Opinions on Suction Dredge Mining

Discussion in 'Fly Fishing Forum' started by Rory McMahon, Jan 6, 2014.

  1. Kim McDonald

    Kim McDonald member

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    Ok, I'll bite. As some of the folks know on this list, I am currently involved with trying to tighten the regulations on suction dredging in Washington, similar to what is happening in Oregon and California.

    Rory, if you want academic studies on the impacts of suction dredging, PM me and I will send you dozens of links. But the real testament to why suction dredging is not all that great for streams comes from the fact one state, California, with a long and rich history of gold mining, has placed a moratorium on suction dredging until they re-write their regs and clamp down on the mining in streams with endangered or anadromous fish issues. Oregon, this past July, passed very similar legislation and I am, to be frank, beginning to crank up a non-profit to work on similar legislation here, then litigate with the USFS which has neglected it's legal duty to seek Notices of Intent from miners who work claims on USFS land and seek consultation under the ESA with NMFS/USFWS.

    As Freestone said, all along Blewett Pass, streams that are tribs of either the Yakima or Wenatchee and are listed as critical habitat for salmon, steelhead, and Bull trout, are being dredged. And aside from the dredging, as Freestone said, it's the winching of boulders, moving of downed woody debris, and creating weirs and dams in order to get at the "sweet spots," which also contribute to significant destruction of the stream geomorphology. All this is done without paying a fee to the state.

    Meanwhile taxpayers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in stream restoration projects attempting to salvage what is left of our native fish populations, and those projects are destroyed by miners at the blink of an eye.

    I am the last person to want to deny anyone the privilege of enjoying a hobby. But suction dredging in this state needs to be more tightly regulated than it is, we need to know who is mining, where they are mining, when they are mining, and have an enforcement mechanism out there. At this point NO ONE with WDFW checks on the miners because NO ONE knows who is doing what.

    As I said, if you want links to academic studies, PM me.

    Kim
     
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  2. Peyton00

    Peyton00 Active Member

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    Good post Kim.
    I like the mature nature of your response. This thread might have some educational value, especially if we get past the guy wanting to shit in his living room.:D
     
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  3. Rory McMahon

    Rory McMahon Active Member

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    Kim, I would support the tightening of regs on dredging in washington. I think it's silly that the rulebook is considered your permit, not a very good way to manage a system. I think washington has never needed to impose regulations because quite frankly, we don't have much gold. All the real dredgers go to Oregon or California. With restrictions pushing miners to washington, it's probably time for a better system.

    Pat, I panned last summer for a few weeks, and loved it. There's always a progression though, I started out fishing at one of those trout swimming pools at a fair, and now I've progressed to fly fishing, alpine lakes, rocky mountain streams, etc. That's the best explanation I have.
     
  4. Rich Schager

    Rich Schager You should have been here yesterday...

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    I said "Facts vs. Emotions early on" because if you are really going to get the laws changed, then you have to actually know what you are talking about. False assumptions, emotional outbursts, and name calling are not going to help...

    You have to realize that gold prospecting is just as addictive, if not more, than fly fishing. True. More folks than you may think are into gold prospecting. The experts you are up against know their equipment inside and out, and their hopes and dreams are every bit as strong as yours.

    I'd start slowly, further restricting in-stream dredging time periods, reduce size of dredges to get rid of commercial dredging, and expand the permit process with licenses and fees that are large enough to actually fund enforcement. Post bonds for larger operations and sensitive areas. Be realistic in the rules - Panning, Trommels, etc. with settling ponds are not the problem. People are attracted to water and are still going to wade on the gravel, kids are going throw rocks and build dams, etc. Washington cranked down the wetted area rules too far (all at once) 15-20 years ago, and had to end up relaxing the rules way too much because of all the flack they received. Expect the same thing to happen again.

    Rory seems to be a smart and sensitive enough guy to know when he's doing harm...

    I was going to say Good Luck, but it will come down to knowledge and presenting a reasonable plan.
     
  5. freestoneangler

    freestoneangler Not to be confused with Freestone

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    Great for gold miners and Rolex... bad for the river and the creatures that call them home.
     
  6. Kent Lufkin

    Kent Lufkin Remember when you could remember everything?

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    Both California and Oregon have banned suction dredge mining. The USFS has made it all but impossible in Idaho. British Columbia likewise limits suction dreging.

    Miners from there are flocking to Washington thanks to lax regulation and enforcement that's spread far too thin.

