Posts Tagged ‘suction dredging’

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.
 

 

Apr18

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.  

Apr11

Oregon Suction Dredge Hearing April 15, 2013 3PM

If you care about salmon and steelhead recovery in Oregon's most precious rivers like the Rogue, Umpqua and Chetco and want to protect these waterways from the harmful effects of suction dredge mining for gold, please come to Salem this coming Monday April 15, 2013 to have your voice heard.  Please speak up for the fish and for quiet on the rivers we all enjoy and cherish.  Public testimony starts at 3PM so come earlier and get signed up.  Be prepared to give thoughtful and respectful testimony for no more than 2-3 minutes. Email Josh Laughlin to carpool from Eugene.

What:

Hearing on Suction Dredging Moratorium

Where:

Hearing Room C

900 Court St NE  Salem, OR

When: 

3pm on Monday April 15th.

Oregon residents, if you cannot make the above please submit comments and spread this notice around.

For additional background please see:

Western Mining Alliance and Brain Surgery by Dentists

Ted Williams article on Suction Dredging in Fly Rod and Reel Magazine

Statements by the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society 

 

 

Apr11

Western Mining Alliance and Brain Surgery by Dentists

 

By Bob Ferris

Would you go to a dentist if you had serious head aches or needed a brain tumor removed? The obvious answer to that is: No, even though both dentists and brain surgeons are highly educated, work on your head and use drills. But that is basically what the Western Mining Alliance and their suction dredging allies are asking you to do by rolling out Joseph Greene and Claudia Wise as experts on suction dredge mining and the risks posed by that activity to our precious rivers and imperiled salmon and steelhead. Actually it is worse than that because the credentials of these two scientists in their own fields make it more akin to asking a senior and skilled dental technician to dig around in your brain pan.
  
Too harsh? Not really. While this pair of retired US EPA scientists—one a toxicologist (Greene) and the other a physical chemist (Wise)—have certainly provided some good science in their time and in their respective fields, they have aggressively inserted themselves in a debate where they lack credentials and stature; are behaving unprofessionally; and have serious conflicts of interest. While they are certainly entitled to have their say as private citizens and have said it, now they are acting a lot like uninvited and obnoxious house guests who were supposed to spend one night and ended up staying a week or more.
 
Wrong Field, Grounding, and Stature
 
Toxicology (Greene) and the physical sciences (Wise) are primarily test tube disciplines and though they share some methodologies and philosophies with field-oriented disciplines like fisheries biology and ecology there are many differences in terms of language, expectations, logic, and awareness.  All are valuable fields and their science meritorious but we also should acknowledge that they attract different minds, personalities and professional approaches.  In short, having skills and experience in one area does not always directly transfer into another.  
 
Now I could go into great detail here on degrees held—which Mr. Greene and Ms. Wise are pretty cagey about—and quality, quantity and thrust of work, but I will use a surrogate device: The New York Times editorial department.  Much has been made on the mining blogs of the fact that two PhD-level fisheries scientists—Bob Hughes and Carol Woody—wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times in January 2012 on the need for reform of the 1872 Mining Act which contained a sentence on suction dredging.  Mr. Greene and Ms. Wise wrote a rebuttal of sorts and were incensed—along with their cadre of supporters—that their piece was not accepted and printed.  The mining community saw this as another example of them not getting a fair shake, but the reality is more revealing. 
 
There are several elements at work here.  First is that while members of the mining community salute this pair and celebrate their self-manufactured stature, others do not.  Most see the supreme irony of a pair of mid-level non-fisheries scientists saying that two senior-level fisheries scientists are “fishes out of water.” The hard truth of the matter is that our intrepid pair simply do not meet the minimum entry level on this issue—i.e., they are not recognized experts in this field in spite of their self-labeling, not even close.  
 
Moreover, there is the writing.  The New York Times has very high editorial standards.  The piece written by Mr. Greene and Ms. Wise is simply not very strong or compelling and has typographical glitches and errors in grammar.  They are certainly entitled to grouse about this rejection but in the end their expectations were unrealistic and their execution wanting.
 
Unprofessional Behavior
 
“I have reviewed the declaration of Toz Soto filed in support of the plaintiff’s summary judgment in the above-captioned lawsuit as well as the “Summary of Fishery Issues Concerning Suction Dredge Mining” prepared by Jon Grunbaum and dated April 20, 2005.
3.  The papers authored by Mr. Grunbaum and Mr. Soto are rife with qualifying statements. Examples are, “could”, “could be”, “appear to be”, “are quite possible”, “assume”, “may not be”, and “should be.” These are not scientific statements and in general represent subjective opinions.” From the declaration of Joseph Greene (2005)
 
The above comment by Mr. Greene is telling on a number of different levels.  First his criticism is unfair and demonstrates insensitivity to the challenges of field versus lab science, i.e., you can control variables in the latter and have to design around variables in the former.  He is basically criticizing them for being responsible in their comments and exhibiting prudence.  But there is more here because he is also being disingenuous.  To explore the depth and implications of this latter issue we have only to look at Mr. Greene’s own publications.  
 
