By Bob Ferris
My access point to my career in the conservation field came originally from fish. I caught my first trout on the Eel River in northern California while my family was on their way to visit the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle. As we were on our way north, my mother grudgingly allowed me to fish for 15 minutes—no more. And on my premier cast with my older sister’s telescoping metal pole and an ancient JC Higgins reel, I felt that first electronic jolt that changed my life. (Yes, this was a salmon egg catch, but I did not know any better at the time.)
That memory is golden to me and the thought of anyone taking any action that would rob someone of a similar moment rankles me no end. That’s why the notion of some yahoo sticking a 4”-6” inch motor-driven suction hose into the hard bottom or gravel of a trout or salmon bearing stream and muddying the water literally makes me just a little angry. And that ire only rises a little higher when I learn that these “modern 49ers” seeking flakes of gold in the silt they are spraying around are being egged on and legislatively supported by some modern day equivalent of snake oil salesmen hitting the KA-CHING button with each $8900 suction dredge they sell.
It’s an old game where the “pick and pan” salespeople make the real money preying on the suggestible and greedy. And part of the pitch seems to be that mucking up rivers flowing through public lands is an honest-to-goodness, Don’t-Trend-On-Me, All-American right. Poppycock! Suction dredging sucks and the sooner we all gravitate to that point of view, the better for all concerned. (Okay so the dredge dealers will not be happy, but I can live with that quite comfortably, Thank You.)
Doing the “gold fever” math: Proven placer claims yield in the vicinity of 0.025 ounces per yard of material processed or roughly $45 per yard. Recreational suction dredgers can move up to 25 cubic yards per year before being classified as commercial operations. So if they are lucky and gold prices hold they can gross $1125 annually in Oregon. When the cost of the machine and gear as well as other costs such as permitting, trailer registration, gas, and maintenance are factored in it becomes crystal clear that the “gold strike” here is for the equipment sellers rather than these hopefully prospectors.
Suction dredging is not a “right” nor is mucking up the water for the rest of us—particularly in streams and rivers that run though public lands or hold imperiled species such as Coho and Chinook salmon or bull trout. We and many others who have worked hard to clean up and protect waterways throughout Cascadia see only one solution to this issue: An all-out ban on suction dredging in the salmon-bearing water systems of Cascadia. The practice is banned in California and restricted in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Idaho. We think it is high time that all of us who would like to see the return of vibrant salmon and steelhead speak up on this issue with one voice.
Please check out our suction dredging and high banking page, sign our petition to the governors of Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Idaho, and pass this all along to others