    What do those other states know that landlocked Washington doesn't (or has chosen to ignore)?

    K
     
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  7. Salmo_g

    Salmo_g Well-Known Member

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    Rory,

    Here's a couple more thoughts. Suction dredging has no beneficial effect on a stream. So beginning at square one, all you can do by dredging is damage it, ranging from a little to a lot. That's as good as it gets. Next, unlike most other water-related activities, no mitigation is required for mining. Everybody else, as Freestone mentions in her post, has to mitigate any adverse impacts from their projects. If mining was required to fully mitigate for all the damage it causes, then mining wouldn't be profitable. So the success of your hobby mining is entirely dependent on damaging public resources without having to pay the mitigation costs. Mining is all so 1872. And it's time it changed. If mining cannot afford to fully mitigate its environmental impacts, then mining is not in the public interest and should be prohibited.

    Sg
     
  8. Kim McDonald

    Kim McDonald member

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    Actually, to be fair, if a miner seeks to mine outside the windows provided in "Gold and Fish," they can apply (and routinely obtain) a hydraulic permit from WDFW. I've examined hundreds of those permits from the past several years and each of them have boilerplate language in the permit requiring the miner to restore and mitigate.

    That said, since there is no enforcement much less any idea when and definitively where the miners are dredging, it's extremely difficult to know whether the required work was performed. In the sites I have looked at over the past two years I can say very little if any restoration work is done. In fact, in many of the sites were similar to what Freestone described, in the "wetted" area, and on shore, the sites were scattered with litter and evidence (such as one site which has an old "bar stool" embedded in the stream (at higher water than when I took the photo) with the name of the mining club on it calling it the "gold throne") of human long-term habitation. At one site last August-September, on USFS land, I witnessed a miner literally camped out for over 30 days. Now that is a violation of Forest Service rules and is a USFS issue, but one concern about some of the mining practices are the miners who (and this is their term not mine) "occupy" their claim for long periods of time. These are sites without sanitation facilities, so along with the presence of gas and oil near and one the water, there are the impacts of human "residency" on riparian areas without any "facilities."

    Last concern in terms of mitigation is the presence of mercury. Many of the "prime" mining sites are historic placer mines. Back in the day, mercury was used to amalgamate the gold flakes into nuggets. Left undisturbed, the mercury settles. However, suction dredging "releases" the mercury into the system. And we all know what mercury does to fish and invertebrates. Miners argue that they actually "collect" the mercury.

    Kim IMG_0779.jpg
     
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  9. Kent Lufkin

    Kent Lufkin Remember when you could remember everything?

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    Of all the posts on this topic, in this thread as well as earlier ones on the same subject, I think Salmo_g has nailed it:

    "Suction dredging has no beneficial effect on a stream. So beginning at square one, all you can do by dredging is damage it, ranging from a little to a lot. That's as good as it gets."

    When Salmo refers to mining as "All so 1872", he's making a not-so-tongue-in-cheek reference to the General Mining Act of 1872, broadly interpreted as granting any citizen age 18 or older the right to prospect and file a mining claim on public land.

    The Mining Act has become the silver bullet of modern suction dredge miners and is universally cited by pro-mining groups as justification for anyone intent on striking it rich. Those groups post web sites decorated with American flags, screaming eagles, and patriotic-sounding language proclaiming that mining is a 'right' that is guaranteed to all citizens and one which should not be regulated or impeded by 'big government'. They claim with psuedo-legal arguments that the Mining Act trumps any more-recent restrictions on mining activity.

    Boilerplate text is provided for would-be miners to copy and paste when filling out Washington's Gold and Fish permit or filing a Hydraulic Permit application (essentially a year-round extension of a Gold and Fish permit.)

    The sites offer advice for answering tricky questions such as, "Which fish species and how many inhabit the stretch of water proposed for suction dredge mining?"

    Their recommended answer: "No fish present."

    Back in 1872 the West was a lot more wild than today and scant thought was paid to the results of unrestricted and unregulated mining. Like loggers, once a mining claim was exhausted or proved not to be as rich as hoped, miners would simply pack up and move on to the next promising site.

    Fast-forward almost a century and a half and we now realize that our actions have consequences. Like trees, gold is a finite resource and mining it is an extraction industry. But unlike a clear cut where trees eventually grow back, once the gold has been extracted, it's gone, leaving only a damaged ecosystem to mark it's passing.

