Suction Dredging and High Banking for Gold

Jan10

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Washington Rivers, Salmon from Destructive Suction Dredge Mining

Harmful Gold-mining Method Already Restricted in California, Oregon

For Immediate Release, January 10, 2017
 
Contact:
Gabriel Scott, Cascadia Wildlands (541) 434-1463 gscott@cascwild.org 
Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7118, jevans@biologicaldiversity.org 
 
OLYMPIA, Wash.— Conservation groups filed a notice of intent today to sue the state of Washington for allowing highly destructive suction dredge mining in rivers and streams critical to endangered salmon and steelhead. The Washington Department of Wildlife approves the harmful recreational gold-mining technique in rivers throughout the state that are home to numerous imperiled fish species. Conservation and fisheries groups have also introduced bills in the state legislature to better monitor and regulate suction dredge mining.
 
“Suction dredge mining pollutes our waterways with toxic mercury, clouds streams with sediment, kills endangered fish and destroys irreplaceable cultural resources that are important to all Washingtonians,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is a dirty, outdated form of mining that our families, waterways and wildlife shouldn’t be subjected to.”
 
Suction dredge mining uses large, gas-powered vacuums to suck up gravel on the bottom of rivers and streams in search of gold flakes. Miners target gravel beds critical to salmon spawning and reproduction and pollute waterways with sediment and toxic mercury and heavy metals in their search for gold. Suction dredge mining also threatens important cultural resources important to American Indians. 
 
“Suction dredge miners are killing endangered salmon and polluting our waterways and it needs to stop,” said Gabriel Scott, in-house counsel for Cascadia Wildlands. “We intend to enforce the law ourselves if the state won’t.” 
 
The harm done by suction dredging is well documented by scientists and government agencies. In recent years Oregon and California have halted suction dredge mining for gold in areas that are important for rivers and fisheries because of its damage to water quality and wildlife. In Idaho the EPA has stepped in to regulate the practice. Today’s notice, filed by the Center and Cascadia Wildlands, notifies Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife and Department of Ecology of ongoing violations of the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act.
 
While the state doesn’t track individual mining locations, the majority of Washington’s rivers and streams are open to mining. Because the state of Washington has never squared state laws regulating suction dredge mining with the Endangered Species Act or Clean Water Act, two bills were introduced in the state legislature this week to better monitor and regulate the activity. House Bill 1077, introduced by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Seattle), would create important safeguards in environmentally sensitive areas to protect salmon and water quality. House Bill 1106, introduced by Rep. Gael Tarleton (D-Seattle), would require miners to comply with the Clean Water Act to reduce pollution when mining.
 
Numerous other commercial and recreational organizations have raised concerns that suction dredge and other motorized mining practices are disruptive and harmful to fishing. Statewide, commercial fisheries generate more than $1.6 billion annually and sport fishing generates more than $1.1 billion annually. Suction dredge mining also undermines the tens of millions of dollars invested in salmon recovery efforts in Washington.
 
For detailed mapping of rivers and streams with suction dredge mining or endangered fish habitat click here.
Mar25

Federal Court in Oregon Rejects Miners’ Challenge to Suction-dredge Regulations

For Immediate Release
March 25, 2016
 
Contact
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands (541) 434-1463
Forrest English, Rogue Riverkeeper 541-261-2030
Roger Flynn, Mining Action Project 303-823-5738
Lori Ann Burd, Center for Biological Diversity 971-717-6405
Jake Crawford, Native Fish Society (720) 253-8485
 
Federal Court Upholds Oregon’s Right to Protect Water Quality and Fish Habitat
Court Finds That Restrictions on Mining Methods Are Clearly Within the State’s Authority
 
Medford, OR — This morning a federal court upheld an Oregon law restricting motorized gold mining in and along sensitive salmon streams. The District of Oregon court held that the State of Oregon has the right to regulate both state and federal land to protect water quality and fish habitat, and it has done so in a manner that does not conflict with federal law.
 
