
Unfortunately, in the rationalization, distillation and spin game often played by the miners, their “science” advisors, and supporters this conveniently morphs from “recreational suction dredging will have no significant adverse impacts on species and habitats with special legal status if the following conditions are met” into the above statement by Senator Olsen.  To understand this you need to go to the FONSI documents and read the source material.  I made this point during my testimony, but clearly this was part of the science that Senator Olsen did not hear or was not willing to research.
 
Criteria for Determining Significance
 
For the purposes of this analysis, the Proposed Program [suction dredging] would result in a significant impact to biological resources if it would meet one or more of the following criteria:
 
Criterion A: Have a substantial adverse effect, either directly or through habitat modifications, on any species identified as a candidate, sensitive, or special status species in local or regional plans, policies, or regulations, or by the CDFG, USFWS, or NMFS; 
 
Criterion B: Have a substantial adverse effect on any riparian habitat or other sensitive natural community identified in local or regional plans, policies, regulations or by CDFG, USFWS, or NMFS;
 
Criterion C: Have a substantial adverse effect on federally protected wetlands as defined by Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (including, but not limited to, marsh, vernal pool, coastal, etc.) through direct removal, filling, hydrological interruption, or other means; or 
 
Criterion D: Interfere substantially with the movement of any native resident or migratory fish or wildlife species or with established native resident or migratory wildlife corridors, or impede the use of native wildlife nursery sites.
 
 
So we learn from the above criteria that “significance” in this context was limited to a narrow spectrum of special class species and habitats rather than all fish and environmental impacts.  So any statements that claim that suction dredging has no significant impacts on fish or the environment based on this draft document is grossly overstating the findings and misrepresenting the information presented in this report.  
 
And once we dig deeper into the individual findings on this narrow list of species and habitats, we find that it is conditional on a multitude of factors.  If someone reads through the document they will find more than 20 provisions designed to mitigate or minimize the documented or scientifically supported inferences of impacts associated with the activity of suction dredge mining.  But sometimes even this extensive menu of provisions was not enough to prevent impacts or risk to these sensitive species and habitats.  
 
Off the top of my head I do not know how many of these 20-plus provisions exist or are applicable and sufficient in Oregon.  This is one of the main reasons for this moratorium which is made even more urgent and prudent in the face of rapidly increasing permits as well as increasing complaints and violations.
 
In addition to these FONSI determinations being dependent on adherence to all or some of the above provisions, there are also some additional restrictions on waters for specific species that need to be met as well. In the California draft analysis they handled this by establishing an (A-H) classification system which included the following classifications among others:
 
(1) Class A: No dredging permitted at any time.
(2) Class B: Open to dredging from July 1 through August 31.
(3) Class C: Open to dredging from June 1 through September 30.
(4) Class D: Open to dredging from July 1 through January 31.
 
For vulnerable species that are put most at risk by suction dredging like salmonids—salmon, steelhead and trout—the minimum closure for waterways containing those fish starts at Class 3 or 4, but that is not always considered sufficient.  For Chinook salmon all waterways containing those fish were designated Class A and closed to dredging all year round—no exceptions.  For Coho salmon the requirements varied from Class A-C depending upon both the condition and the function of those stretches of rivers or streams.  With Coho special attention were given to thermal refugia—those deep, cooler pools where fish tend to congregate to escape the warmer and sometimes fatal water temperatures of summer.  
 
Useful knowledge on this scale in Oregon needs to be established during the proposed moratorium along with criteria and mechanisms for making adjustments should impacts arise.  Regulation in the absence of monitoring and standards is folly.  
 
Nothing in the above or in this oft cited FONSI—when examined closely—should lead anyone to believe that small-scale suction dredging is without consequence or risk to fish or the environment.  As to Senator Olsen not hearing scientific evidence, I am not sure how to respond.  He was in the room when Jack Williams—a PhD-level fisheries biologist enumerated his concerns and observations.  Likewise, he was there when the representative from the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society distilled their formal comments and findings.   I know that the miners claim that they “have the science” on this—if there was any science not heard at this hearing it was that “science” that was silent.
 

 

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