By Bob Ferris
The above clip came to mind when I was dealing with a recent posting on a fishing site about suction dredge mining in Washington State. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition and most are not prepared for the onslaught of vitriol, misinformation, threats and bullying typically unleashed by the suction dredge crowd anytime anyone questions their “rights” to run wild and go motorized in our precious and vulnerable salmon-bearing waterways.
This rapid fire electronic carpet bombing by internet trolls is part of an escalating pattern that we have seen over the past decade or so as the idea of sucking up gravel and silt from the bottom of rivers and streams using noisy machines has gained public scrutiny and attention.
Another element of this pattern are states and federal agencies that are wholly unprepared to deal with this issue. Collectively they have historically worked to enable and simplify permitting without giving any substantive thought to the need for monitoring, enforcement and a consideration of the cumulative and material impacts of this destructive activity—particularly in waterways with struggling salmonids. The agencies are as unprepared for this assault as we often are.
In Washington State the agencies seem much like Bambi—the fawn portrayed above. They have written a nice pamphlet and have a rudimentary permitting program. They have even formed some ill-advised partnerships with suction dredge miners to undertake mercury removal in spite of strong and repeated evidence that this is not a good idea. And now the “Godzilla” created by the ban in California and the restrictions in Oregon is striding purposely towards them one giant, reverberating footfall at a time. Boom.
And who exactly is this horde presently in and now heading north to Washington State? If you read the comments section of this site and the steelhead site as well as follow what the miners are doing in Southern Oregon, the answer to that is not positive. In short, they are generally folks with extreme views and behaviors with a high level of resentment to regulation. And even though they appear largely without advanced education—as evidenced by spelling, grammar and correctness of expression—they appear to lack a corresponding humility because their frequent claims to know more about law than lawyers and more about fish and fisheries impacts than ichthyologists.
The suction dredge miners are also monumentally unaware. Cascadia is a region defined by rivers frequently named for and still held sacred by tribes working hard to cling to their aquatic heritage. These are important and valued characteristics of the region to many of us who work with tribes to fulfill the dream of recovered salmon runs and fully functioning coastal ecosystems. This is in sharp contrast to the overtly racist tone we frequently see from suction dredgers in comment sections. The quote above (click to enlarge) from a poster known as Terry McClure is particularly offensive but it is by no means unique.
In addition, one of the frequent commenters on the Washington dredge piece is a fellow who dredges throughout Cascadia and also sells dredge concentrates on the internet to those who want to pay $50 a pop to pan for gold. This dredger’s LLC is called Blue Sky Gold Mining which sounds very close to the title of the song by the Australian rock group Midnight Oil—Blue Sky Mining—that became an environmental anthem highlighting the deleterious impacts of mining. I wonder if he understands the irony in that name?
And I wonder if salmon restoration supporters, the tribes, Washington legislators and the state and federal agencies can come together to deal with the existing issue and the looming increase before our salmon and waterways pay the price of this laissez-faire approach to suction dredgers. Join Fish not Gold and get active.