By Jeff Barnard The Associated Press
April 19, 2013
A bill to put a five-year moratorium on using suction dredges to mine for gold in key salmon streams is moving through the Oregon Legislature.
By a 3-2 vote Wednesday night, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee referred Senate Bill 838 to the Joint Ways and Means Committee for further consideration.
Co-sponsor Sen. Alan Bates, a Medford Democrat, said new federal permit requirements in Idaho and a state moratorium in California are pushing thousands of small-scale gold miners to Oregon, primarily the southwestern corner of the state that was home to the 1850s Gold Rush.
He said the moratorium will give time to study how the motorized dredges affect water quality and salmon.
“I still think there is a middle ground, that will allow a place for miners to go if they are careful, and follow the right regulations,” Bates said. “Neither side is willing to come together and talk to each other. People sitting before the committee were raising their voices. The miners feel strongly. I understand that.”
Bates said he was not sure the bill had the votes to clear the Senate, but he was particularly moved by a report from scientists with the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society who pointed out threats to salmon from the dredges.
In written testimony submitted to the committee, miners said fish and water quality already are protected by existing regulations, a moratorium would kill an industry worth millions of dollars and put a financial hardship on miners who depend on gold to feed and clothe their families. They said the state had no authority to restrict work on mining claims on federal land.