In Mr. Greene’s co-authored 1996 paper on dye toxicity we see the following phrases:  Almost certainly exists…It probably is significant…is likely to result…this, in turn, suggests…may be a strong function…could be due…there is little reason to believe…is probably strongly affected.  These statements are very similar to those Mr. Greene snidely criticizes above.  But my all-time favorite from this paper is: it is not possible to rule out the possibility that…  
 
To be clear, I am not criticizing this paper nor am I criticizing Mr. Greene or his co-author for inserting qualifying language or speculating in the absence of testing or quantifying doubt about why certain effects were not observed or manifested during their laboratory testing.  All this is prudent and what we expect from experts.  What I criticize is his calling out other scientists for engaging in the same exercise and making this seem—at least to his “audience”—something unusual, underhanded or compromising of their expert conclusions.
 
64 See Email from Joe Greene, supra note 31. Greene erroneously relies on the Oregon State University study, stating that “Dr. Bayley’s study and other works confirm that even when analyzed from a cumulative effects perspective, there is no reason to believe that suction dredge mining is deleterious to fish.” Id. Bayley’s study did not actually test the cumulative effects of suction dredge mining due to the constraints of the experiment. Adrianne Delcotto Suction Dredge Mining: The United States Forest Service Hands Miners the Golden Ticket in Environmental Law Vol. 40 No. 3
 
Mr. Greene’s attention to detail is often lacking.  Whether this is just a question of lack of rigor or some larger issue is not completely clear.  He has made the above erroneous statement repeatedly in letters and other communications.  This and other easily verifiable misstatements have been brought to his attention, and I can see no evidence of self-editing.  As science is constantly evolving and becoming more complex, we all frequently adjust our comments in light of more current findings.  When one does not do so, there is a problem.  My sense is that Mr. Greene is driven much more by his hobby and politics than science.  
 
 “A lifetime of biological testing on toxicity and nutrient pollution in the aquatic environment provides a sound basis for appreciating the magnitude of impacts associated with the asserted environmental contaminants, and gives a quantitative perspective generally lacking in general biologists, which leaves them less able to ascertain which environmental effects are significant and which aren’t.”  Joe Greene Letter to Katharine Carter North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board March 23, 2010 
 
The field of science is full of egos, but rarely do you see them get as out of control as the above and with less reason.  Mr. Greene frequently talks about his 30-year experience and 14-page resume, but is very elusive about basic information such as where he went to school and what degree or degrees he holds.  In the world of science this is not normal.  We talk openly about our degrees and publications.  Perhaps Mr. Greene is unaware that since he entered college in the late 1950s that all sub-disciplines of the biological sciences have become more quantitative in their approaches.  Yes we still talk about “Physics envy” but that is not because we lack quantitative skills or understanding but rather that we have to work much harder and use increasingly complicated statistics and multivariate analyses to answer our questions in situations where we have little or no control over the variables.  Reviewing Mr. Greene’s body of work, I see scant employment of these higher order analyses, certainly nothing to justify his vaunted opinion of his skills versus those with more advanced credentials that he frequently criticizes.  
 
Vested Parties and Conflicts of Interests
 
And now we come to what brings our two retired scientists to the dance in the first place—they are both officers in the Millennium Diggers organization.  In addition, Mr. Greene, his wife and partners owned mining claims in Oregon totaling several hundred acres of federal public land.  So they are participants and at least one of them was financially vested in the outcome of this debate.  That for me and many others raises red flags about their participation in this debate and the relative value of their input.
 
Now I understand as a fisherman and one who frequently uses waterways for other forms of recreation that I have a vested interest in this issue and therefore a conflict.  I freely admit that my views are colored by my recreational activities, that said, I think my situation and that of other anglers in the conservation arena differs.  How?  I think it is a matter of our relationship with those waters and our attitudes towards what I would call mitigating stewardship.  I do fish, raft, and kayak but I spend more of my spare time restoring and caring for those resources than I do utilizing them.  My wife and I, for instance, have been on more weekend river clean-ups or riparian tree plantings than we have been on fishing trips.  When I lived on the Chesapeake I planted way more oysters than I ate and when we lived in Santa Barbara we dedicated more of  our free time to habitat restoration or other actions that raised public awareness than we did enjoying our past-times. 
 
 
 

Yes, suction dredgers like Mr. Greene remove some fishing lead from waterways but that is a byproduct of materials movement and gravity, not proactive stewardship.  Mr. Greene’s version of proactive stewardship appears to be his lobbying actions to make sure that cars, trucks and OHVs are still allowed to drive through the waters of the cherished Chetco River.  