    California and Oregon have wisely recognized that suction dredge mining has a huge downside with risks that are not fully understood or addressed. The USFS, backed by a federal administrative law judge, halted suction dredge mining on federal land in Idaho for the same reason.

    Yet Washington alone continues to turn a blind eye towards the consequences of mining activities. This tacit approval has made our state a magnet for miners from neighboring states who use our waters for personal gain with a minimum of oversight or regulatory interference.

    The pro-mining folks bitterly disagree with the science that led to closures in other states. But in the end their arguments boil down to one thing: the best outcome from suction dredge mining is the possibility of enriching the miner (especially since they bear no personal risk or responsibility for any damage resulting from their actions.)

    The rest of us pay the real price.

    K
     
  10. freestoneangler

    freestoneangler Not to be confused with Freestone

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    If you really want to get an inside look at the mining industry and effects on the Rocky Mountain West, read One Round River, by Richard Manning. It's a great read on the efforts to stop the 7Up Mine on the Blackfoot.
     
  11. Salmo_g

    Salmo_g Well-Known Member

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    And it gets even worse with open pit, cyanide heap leach mines. I couldn't find a single example of one that hasn't contaminated its surrounding environment. Therefore, every single time the government agencies approve one of these kind of mine applications, they are knowingly, whether they admit it or not, approving a future Superfund site. Talk about malfeasance, but don't get me started.

    Sg
     
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  12. Rory McMahon

    Rory McMahon Active Member

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    There are many forms of mining, as salmo_g stated, that are terrible for the environment, the other one that comes to mind is hydraulic mining. Suction dredging was developed as an environmentally friendly form of mining. In the old days they would use bucket line dredges, or divert rivers and tear the bed up.

    Dredging might be excessively harmful, and that's what I'm trying to figure out, but I disagree with what was said about mining having no benefits to the stream. There are scientific articles that state the dredge holes and mercury removal (see next paragraph) are beneficial to a stream, I'm not going to argue their validity, they might be crazy miners making outrageous claims, but it's something to at least consider. I wouldn't write off dredging as having no beneficial uses.

    The other issue brought up was mercury. Miners essentially clean the stream of mercury. It goes up through the suction hose, gets stuck in the sluice box, and ends up in a self contained clean up away from the stream. I'm sure traces of mercury get brushed off and float down the waterways, but almost all of it is removed. Overtime the mercury will be naturally released back into the stream during a 100 yr flood or something, ignoring it isn't necessarily the best response.

    Lastly, mining will always be legal to some degree, just as logging will always be legal. I think the important thing is to have people who are sensitive to the environment involved. Weyerhauser does a lot of work promoting sustainable practices, and I've heard a lot of their high-ups are environmentalist. I'd rather have them cutting down trees than some idiot who doesn't care what damage he does. As far as my team goes, I have myself, and another guy who is an environmental science major, and was president of the 'save the earth club' at our college. We don't want to damage the environment, and I would feel a lot more comfortable with us dredging than a lot of people.

    My point is, if you want to make a difference, I would focus your efforts on educating, and changing peoples opinions than trying an all out ban.
     
  13. suckegg

    suckegg Active Member

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    >>>>Anybody that tells you we totally understand ecosystems is full of it.

    Thoughtfully understated.. That's what I like about this board;)



    On the Yakima River I came across dredgers working years ago… they clearly were not comfortable with me seeing what they were doing and they shut down there engine and just stood there till I got down river. To this day there is a hole in the bank big enough for two schools buses where they sucked(they didn't make it that big but what they did started a chain reaction with currents etc.). On the way back by them heading out they shut the engine off again.

    I'll take some photos of the spot.. of course that won't happen fast but eventually I get them up here.
     
  14. Kim McDonald

    Kim McDonald member

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    Rory:

    I greatly admire your willingness to discuss this potential new hobby on this forum and to at least listen to concerns raised by many of us who have been active in watershed protection, restoration, and advocacy for fish.

    In neither California nor Oregon is anyone seeking an outright ban of suction dredging. The California moratorium on permitting suction dredging was initiated by the Karuk tribe and primarily commercial fishermen along the North Coast of California whose lives depend upon successful populations of anadromous fish. The Karuk's tribal biologist did a longitudinal study on the impacts of suction dredging and before advocating for the moratorium, attempted to work with mining clubs and CF&W to tighten the regulations. Unfortunately, the mining clubs didn't appreciate the "spirit" of cooperation or collaboration, forcing the Karuk tribe to sue the state then work with legislators for the moratorium until CF&W can promulgate new regulations that satisfy the rigors of science. In addition to the state issues, the Karuk tribe also sued the USFS asserting that the Forest Service failed to follow their own regulations requiring them to submit a request for a biological opinion under §7 of the ESA when the USFS receives a Notice of Intent from a miner. The Karuk's won that case in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and it should be the "law of the land" up here in Washington. However, as a result of that holding, mining clubs are advising miners to not submit Notices of Intent (as require by law and by the state permitting process) thereby thwarting the biological opinion process critical to protecting endangered species such as salmon, steelhead, and Bull trout.

