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Most dredging banned under new proposed guidelines

By Mark Freeman
Mail Tribune

A report from the Governor's office outlines a proposal to overhaul the regulations that govern suction dredge gold mining, as well as near stream gold mining.

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Suction-dredge mining would be banned from streams running through private lands throughout the Rogue River Basin and much of Western Oregon and limited on federal lands under a new state framework proposed to govern mining rules in 2016 and beyond.

A long-awaited report by a task force created by the 2013 Oregon Legislature recommends that no dredging be allowed on private lands in waters considered essential stream habitat for wild salmon and Pacific lamprey throughout Western Oregon.

In the Rogue Basin, that would include the main-stem Rogue, Applegate and Illinois rivers along with every tributary downstream from major dams such as Lost Creek, Applegate and Reeder — dams with no mechanism for salmon to cross, according to the report.

It would also include streams downstream of major waterfalls that provide natural salmon and lamprey barriers as well as waters flowing through federal wilderness and wilderness study areas, state scenic waterways and state parks.

For dredging on federal lands, miners for gold and other precious metals would be required to obtain an individual permit to operate, and they would first have to provide documentation that their specific operations in specific areas wouldn't harm wild salmon or their habitat.

But no such permits would be granted on streams that fail to meet state and federal water-quality standards for sediment, turbidity, toxins or heavy metals. That likely will include the entire Rogue, which is awaiting formal federal designation as failing to meet federal standards for mercury levels after 2010 tests revealed high mercury levels in the main stem from the sea to its source within Crater Lake National Park.

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Forrest English of the Ashland-based Rogue Riverkeeper took part in the working group that drafted the report. He said he supports most of the main pieces of it. However, English said his view on it could change based on how the language ultimately is written.

"As they say, the devil's in the details," English said. "All of these questions will determine our thoughts going forward."

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