“The court correctly found that mining operations on federal land must comply with state laws enacted to protect public health and the environment,” noted Roger Flynn, with the Western Mining Action Project and one of the attorneys representing conservation and fishing groups that joined the case to help defend the Oregon law.  “This decision supports a growing effort in Western states to protect clean water and fisheries from mining pollution and wildlife habitat damage,” said Flynn.
 
At issue in the case is Oregon’s Senate Bill 838, passed  in 2013 to implement temporary restrictions on equipment such as suction dredges and other motorized mining equipment in and nearby habitat essential for salmon, and to protect water quality. The law went into effect this January and remains in effect through 2021. The 2013 law came about due to increasing concern throughout the state about the cumulative effects of these gold mining techniques on streams and rivers.
 
“With these protections Oregon has taken the first step towards addressing threats to our salmon runs and water quality from mining,” said Forrest English of Rogue Riverkeeper. “We look forward to sensible regulation that extends beyond 2021 and that ensures these values are protected for all future Oregonians, the court has made it clear that we can do that.”
 
Peer reviewed science shows that suction dredging can mobilize toxic mercury into rivers and streams, as well as reduce salmon spawning success due to alterations in habitat. Additionally in hot spots, such as the Umpqua and Rogue Rivers, the number of dredges has created conflicts with anglers and other recreationists.
 
“Oregonians can breathe a sigh of relief that many of our rivers and most sensitive salmon fisheries will be protected this summer from the toxic plumes of mercury that suction dredge mining releases,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
 
Gold miners brought a lawsuit against the State of Oregon last October alleging that federal laws denied Oregon the right to protect environmental resources within the state. Environmental groups and commercial fishing interests including Rogue Riverkeeper, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Oregon Coast Alliance, Cascadia Wildlands, Native Fish Society and the Center for Biological Diversity intervened on behalf of the state and are represented by the Western Environmental Law Center and Western Mining Action Project.
 
“We are very pleased the Court has clarified that the State of Oregon has the power to protect our cherished rivers from destructive suction-dredge mining, especially the famous Rogue River and its tributaries — one of the most important salmon rivers in Oregon,” said Cameron La Follette with Oregon Coast Alliance. “State environmental laws are a crucial means of protecting the public's investment in salmon habitat restoration in our public waterways.”
 
"We are incredibly encouraged that the Court made the common sense decision to permit Oregon to regulate harmful mining practices in some of Oregon's most cherished waterways," said Nick Cady with Cascadia Wildlands.  "Oregonians have a right to protect the things they value, including clean water and salmon."
 
“This decision will help keep Oregon’s iconic wild salmon healthy for future generations,” said Jake Crawford with Native Fish Society. “It bolsters similar protections in California and Idaho, while giving Washington a path forward for protecting wild salmon and water quality from suction dredge mining.”
 
A copy of the decision can be found here.
                                                                        ####
Nov20

Cascadia Wildlands Joins Lawsuit to Protect Wild Salmon and Clean Water from Gold Mining

For Immediate Release, November 20, 2015
 
Contacts:
Forrest English, Rogue Riverkeeper, (541) 261-2030
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (314) 482-3746
Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7118
Glen Spain, PCFFA, (541) 689-2000
 
Conservation, Fishing Groups Move to Join Lawsuit to Protect Oregon From Gold Mining Impacts
Groups Defend Restrictions on Mining Practices Harmful to Salmon, Waterways, Wildlife
 
SpawningMEDFORD, Ore.— To defend an Oregon law designed to protect wildlife from damaging gold mining along waterways, a broad coalition of groups moved to intervene today in a lawsuit by mining interests challenging the restrictions. Passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2013, Senate Bill 838 placed restrictions on gold mining using suction dredges and other motorized equipment along streams to prevent harmful impacts to salmon and develop a permitting process to better protect Oregon’s waterways. Miners are now alleging that the state law conflicts with federal laws passed in the 1800s to encourage westward expansion.
 
