Fish Not Gold. If you fish in Washington, this affects you.

Discussion in 'Fly Fishing Forum' started by Kent Lufkin, Mar 11, 2014.

  1. Kent Lufkin Remember when you could remember everything?

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    [IMG]

    As you know, many Washington streams are regularly closed to fishing, ranging from a few months up to the entire year. The reasons for closure vary, but most are due to concerns over ESA-listed fish or degraded or delicate habitat.

    Yet even though fishing may be prohibited, suction dredge miners operate without regulation or enforcement in many of the very same waters during so-called 'work windows'. On some waters, the mining work windows are actually longer than the open period for fishing.

    In many waters that are completely closed to fishing, mining is permitted anyway. For instance, Nason Creek, Lost River, Early Winters, the Wenatchee and Twisp rivers are all closed to fishing yet open for dredging.

    A suction dredge is like a gas-powered vacuum cleaner mounted on pontoons that works underwater to suck up gravel from the riverbed and run it through a sluice to separate out any gold it may contain. A dredge can move over 2,000 cubic feet of gravel a day, displacing or destroying everything that it sucks up.

    The discharge creates a 'plume' of gravel, sediment and toxic metals extending hundreds of feet downstream, covering spawning redds and suffocating eggs, juveniles and invertebrates.

    To uncover even more sections of the riverbed, miners routinely use winches and comealongs to move large boulders, logs and root wads - structure that fish depend on for shelter.

    Taxpayers spend millions and millions a year and countless volunteer hours on restoration projects in the very streams and rivers that suction dredge miners vacuum up.

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    A growing body of scientific research is implicating suction dredge mining in damage to fish and fisheries. A federal court recently cited that research in upholding a lawsuit that forced California to implement a 20 year moratorium on all suction dredge mining.

    After considering the same research, last summer the Oregon legislature voted to cap the number of permits for dredging at just 850 per year. Oregon is currently working on even tougher rules to limit the damage from mining.

    In Idaho, the EPA restricts dredge mining on most of the streams running through USFS land.

    Yet of the four western states, only Washington continues to allow virtually unrestricted suction dredge mining.

    Our own WDFW is charged with both protecting fish and fisheries AND regulating these small-scale 'hobby' miners. Thanks to an act passed by the legislature in 1997, WDFW was specifically directed to make it easy for miners by not imposing 'onerous regulations', charging miners any fees, or even requiring a simple application. In effect, miners got a free pass thanks to their lobbying efforts and some sympathetic legislators.

    The very few regulations Washington does impose on miners are contained in the Gold and Fish pamphlet, a slender PDF booklet available on the WDFW web site that lists equipment restrictions and work windows.

    WDFW readily admits it has no idea who is mining, where or when. If WDFW doesn't even know where to look, how can they make sure miners are following the rules?

    The organization Fish Not Gold was founded to shine a light on the conflict between suction dredge mining and fishing and to increase awareness of the issue. Its goal is to partner with other organizations to persuade and enlist legislators and WFW Commissioners to enact and enforce common sense remedies that hold miners to a higher standard.

    If waters are closed to fishing, they should be closed to mining as well. If fishermen are subject to rules and can be held accountable if they fail to obey them, so should miners. If fishermen pay fees for licensing and permits with revenues supporting WDFW, so should miners.

    For more information have a look at the Fish Not Gold web site at http://www.fishnotgold.org. Then 'Like' Fish Not Gold's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/fishnotgold or follow it's Twitter feed at http://www.twitter.com/fishnotgold to stay abreast of the latest news.
  2. Derek Young 2011 Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Guide Of The Year

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    Snoqualmie, WA
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    Fish Not Gold will be our Conservation topic and guests for this week's The Open Fly Podcast. Looking forward to the discussion and your comments on the show.
  3. freestoneangler Not to be confused with Freestone

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    Edgewood, WA
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    Good topic and issue to increase awareness. This activity can sure make a damn mess of the river.... makes me yearn for $200/oz. prices.
    doublespey, Bob Triggs and Ed Call like this.
  4. Kent Lufkin Remember when you could remember everything?

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    Or $200 per year permit fees for miners!

    K
    Bob Triggs likes this.
  5. o mykiss Active Member

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    Thanks for posting, Kent. Letters sent to WDFW commissioners and the senator and representatives for my district. Let's make some noise, people. This is ridiculous.
    Itchy Dog, Bob Triggs and Kent Lufkin like this.
  6. zen leecher aka bill w born to work, forced to fish

    Posts: 3,165
    Moses Lake, WA
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    Kent, what river/stream were the pictures taken on?
    Bob Triggs likes this.
  7. Kent Lufkin Remember when you could remember everything?

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    Not sure Bill, California I think. I found them on a mining web site.

    K
  8. Jim Wallace Smells like low tide

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    The guy I know who pans for gold is talkin' about sluicing. He recently made a sluice box. He is also a salmon flosser and snagger, and hates WDFW. He wouldn't even pay attention to any regulations, but he'd sure whine about 'em if he heard of any attempts to tighten them up.
    Josh and Kent Lufkin like this.
  9. Itchy Dog Some call me Kirk Werner

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    Doo-vall
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    Two summers back I saw a couple backwoods folk suction dredging up on the North Fork Sky. Didn't know at the time how bad the problem was. Good on ye, Kent. Eager to find out more.
    Kent Lufkin likes this.
  10. Greg Armstrong Active Member

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    Pugetropolis
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    Thanks for posting Kent.
    The fish (and their eggs) can't defend themselves from this nonsense.
    It's up to those of us that care to do it for them.
    Kent Lufkin likes this.
  11. Jim Wallace Smells like low tide

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    Somewhere on the Coast
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    I need a non-Facebook or non-Twitter link. I refuse to register for either of those.
    This (wff.com) is one of the only three "social" sites where I have registered (besides where I have my retirement account), and I'm still thinking of tossing my computer and "going dark."