“There is no science supporting the claims that vehicular traffic crossing the river is damaging it.” Joseph C. Greene Research Biologist USEPA Retired
 
He argues for this—as he typically does—via a misleading statement about documentation of damage.  Yes there is likely no specific science indicating that vehicle traffic is harming the Chetco.  That is very different, however, than saying vehicles driven through the river are not compromising water quality or harming fish habitat.  There is a body of science with sufficient scope of inference to conclude that driving vehicles through most waterways impacts fisheries.   As humans we would hope that we would be able to learn from the missteps and mistakes of others rather than having to do the same ill-advised actions time after time.  
 
“There is no science showing oil and other chemicals washed off vehicles harm the river any more than that of chemicals that wash off roads.  The State Fish and Game [sic] Department has never investigated industry along the river because fish survivability has never been impacted.” Joseph C. Greene Research Biologist USEPA Retired.
 
The above is a novel, school-yard argument, but how is it in any way biologically defensible?  Something does not have to be worse than something else to have an impact.  It is biologically prudent to minimize road runoff just as it is biologically prudent to keep vehicles out of waterways wherever possible.  The two are not in conflict nor are they mutually exclusive.  Further the state agency is the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife rather than “game” and it looks like Mr. Greene has failed to notice the general decline in native salmon fisheries over the last fifty years which happened during the time that vehicles were driving through the river.
 
“This issue is best left to the local residents of Curry County.  Please vote no on House Bill 3251.” Joseph C. Greene Research Biologist USEPA Retired.  
 
This last section is also interesting.  Perhaps Mr. Greene forgets that he lives in Philomath which is Benton County not Curry.  Further this bill deals with Oregon state lands not Curry County’s, and we have fish that are of concern nationally and internationally.  All of this demands a broader public involvement.  
 
Applicable Standards and Thresholds of Proof
 
Section 7 (2) Each Federal agency shall, in consultation with and with the assistance of the Secretary, insure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out by such agency (hereinafter in this section referred to as an ‘‘agency action’’) is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of habitat of such species which is determined by the Secretary, after consultation as appropriate with affected States, to be critical, unless such agency has been granted an exemption for such action by the Committee pursuant to subsection (h) of this section. In fulfilling the requirements of this paragraph each agency shall use the best scientific and commercial data available.  Section 7 (2) of the Endangered Species Act (1973)
 
The Endangered Species Act and other similar pieces of legislation are rightfully designed to give the benefit of the doubt to species that are on the list because they require special protections.  The Act does not say that all actions can take place unless they are proven to cause harm—there is an element of the precautionary principle (i.e., first do no harm) explicitly woven into the Act.  This is a thread or theme that seems to escape Mr. Greene and Ms. Wise which is interesting given that so much of what the USEPA does unfolds in a similar fashion—i.e., proceed with caution and require reasonable proof of safety prior to use.  
 
Certainly they and their colleagues in the mining sector have provided studies that indicate minimal or temporary harm.  Fair enough, but there are also many studies that indicate actual harm to individuals within an imperiled population, their supporting food cycles, or the variety of habitats they need to survive.  Fisheries scientists and other toxicologists (when it comes to the release of sequestered mercury) are simply exercising the same prudence and commendable caution exhibited in the above cited paper on fabric dyes or the cautionary wording included in Ms. Wise’s work with Douglas firs and elements of climate change. 
 
This above caution should also be anticipatory.  Suction dredging permits in Oregon have doubled recently.  And there are groups in California and elsewhere such as Gold Pan California and The New 49er’s that are looking to maximize the number of permits through schemes to put multiple permit holders simultaneously on claims—sort of a condominium scheme that seems hardly legal or ethical.  Should not the most responsible action of any legislature or agency seeing a rapid rise of any activity with negative or unknown consequences be to say “time out” until more is known?
 
And then there is the Western Mining Alliance
 
“THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT- they [Gold Pan California] want you to sign in as joe public and NOT AS MINERS. Create a name like "naturelover2" or "fielddreamer" or "soccermom" or something that makes you sound like you are the public and NOT MINERS. They want you to make pro-miner comments, but not to the point that you sound like miners- they want it to sound like you are the common public standing up for the miners. 
There needs to be a lot of buzz on this so it gets picked up by bigger and bigger press. The more buzz we create about the topic, the more exposure it will get.” E-mail by Rick Solinsky suction dredger and co-founder of Western Mining Alliance
 
The Western Mining Alliance itself is a castle of deceit. Its “.org” designation makes one think that it is a benign 501(c)3 non-profit organization though it is not registered as such. Its president goes by the moniker of Molon Labe which is an alias. Molon Labe is the phrase reportedly uttered by the Spartan king Leonidas to the Persians at Thermopile. It basically means “come and take.” It seems in poor taste that this modern day small force that aggressively promotes bad science, loopholes and subterfuge like the above has elected to use this phrase that is associated with one of the most straight-forward and courageous acts in history.  But I suppose in all of this gold fever and greed often bring out the worst in mankind. 
 
Needed Actions:
 
 
 
Other Documents:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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