Harmful Gold-mining Method Already Restricted in California, Oregon
Posts Tagged ‘steelhead’
If you care about salmon and steelhead recovery in Oregon's most precious rivers like the Rogue, Umpqua and Chetco and want to protect these waterways from the harmful effects of suction dredge mining for gold, please come to Salem this coming Monday April 15, 2013 to have your voice heard. Please speak up for the fish and for quiet on the rivers we all enjoy and cherish. Public testimony starts at 3PM so come earlier and get signed up. Be prepared to give thoughtful and respectful testimony for no more than 2-3 minutes. Email Josh Laughlin to carpool from Eugene.
Hearing on Suction Dredging Moratorium
Hearing Room C
900 Court St NE Salem, OR
3pm on Monday April 15th.
Oregon residents, if you cannot make the above please submit comments and spread this notice around.
For additional background please see:
Yes, suction dredgers like Mr. Greene remove some fishing lead from waterways but that is a byproduct of materials movement and gravity, not proactive stewardship. Mr. Greene’s version of proactive stewardship appears to be his lobbying actions to make sure that cars, trucks and OHVs are still allowed to drive through the waters of the cherished Chetco River.
Register-Guard guest opinion by Frank Armendariz and Chris Daughters
March 24, 2013
In his March 10 guest viewpoint, Darold Smith suggests that suction dredge mining benefits endangered fish — but his claims are not supported by science, do a disservice to those focused on recovering our ailing wild salmon populations and offend businesses that rely on Oregon’s clean water for their livelihoods.
In fact, fisheries experts have documented myriad deleterious effects that suction dredge mining has on imperiled fish. That’s why the state of California recently placed a moratorium on the practice, and it’s why the Oregon Legislature is considering how best to safeguard our iconic waterways from this harmful activity. Decisive action to curb this reckless practice would create a lasting benefit for water quality, wild salmon and economic activity in Oregon.
As owners of river-based companies that rely on clean water and healthy fish runs for our success, we are encouraged that the Legislature is considering meaningful action to curb this practice that is fouling our common waterways. In search of gold, suction dredge miners require a noisy, gas-powered hydro pump and hose mounted on a raft. This equipment is used to aggressively vacuum sensitive gravel formations from the bottom of a river.
The river bottom and all the life it houses are passed through a sluice, where any gold flecks settle. The silt, debris and gravel are discharged back into the waterway, creating sediment plumes as long as a quarter-mile downstream. This makes an already compromised situation for aquatic life even worse.
With gold at near-record prices and the moratorium in California in place, a new gold rush is invading Oregon’s iconic waterways, with motorized dredges sucking up and spitting out the river bottoms that are critical to the ecological health of our waterways. Wild salmon strongholds such as the Illinois, Chetco, Rogue and South Umpqua rivers have become ground zero for this destructive hobby — and ironically, these are rivers where millions of dollars of taxpayer money and thousands of volunteer hours have been used to restore wild salmon.
For Smith to suggest that suction dredge mining is beneficial for fish is like saying secondhand smoke is good for your children. The contemporary research suggests that fish mortality occurs from destruction of eggs and fry from the suction process; that spawning habitat is reduced due to sedimentation created from suction dredge plumes; and that invertebrates and bivalves (read: fish food) on the river bottom are violently sucked up and displaced.
Researchers have also documented that suction dredge mining resuspends toxic mercury that settled in our waterways during the original Gold Rush, and that this has a lasting negative effect on the food chain.
Designating new State Scenic Waterways by the Legislature will not just be positive for water quality and salmon, but also for business in Oregon. Our pristine waterways are a gift to our economy that keeps on giving. People from around the world come to catch trout on the beloved McKenzie, ride the whitewater of the Rogue, land a salmon on the free-flowing Chetco and camp on the rugged Illinois.
These are the hundreds of thousands of people who fill the coffers of motels and bed-and-breakfast inns, gas stations and grocery stores off the beaten path. And they are the people who help sustain small businesses like ours.
A state of Oregon study recently concluded that outdoor recreation is a $2.5 billion industry in our state and growing. Clean water is big business. Adding to the State Scenic Waterway System will only bolster this impressive statistic.
We are encouraged that legislators like Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, are pursuing a remedy to the destruction of our common waters. Additions to the State Scenic Waterway System will protect many of Oregon’s iconic river systems from harmful suction dredging and safeguard water quality for salmon and future generations. An action like this will pay dividends into the future for river-based business in Oregon and will further the legacy of clean water in our great state.
Frank Armendariz is the owner of River Trail Outfitters in Eugene. Chris Daughters is the owner of the Caddis Fly in Eugene.
Associated Press by Jeff Barnard, March 5, 2013
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — The Gold Rush of the 1850s helped settle Oregon, enticing sailors to jump ship and farmers to take a detour from the Oregon Trail.
More than a century later, some state lawmakers want to clamp down harder on modern gold-mining gear known as suction dredges in salmon streams, particularly in southwestern Oregon, where the Gold Rush first struck.
Powered by gasoline engines, suction dredges act like a big vacuum cleaner, sucking gravel off the river bottom and settling out the gold.
