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Oregon Senate Passes Suction Dredge Reform Bill

Senate moves to protect Oregon's rivers and fish from in stream mining.

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Oregon Senate Passes Suction Dredge Reform Bill

Suction Dredge in Applegate River

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 

Contact

Jake Crawford, Native Fish Society, 720-253-8485
Tom Wolf, Oregon Council Trout Unlimited, 503-640-2123
Paige Spence, Oregon League of Conservation Voters, 404-583-8726
Glen Spain, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), 541-521-8655
Stacey Detwiler, Rogue Riverkeeper, 541-488-9831
Bob Van Dyk, Wild Salmon Center,  503-504-8471

 

Salem, OR – The Oregon Senate passed legislation today to protect sensitive salmon and lamprey habitat from suction dredge mining. The Suction Dredge Reform bill (SB 3-A Engrossed) balances the cultural heritage of mining in Oregon with impacts to native fish and clean water. The bill stops mining in sensitive habitat, but allows it to continue elsewhere under a permit system.

“Clean water and healthy salmon define our state and the rivers we love,” said Charles Gehr of Fly Water Travel. “The recreation industry is a vibrant and sustainable economic model for Oregon and this bill helps protect the streams that are the most vulnerable to suction dredge mining impacts.”

Clean water, healthy fish, and recreation are enormously valuable to state and local economies. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, people spent $2.5 billion on fish and wildlife recreation in Oregon in 2008.

The Suction Dredge Reform bill is the result of a long and collaborative process championed by the late Senator Alan Bates. Building on input from anglers, landowners, the mining industry, the fishing industry, conservation organizations, and other stakeholders, the bill takes a measured approach to protecting the most sensitive rivers and streams from the impacts of suction dredge mining, while still allowing suction dredges in areas where they do less harm.

“For the last four years, local communities across Oregon have called for reform on harmful suction dredge mining practices,” said Jake Crawford of the Native Fish Society, “and this legislation represents a workable, long-term solution to protect the state’s sensitive fish populations.”

Suction dredge mining is a type of recreational gold mining that uses a motorized, floating dredge to suck up the riverbed. Numerous scientific studies show that this form of mining can trap and kill young fish and fish eggs, release fine sediments that smother spawning gravel for salmon, and can even stir up legacy mercury from historic mining operations.

“The scientific literature demonstrates a broad array of negative effects of suction dredge gold mining.  It clearly works against efforts to recover salmon runs,” said Matt Sloat, Director of Science for Wild Salmon Center.

The commercial fishing industry also relies on healthy salmon runs. “Suction dredging, in the wrong places, can have devastating impacts on Oregon’s valuable salmon runs and destroy commercial salmon fishing jobs,” said Glen Spain, NW Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), representing major fishing industry trade associations. “Many key Oregon salmon streams are slowly being restored, but hundreds of suction dredges descending on these streams every year could easily undo tens of millions of dollars worth of taxpayer-funded salmon restoration work. This bill achieves a better balance, simply by pulling suction dredges out of vulnerable salmon nurseries, and moving them to where they would do far less economic and biological harm.”

The Suction Dredge Reform bill prohibits mining in spawning and rearing habitat for sensitive, threatened, or endangered salmonids and lamprey, termed “essential salmonid habitat.” Outside of these areas, suction dredge mining would be allowed under a Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) permit that places certain limits on where and how suction dredges can be operated in streams.

“This bill provides a sustainable approach that is grounded in science to limit negative impacts on wild fish populations in Oregon and their habitat,” said Tom Wolf of the Oregon Council of Trout Unlimited.

In 2013, the Legislature recognized the need for better protections for sensitive species when it passed a bill to study the issue and implement a temporary moratorium in salmon and bull trout habitat. “These temporary protections for the most sensitive streams end in 2021,” said Stacey Detwiler of Rogue Riverkeeper, “so this a critical vote for the health of Oregon’s rivers and the communities that rely upon them.”

The Senate vote today is the first step to a permanent regulatory framework to protect the most sensitive habitats from suction dredges. “We commend the Senate for working with all the stakeholders to craft such a reasonable approach to allowing mining while protecting our sensitive species,” said Paige Spence of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. “I think Senator Bates would be pleased.”

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