“We are defending the state of Oregon and the choice by its residents to protect iconic waterways and scenic rivers from damaging mining practices,” said Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands. “Asserting there is a ‘right to mine’ granted by an antiquated law from the 1800s is simply ridiculous.”
 
Suction dredge mining involves the use of a large, gas-powered vacuum to suck up gravel on the bottom of rivers in search of gold flakes. This practice targets gravel beds critical to salmon spawning and reproduction, and damages water quality and river hydrology. Motorized mining along streams clears riparian vegetation important for keeping streams cool for salmon survival, increases erosion, damages streamside wetlands and alters the floodplain.
 
“Suction dredge mining pollutes our waterways with toxic mercury, clouds streams with sediment, hurts endangered fish and wildlife and destroys cultural resources,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Oregonians have the right to safeguard the health of their families, waterways and wildlife from this damaging, outdated form of mining.”
 
The bill does not ban the mining practices, but simply puts in place temporary restrictions to protect areas critical to salmon and bull trout reproduction. The restrictions buy the state time to develop a regulatory regime for the relatively new mining practice.
 
“Motorized mining in and along our sensitive salmon streams is harmful to fish and water quality,” said Forrest English with Rogue Riverkeeper. “It’s high time to put the brakes on these methods of mining until long term solutions are developed that protect clean water and habitat for salmon.”
 
Concerns over this mining practice were heightened when miners began targeting iconic and high-use Oregon waterways and their tributaries.  
 
“Several south coast salmon-rich rivers are under threat from heavy suction-dredge mining every summer, especially the world-famous Rogue River, the Chetco River and their tributaries,” said Cameron La Follette with Oregon Coast Alliance. “The salmon economy is critically important to local communities on the south coast such as Brookings and Gold Beach. Oregon must restrict suction dredging to protect salmon habitat, water quality and community livelihood."
 
There are also concerns by numerous commercial and recreational organizations that suction dredge and other motorized mining practices are disruptive and harmful to fishing, an industry that generates approximately $780 million a year in spending in Oregon.  
 
“Letting a handful of people suck up whole river bottoms looking for flecks of gold makes no economic sense, since it destroys salmon habitat and just puts more commercial fishing families out of work,” said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, a major commercial fishing industry association that is also intervening. “Senate Bill 838’s passage by the legislature simply recognized that it is not a good idea for the state of Oregon to continue to use taxpayer money to heavily subsidize the destruction of our rivers.”
 
The groups are also looking to protect the public’s investment in salmon restoration.  Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been expended to restore streams damaged by past mining and industrial practices. The use of suction dredges and motorized mining equipment has been undoing many of these efforts.
 
“Allowing gas-powered dredges and heavy equipment to damage our delicate salmon streams directly undermines the $254 million investment Oregonians have made in salmon habitat restoration,” said Mark Sherwood with the Native Fish Society. “Oregonians and wild salmon deserve better.”  
 
The intervening organizations include Rogue Riverkeeper, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and Institute for Fisheries, the Center for Biological Diversity, Oregon Coast Alliance, Native Fish Society and Cascadia Wildlands. They are represented by Pete Frost of the Western Environmental Law Center and Roger Flynn of Western Mining Action Project.
###

 

Nov23

Thermal Damns and the Need for Angry, Active Anglers

Bob Ferris
 
Recently I posted something on Facebook about the peril faced by marine fish species in British Columbia due drift creekto record ocean temperatures (see Record North Pacific Temperatures Threatening B.C. Marine Species) and a new friend reposted it with a query about what she called “thermal damns.” It was a classic Freudian slip, but a really elegant one as these too-warm spots in rivers and streams (thermal dams) that block fish passage do act as physiological dams and they do start the process of damning us in Cascadia to a future likely bereft of ocean running salmonids—mainly salmon and steelhead.  
 
I talked about this issue recently with Mike Finley of the Turner Foundation and they are working with the Wild Salmon Center to preserve salmon runs in Kamchatka so that when all this fecal matter hits the air moving appliance, as well as the associated ocean acidification, that we have some refugia for salmon so that seed populations would be available post eastern Pacific salmon collapse for repopulation.  And while I thought this visionary, commendable and necessary, the idea that this thinking and action were necessary made me angry.  I am not sure that I am comfortable with just accepting that we are "thermally damned."
 