Suction dredging permits have doubled from 934 in 2009 to 1,941 in 2012, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality. Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, said the idea has been rattling around the Legislature for years, but he became concerned when the number of dredge permits started to approach 2,000.
"What we want to do is not have dredging in sensitive waters for salmon and steelhead rearing," Bates said.
Just what form restrictions would take is under discussion. Bates said an expansion of rivers protected under the Oregon Scenic Waterways Act is one likely method, since the act prohibits mining in protected rivers.
Another could be a moratorium like the one adopted by California in 2009, which sent some miners across the border into Oregon.
"When it comes out, hopefully there will be something to protect the rivers and allow some mining yet in areas we think are safe," Bates said. "We need to get the science right, and we're still gathering that."
Oregon protects 19 segments of rivers as scenic waterways, including parts of the Rogue, Illinois and Klamath rivers, which have long been mined for gold.
One bill, SB401, proposes expanding the scenic waterways list by 31 rivers, including 13 in southwestern Oregon. Among them is Josephine Creek near Kerby, where the discovery of gold in 1851 set off the Oregon end of the Gold Rush.
Another bill, SB115, would prohibit placer mining statewide, leaving open recreational mining with a small dredge. A third, SB370, would require gold dredgers to pay $125 for a commercial placer mining permit, and restrict them to small dredges with hoses less than 4 inches in diameter.
Violations would be a misdemeanor punishable by 30 days in jail and a fine of $1,250.
The proposals have outraged gold miners, scores of whom rallied on the Capitol steps last week in Salem.
"You have the state now trying to pass a law that would prohibit mining on your mining claim (on federal land), which is a taking," said Tom Kitchar, president of the Waldo Mining District outside Grants Pass, who spoke at the rally. "There are numerous court cases that say the states and local governments cannot subvert the federal law.
"As far as I'm concerned, the environmentalists are parasites on society. They produce absolutely nothing," he added. "If (all the bills) passed, we probably wouldn't be able to do anything anywhere. Gold mining has been going on for 5,000 years. You are not going to stop it. They can pass all the laws they want, they are still going to mine. Especially on federal lands."
Salmon advocates have been tightening the screws on gold mining in rivers for decades, citing research that it releases toxic mercury into the water, alters the structure of river bottoms, and produces silt that chokes spawning gravels.
They have had trouble getting new federal river protections through Congress.
"Southwestern Oregon is where we are seeing the most destructive suction dredging activity," said Erik Fernandez of the conservation group Oregon Wild. "It goes back to the heart of this issue being clean water."
Oregon already prohibits suction dredging when salmon and steelhead lay their eggs in the river gravel. The state also sets limits on how much muddy water dredges can produce.
State Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, has introduced a bill that would expand the inventory of rivers in the scenic system to 30 from the current 19. It’s a modest yet strategically important proposal that would provide protection for one-half of 1 percent of the state’s rivers and streams, up from a current one-third of 1 percent. That’s hardly a conservation overreach, especially given the threat posed by suction-dredge mining.
Protected by a ludicrously outdated and environmentally indifferent 1872 federal mining law, miners have descended on some of Oregon’s wildest rivers with motorized suction dredges to search for gold and other minerals. The dredges suck up rocks and gravel from stream bottoms and dump them in a floating sluice. The gold sinks and is trapped, while the remainder is returned to the river or its banks.
Suction-dredge miners insist they’re merely rearranging the river bottom and are improving fish habitat. The opposite is true. Dredging fills spaces that oxygenate the water and provide habitat for insects that fish eat. Mining clouds normally clear rivers with fine sediment and unearths mercury deposits buried on the river bottom.
Several years ago the California Legislature wisely imposed a moratorium on suction dredging to give state fish and wildlife officials time to study the effects of mining on fish habitat and to devise new regulations.
Oregon lawmakers should have done the same to protect the state’s rivers and fish stocks. They failed to do so despite the urging of lawmakers such as then-state Sen. Jason Atkinson, a Central Point Republican and avid outdoorsman who minced no words in describing the damage caused by suction dredge prospectors: “They ruin — destroy — spawning habitat,” he said.
With California’s rivers off-limits to suction dredging until 2016, miners have turned to the rivers of Southwest Oregon, which feature some of the finest runs of salmon and steelhead in the lower 48 states. Miners have staked out claims along the Chetco, South Kalmiopsis, Illinois and Rogue rivers. A few have ventured as far north as the Metolius and John Day, as well as Quartz Creek, a tributary of the McKenzie River.
Bates’ bill would protect the Chetco, Rogue, Illinois and other Southern Oregon rivers that have been at the center of the dredge mining debate. It would also protect other waterways, including the Metolius, John Day, Grand Ronde, Sandy, Middle Fork Willamette and Yachats rivers, as well a portion of the upper McKenzie that is not already listed as an Oregon Scenic Waterway.
If these and other rivers proposed by Bates are added to the scenic waterways system, protection would extend to land a quarter mile on each side. Mining, logging, road building, construction of new buildings and other activities in those corridors would be subject to review by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (existing development would not be affected and property owners would retain the right to use land outside the corridor).
Suction dredge mining has no place in Oregon waterways, and Bates’ bill is on target. The Legislature should give it careful consideration, reviewing the rivers proposed for protection and considering additions, and then take the necessary action to protect the state’s rivers.