    OK, at least I can directly contact my legislators and the Game Commission.
  12. Kim McDonald member

    Posts: 289
    Seattle, WA
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    Kent has been doing amazing work on this. Another shout out to state representative Gael Tarleton who introduced a bill this session. It died before even getting a committee hearing. The miners are very intent on stopping any reforms. The swarmed WDFW two years ago, and when they found out about Rep. Tarleton's bill, dominated her phone and email. We need to show Olympia that we care about this issue, and to any one proposing reforms, that we have their backs. There will be a lot of work between now and next legislative session...but we need to make some noise and Kent has done an awesome job leading that effort!
    Richard Olmstead and Kent Lufkin like this.
  13. Richard Olmstead BigDog

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    Thanks to the mods for making this a sticky.
    ceviche, Ed Call and Kent Lufkin like this.
  14. Evan Burck Fudge Dragon

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    Duvall, wa
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    If anyone has any specific questions on this they want read for all the world to hear, we'll take 'em.
  15. ray@montanariverlodge Member

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    Kent, can you provide more info on that research study and federal court case. Also wondering about other western states current laws?
  16. Kim McDonald member

    Posts: 289
    Seattle, WA
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    Ray:

    The web site has links to studies. The Federal case is Karuk v. USFS. PM me and I can send you a link to the 9th Circuit decision and any more information. California has a moratorium on suction dredging until 2016, which probably will be renewed. Oregon just reduced the number of permits (Washington state has no idea how many people are suction dredging, BTW) to ~ 800 and will have a moratorium unless DEQ can promulgate regulations to protect aquatic habitats. Idaho also just required a more stringent permit process and closed a number of rivers to suction dredging altogether.

    Kim
  17. David Loy Senior Moment

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    Wolf Bay
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    It's a thorny issue to be sure. Mineral extraction has been at the heart of development of new countries and resources for centuries. It is direct commerce, not some idle pastime that came along 100 years later. I'm not trolling and I am in the right court, but it will be a tough battle to turn this tide. It's not big business your fighting, like the Pebble Partnership, that many want to hate. It's average guys trying to make a living (for the most part), and there's a wealth of case law supporting them.
    IMO, our only hope lies specifically in endangered specie regulation. Beyond that you're pushing rope. OTOH, other States have apparently made headway so I hope I'm wrong.
  18. Kim McDonald member

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    David:

    In Washington state it's called "small-scale placer mining." Alternatively, the miners refer to it as a hobby or tell us that we are trying to prevent them from making a living. Either way, the regulations are lax. We had a retired mining engineer tell us he would prefer it if all "small scale placer mining" was banned. He prefers the larger mines, because they are so tightly regulated, whereas the small scale hobby miners can go out and totally mess the geomorphology of a stream in a matter of hours, with no one watching and no one to make sure they did any restoration or remediation work.

    The case law is actually on our side, which says while the 1872 Mining Act allows considerable leeway in mining, it is subject to environmental laws and regulations. Small scale placer mining in Washington is regulated under the Clean Water Act, which the federal government has delegated enforcement to the State of Washington (the federal government kept enforcement in Idaho, but delegated in Oregon and California). In addition, there is a significant body of case law holding that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) trumps the 1872 Mining Act. You of course know we live in the land of endangered aquatic species, both anadromous and resident (salmon, steelhead, and Bull trout). Many of the same streams that attract the miners (on the west side the whole Snohomish/Stilliguamish watersheds, the Skagit watershed, and the Nooksack; on the eastside the Wenatchee, Yakima, and Methow/Okanogan watersheds) are also designated critical habitat by federal agencies for the listed endangered or threatened species. Because WDFW's only guide when miners shouldn't be in the streams is hatchery data on when fish embryos "hatch," miners can mine on many of the same rivers that are closed to ANY FISHING whatsoever: Nason, Early Winters, Wenatchee, Ingalls, Twisp....Plus, the miners pay absolutely no fees to the state, therefore, there is no money for enforcement much less to determine whether the miners are even restoring the sites.

    Among some of the reasonable changes we are seeking are keeping miners off the waters which are designated critical habitat, including the headwaters of those streams and rivers. We are also seeking a licensing/permit fee (which every other state requires) which can be used to increase enforcement and education.

    In Washington state alone, taxpayers last year spent over $216 million dollars in salmon restoration projects. Which many of these miners can undo that great work in several hours. Because miners pay no fees, we are not only paying to restore salmon, taxpayers are also subsidizing the miners who can and do destroy the restoration work. In my opinion, not an effective use of my taxpaying dollar.

    Kim
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  19. David Loy Senior Moment

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    Wolf Bay
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    Thanks Kim. It all sounds great to me. I'd be happy to see all mining within 100' of any watercourse banned, with the possible exception of panning with a shovel, and even that regulated.
    Asking a mining engineer his opinion seems a little like asking an insurance executive to act as the states insurance watchdog. IMO a horrible concept, but the MO our government has chosen for many years. Big business breweries didn't fight prohibition either. It cut out all the small time competition.
    But, my glass is half empty.
    Thanks again. As usual you guys are way ahead of my curve. Keep up the good fight.
    Kent Lufkin likes this.
  20. Kim McDonald member

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    David, that is a good point...the mining engineer volunteered his opinion, but you're right, it's like asking a large timber company what they think of small scale loggers...they want to put them out of business. In this case, though, I don't thinking any large mining companies think the hobby miners are competing with them. Most of these miners sell their "flakes" and nuggets to pawn shops and gold and silver stores, not to Tiffany's!

    Kim