Placer and Hardrock Mining
Mining in the Rogue Basin dates back to the Gold Rush of the 1850s when hydraulic mining heavily degraded water quality and salmon runs. Illegal and poorly regulated mining activities continue to threaten the Rogue Basin today.
Governed by the 1872 Mining Law, mining on public lands in southwest Oregon is taking a toll on water quality, at-risk fish habitat and terrestrial forest values. Under the outdated 1872 Mining Law, public lands miners pay no royalties whatsoever for the valuable minerals they extract from lands that belong to all Americans, yet taxpayers are routinely left to pick up the tab to clean-up the damage and toxic waste miners often leave behind.
Many public lands miners refuse to abide by even the minimal environmental protections required by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Out-of-season mining, and illegal mining that directly harms at-risk salmon populations and water quality is becoming more and more common.
In addition, the Benton Mine, a hardrock goldmine, was polluting a tributary of the Wild and Scenic Rogue River for years in violation of the Clean Water Act. As a result of illegal activities, the state of Oregon shut the mine down in 2009. However, the owners are exploring options to re-open Benton.
1872: A law in need of reform—Click here to learn more about the 1872 Mining Law and efforts to reform this archaic law to better protect taxpayers, communities and the environment. Thanks to Earthworks for leading this national effort!
While hardrock mining under the 1872 Mining Law provides little or no economic benefits in the state of Oregon (or Jackson, Josephine and Curry Counties), there are costs to the public from the clean-up of abandoned mines. Throughout the West, taxpayers are shelling out millions to mitigate and clean-up heavy metals and toxins from hundreds of abandoned mine sites on public lands. In Oregon alone, the GAO reports 140 abandoned hardrock mines sites where there is environmental degradation. Examples of environmental degradation include the contamination of surface and ground water or leaving arsenic-contaminated tailings piles.
In 2010, the USFS and BLM used more than $11 million of taxpayer money to partially clean up the abandoned Blue Ledge Mine in the Upper Applegate and to start analysis for clean-up potential at the abandoned Almeda Mine, which discharges heavy metals into the Wild and Scenic Rogue River downstream of Grants Pass.
Mail Tribune (September 16, 2011): EPA joins Blue Ledge cleanup: The abandoned copper mine in the Applegate was added to the Superfund list of the worst polluted places in the U.S.
Mail Tribune (June 4, 2010): Feds pay to clean up Blue Ledge Mine: The mine, active from 1906 to 1919, leaches toxic chemicals into the Applegate watershed
A law in need of reform: Click here to learn more about the 1872 Mining Law and efforts to reform this archaic law to better protect taxpayers, communities and the environment. Thanks to Earthworks for leading this national effort!
On July 26, 2011, California Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 120, which extended a statewide moratorium on suction dredging in any river, stream, or lake in California until 2016. Suction dredging may only resume in 2016 if the Director of the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) certifies to the Secretary of State that: 1) CDFG has completed a review of existing suction dredge regulations, 2) new regulations fully mitigate all identified significant environmental impacts, and 3) a fee structure is in place that will fully recover all
costs to the state related to the administration of the program, including enforcement.
With the California dredge moratorium in place and the price of gold steadily on the rise, Oregon has seen a dramatic increase in suction dredge mining, particularly in southwest Oregon. The Oregon Department of State lands (DSL) issued 656 permits in 2007/2008, and preliminary numbers for 2010/2011 indicate 1,527 permits were issued by DSL—a 233% increase in the last four years.
The basic configuration of a suction dredge is a floating system, or sluice box, attached to a suction hose that sucks up the river bottom. The stream sediments are run through the sluice box, gold is filtered out and the sediments are discharged back into the stream. The size and power of a dredge can vary, with motors typically ranging from 2 to 50 horsepower and the vacuum nozzle ranging from 2 to 10 inches. As with all in-stream mining, suction dredging impacts streams, fish and aquatic life.