“EPA has an extensive track record of twisting the science to justify their actions,” Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), head of the House Science Committee in Science Insider
 
This mood of mine was not improved by the fossil-fuel-funded-fools in the House of Representatives that passed bills that would hamper the US Environmental Protection Agency's use of science on climate change.  (No, this is not a story in the Onion.)  Sure…why we would want the agency that looks after our well-being and that of our supporting ecosystems to be guided by the best science?  But it was a story that cruised through like a coal-ladened freight train while most of the US was focused on the latest celebrity break-up or cute cat video.  
 
fly fishing for assassins
I am not completely sure why, but this makes me think of that utterly silly scene in that absolutely silly, but visually pleasing movie, Salmon Fishing in Yemen, where the character played by Ewan McGregor suddenly spies a gun-wielding assassin and realizes that he holds an effective weapon—his Spey rod (see review where I got the photo here, if you feel you are missing something).  He, in that special moment of time, became a bug-flinging super hero.  For all of the reasons cited above we need some fly fishing super heroes now to help us with our thermal damning issues.  And this really begs the question: When are we as anglers going to understand that we need to be our own super heroes in this regard and that we are already holding an effective weapon in our hands through our collective political power?  
 
“If you got a politician who's running for office who thinks he is smarter than 98 percent of the world’s climate scientists—they’re crooks or they’re dumbasses”  Yvon Chouinard 
 
The good news is that anglers are starting to understand the need for action and long-time heroes like Patagonia founder and environmental funder Yvon Chouinard are turning up the volume on climate change.  But others are emerging also like those joining Yvon in the below video clip.  We very much need more of this.
 

At the close of the above video, there is a quote by Albert Einstein: Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.  Likewise those who enjoy fishing—particularly in Cascadia—need to grasp that angling is part casting and catching but also must involve protecting and enhancing habitats as well as stewardship of our political system.  Certainly this means taking action on pressing issues like the proposed Coos Bay LNG export terminal that will enable more greenhouse gas emissions in the US and China.  But it also means protecting important salmon habitat in Oregon's Elliott State Forest or Alaska's Tongass, taking a stand against suction dredge mining in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, questioning the use of forestry herbicides and making sure that any changes to how the O&C Lands in Oregon are managed protects rather than reduces stream-side buffers.  
 
So as you are pushing yourself back from the Thanksgiving table this coming week, take some time to be an angry, active angler.  Please get engaged in these issues and make sure to support those organizations that are carrying on this important fight.  Investing in all the gear out there will do little good unless you also invest in those actions and entities that help keep fish coming back to our rivers and streams.  
 
 
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!
 

 

Mar26

Suction Dredgers Release the McCracken

By Bob Ferris
 
"While some people are skeptical about the subject, the condition of “gold fever” really does exist. I know, because I have felt the heat and confusion on more than one occasion." Dave McCracken
 
Bob Suction Dredging
If there is truly such a thing such as “gold fever” in the West, Dave McCracken—or Dave Mack as he has self-styled himself—is the virus-infected-blanket of that disease. Part aspiring Indiana Jones and part cheerleader, Dave Mack is the leader of the New 49ers (as if the old 49ers did not do enough damage) and he has staked out a claim and is defending a business empire in a mysterious land that seems to naturally hover around the margins of legality and often stomps all over legal intent. He appears supremely comfortable in that Peter Pan land where the boys and girls of suction dredging can live and never grow up.  
 

If you think the above claim about the The New 49ers and Mr. McCracken living on the legal edge is an exaggeration then perform the following informative exercise: 
 
1) Read California Penal Code Section 320.5 relating to the operation of raffles.
 
2) Check the California Charitable Registry listings for The New 49ers or The New 49ers Legal Fund using the handy search function.
 