    CF&W anticipates a new round of proposed regulations sometime in 2016. In the meantime, this past spring, a California mining club parsed the language of the original moratorium, saying a suction dredge isn't a suction dredge if it didn't have the sluice attached, so they advised miners to remove the sluice and put it on shore...that problem was tightened with an emergency rule in June, which, of course, was challenged by the miners and they lost in court.

    Oregon also has a moratorium of sorts, enacted this past July. They reduced the number of permits down to ~ 800 (it was up to ~2,000), will also engage in rounds of new regulation proposals, and probably close off streams and rivers that are critical habitat to steelhead and salmon as well as limit the dredges on highly used recreational rivers like the Rogue.

    In Washington, to be frank, we live in a state where almost every river, stream, and creek is a critical habitat for salmon, steelhead, and the few remaining Bull trout. The listings of the salmon and steelhead runs occurred in the late 1990s, and from then on, taxpayers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to restore the last pieces of habitat in hopes that we will still have, someday, salmon and steelhead that came from wild gene pools, not hatchery fish. In my opinion, having grown up in this state, trying to do everything we can to at the minimum, take care of what we have (and hope we can enhance) is our obligation and duty. To engage in activities which there is a high probability (please do not ask me to debunk the articles you're referring to in your last post much less go into a lengthy discussion of the fact the mercury is not being collected by the miners) of disturbing or harming in any manner whatsoever, these streams, creeks, and rivers seems, to be blunt, is questionable. Especially if there are alternatives for your desire to mine for gold. Panning is much much less likely to disturb our salmon, steelhead, and Bull trout habitats.

    The risks, now, of not only harming anadromous species and/or the Bull trout, but also jeopardizing other native fish species such as the Redband trout Freestone discussed, are real. It's not just you mining, but having spent yesterday looking at hydraulic permits from 2009 - 2013, it's over 1,000 miners, and that is just the ones who applied for permits and are not going out there under "Gold and Fish." The cumulative impacts, as Harvey and Lisle point out, are enormous.

    Kittitas County, not exactly the bastion of elected officials who would self-describe as "environmentalists" recently did a shoreline management survey and review. One of the main tributaries of the Yakima, the Swauk, is heavily dredged. And Kittitas County is at a point of trying to figure out how to stop the practice because of all the issues we have been discussing.

    Please do think about where you live. Washington is a land of endangered species. The best we can do is to try and do no harm.

    Kim
     
  15. Richard Olmstead

    Richard Olmstead BigDog

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    Here is the summary of a report by the American Fisheries Society, Oregon chapter, on the effects of suction dredging on fish and aquatic habitats (for complete report, go here: http://www.cascwild.org/wp-content/...RAFS-Suction-Dredge-Mining-Impacts-FINAL6.pdf):

    "The number of permit applications for suction dredge mining in Oregon has substantially increased due to shifting economic markets. Existing literature suggests that suction dredge mining, when properly managed and regulated, has localized and short-term impacts to fish and aquatic habitat. Maintaining these relatively low impacts, however, requires best management practices (BMP’s) are followed and properly enforced. The literature shows that without enforceable BMP’s in place, suction dredge mining can adversely alter physical habitats, food webs, behaviors, and physiology of sensitive fishes and other aquatic species (HWE 2011). In addition, continued disturbance of river substrates can mobilize toxic heavy metals, affecting not only aquatic food webs but humans as well (OAFS 2011). Little is understood regarding the impacts of increased and cumulative actions in Oregon streams. Most studies have focused on salmonid stocks of fish, overlooking impacts to other important non-game species such as lamprey and bivalves. Therefore, we recommend a precautionary approach to suction dredge mining in Oregon’s waterways that is based on strengthening and enforcing BMP’s. We encourage that suction dredge mining be prohibited or greatly reduced where sensitive fish stocks utilize reaches for spawning or where other sensitive life history stages are present."

    D
     
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