Breaking Victory: Salmon Protected from Suction-dredge Mining in Washington State!

Washington Senate Approves Legislation to Protect Salmon from Suction-dredge Mining… On to the Governor’s Desk!

BY: Gabe Scott, Cascadia Wildlands In-House Counsel

The imperiled Puget Sound orcas will benefit from suction-dredge mining reform as salmon are a key food source for the species (photo by Tatiana Ivkovich).

MARCH 5, 2020 | After a 37-10 vote in the Senate, the suction-dredge mining reform bill (HB 1261) — which had already passed through the House — has passed the Washington legislature! Thanks to the resounding chorus of grassroots and legal pressure over the past few years, it passed with a strong, bipartisan vote. And this is no watered-down legislation either — the bill protects all designated “critical habitat” in Washington state for threatened and endangered salmon and trout from motorized suction-dredge mining. It now goes to Governor Jay Inslee’s desk, where it will surely be signed and become law.

Suction-dredging is a destructive hobby where miners use gas-powered vacuums to suck up the riverbed in search of gold flecks. While incredibly reckless, it is also very popular and has been causing untold damage in Washington state for decades.

Miners using suction dredges violently suck up sensitive river bottoms in search of gold flecks (photo by Kim McDonald).

We’ve been taking the fight right to them. Just this week I was in Seattle for oral argument before the Washington Appellate Court in our case Cascadia Wildlands v. Wash. Dep’t of Fish & Wildlife. This legal battle has been another key piece of the puzzle challenging the flimsy rules that govern this destructive practice, and a win there would legally lock in place a prohibition on motorized mining without a permit. 

This big victory in the legislature comes after years of dogged effort, hard work and persistent advocacy, not least by colleagues at Fish Not Gold, Trout Unlimited and a diversity of Washington’s tribes, and through the generous support of Patagonia’s World Trout Initiative. You can read coverage of the legislation’s passage here. This action finally brings Washington in line with Oregon and California, where reform of suction-dredge mining has recently happened.

While at one time the mining lobby seemed invincible, people by the thousands have spoken up for our rivers, clean water, wild fish, and imperiled orca whales (that depend on wild fish). That grassroots groundswell has been the difference, so thank you for elevating your voice and taking action when it mattered!

Please celebrate this victory with us, and everybody take heart. When the people lead, sooner or later, the leaders must follow.

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