3) Do a Google search on the term “New 49ers Legal Fund” and see if you can find anything that resembles a raffle as well as evidence that the raffle was conducted on the internet or that funds from a California raffle might to be used in another state (Hint: you might look 1,2,3,4).
 
4) Re-read the penal code section, cook up some popcorn and tally your results while watching the above video. 

 

Suction Dredging Oregonian

Mr. McCracken sells gold dredges, teaches classes and runs a club that is part classroom and dredger indoctrination center involving a complicated scheme that puts gold club members and machines on claims and money in his pockets in ways that were never anticipated by the 1872 Mining Law.  While those who have plunked down up to $3500 to be life members of the New 49ers Club see this as about gold, McCracken himself characterizes it as a "progressive tourism program (with a gold mining theme)" in his on-line resume.  Ironically, he and his followers are overwhelmingly from the anti-government camp, yet are supremely dependent on federal lands, state waterways and natural resources that are owned by all of us for their existence.
 

Dave Mack also looks to be the go-to guy when mischief or high school prank-like advocacy is needed. I can almost imagine some sort of situation where the suction dredging leadership comes together and in times of desperation loudly proclaims: Release the McCracken.  
Suction Dredge No Sluice Drawing-1
They released the McCracken in early 2013 and unleashed it on the suction dredge moratorium that was passed in California in 2009. The result was that we saw the emergence of the suction dredge that was not a dredge because it was missing the sluice (see above and below illustrations). A petition and court action eventually took that loophole out of the law.
Suction Dredge No Sluice Drawing-2
This year they released the McCracken again and now we are seeing the introduction of the suction dredge that does not suck but blows. And even through the device developers may have earned themselves a place in the Worst Marketing Slogan Hall of Fame with the catch phrase “We used to suck and now we blow,” they clearly do not understand or are trying to actively mischaracterize the physics that makes all these dredges work. Suction dredges and this device too all work on the principle of creating a vacuum (i.e., suction) by forcing water up a hose and having other water–through the nozzle or this hopper arrangement–be pulled in to replace the displaced water.  
 

I am all for humor—like the poorly photo-shopped picture of me gold panning at the beginning of this piece—and an occasional harmless prank, but the suction dredgers and Dave McCracken have taken this to a level where the mischief causes harm, thumbs its nose at our nation's courts and legislatures, and costs taxpayers money. Moreover, there is something truly sophomoric about these actions that seem ultimately as destructive as the suction dredging itself. Why as a society are we in anyway tolerant of these behaviors?
 
And more importantly, why are we letting a small, but very vocal and pugnacious minority intimidate us into allowing them to materially impact rivers and waterways where we are investing millions in efforts to restore salmon species that benefit us all? This becomes increasingly questionable when we understand that we are letting this miniscule segment of the population tear up gravel bars and riffles in waterways that have been closed to fishing because their salmon populations are too vulnerable to allow that disturbance. (Please listen to campaign partners Kim McDonald and Kent Lufkin on the Open Fly Show, their part starts about minute 24.)  
 

These and other inappropriate behaviors–including the threats to those with opposing views–become increasingly relevant as we think about the future fate of the moratorium in California, consider adjustments to regulations in Oregon, and contemplate appropriate controls in Washington state.  Laws and regulations for those who have a history of obeying laws and behaving civilly are necessarily different than similar actions for those who have demonstrated disrespect for laws and frequently behave like rebellious teenagers and thugs.   
 

 
We all need to work together to put the McCracken back in the bottle and secure the cork tightly. Our precious salmon and wildland experiences should not be victims of his efforts (and those of the "McCrackheads" in the above videos) to find loopholes in the 1872 Mining Law and legislation enacted to reduce the impact of this destructive enterprise. Please join our efforts in Cascadia, specifically on actions in Oregon and Washington, to make sure that this brand of "gold fever" does not spread and compromise our real wealth.
 
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.  
 
 
Mar08

The Suction Dredging War Starts in Washington: Gentlemen Do Not Start Your Engines

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.
 
Racist Tribe Quote
 
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. 
 
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.”
 
 
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