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Photo: Bureau of Land Management

Conservation groups filed a notice of intent today to sue the state of Washington for allowing highly destructive suction dredge mining in rivers and streams critical to endangered salmon and steelhead. The Washington Department of Wildlife approves the harmful recreational gold-mining technique in rivers throughout the state that are home to numerous imperiled fish species. Conservation and fisheries groups have also introduced bills in the state legislature to better monitor and regulate suction dredge mining.

“Suction dredge mining pollutes our waterways with toxic mercury, clouds streams with sediment, kills endangered fish and destroys irreplaceable cultural resources that are important to all Washingtonians,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is a dirty, outdated form of mining that our families, waterways and wildlife shouldn’t be subjected to.”

Suction dredge mining in endangered bull trout habitat (Map: Kara Clauser / Center for Biological Diversity)

Suction dredge mining in endangered bull trout habitat (Map: Kara Clauser / Center for Biological Diversity)

Suction dredge mining uses large, gas-powered vacuums to suck up gravel on the bottom of rivers and streams in search of gold flakes. Miners target gravel beds critical to salmon spawning and reproduction and pollute waterways with sediment and toxic mercury and heavy metals in their search for gold. Suction dredge mining also threatens important cultural resources important to American Indians.

“Suction dredge miners are killing endangered salmon and polluting our waterways and it needs to stop,” said Gabriel Scott, in-house counsel for Cascadia Wildlands. “We intend to enforce the law ourselves if the state won’t.”

The harm done by suction dredging is well documented by scientists and government agencies. In recent years Oregon and California have halted suction dredge mining for gold in areas that are important for rivers and fisheries because of its damage to water quality and wildlife. In Idaho the EPA has stepped in to regulate the practice. Today’s notice, filed by the Center and Cascadia Wildlands, notifies Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife and Department of Ecology of ongoing violations of the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act.

While the state doesn’t track individual mining locations, the majority of Washington’s rivers and streams are open to mining. Because the state of Washington has never squared state laws regulating suction dredge mining with the Endangered Species Act or Clean Water Act, two bills were introduced in the state legislature this week to better monitor and regulate the activity. House Bill 1077, introduced by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Seattle), would create important safeguards in environmentally sensitive areas to protect salmon and water quality. House Bill 1106, introduced by Rep. Gael Tarleton (D-Seattle), would require miners to comply with the Clean Water Act to reduce pollution when mining.

Numerous other commercial and recreational organizations have raised concerns that suction dredge and other motorized mining practices are disruptive and harmful to fishing. Statewide, commercial fisheries generate more than $1.6 billion annually and sport fishing generates more than $1.1 billion annually. Suction dredge mining also undermines the tens of millions of dollars invested in salmon recovery efforts in Washington.

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5 Responses

  1. Realist says:

    First of all, suction dredge mining is not destructive. Show one law suit where a miner has been sued for destruction or harming of fish. That’s right, there isn’t any. You people remain ignorant because you follow ignorance. These so called scientist, have created more problems for your beloved fish than any miner has ever done. In fact, this past year there has been more habitat construction doing exactly what miners do at the tax payer expense.

    Wake up!

    Can’t you see that these Environmentalist have no desire to protect anything? They only sue to obtain more money from the tax payers so they can sue and settle for more money. They have an Agenda and their science is done with a presupposition and a predetermined outcome. Your not a planet expert your experts at fleecing the people.

  2. Mike Lindsay says:

    You can tell most environmentalist know nothing about this when they spout off and the rest lies to just stuff their pockets with sue and settle lawsuits. If this was true why is the state of Idaho dredging their fishing holes to improve if for fish habitat. Why is California saying that these floods are good because it is breaking up the hard pact stream beds making it better for fish to spawn. This is exactly what the dredgers do. They improve and make better spawning grounds for fish.When dredging dredgers move the bigger rocks of to the side that choke off streams. They break up hard packed stream bottoms and remove 95% of the mercury both natural and man made that was used by the old miners a hundred years ago. Unless you go out and watch and talk to a dredger and not take fake news or personal opinion for fact. There are dozens of official reports say dredging has little to no effect on fish. Even the EPA says that dredging has negligible effect on fish. dredges do not kill fish, fisherman kill fish.

  3. Bob says:

    IMHO ! Your comment of “Suction dredge mining pollutes our waterways with toxic mercury, clouds streams with sediment, kills endangered fish and destroys irreplaceable cultural resources that are important to all Washingtonians,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is a dirty, outdated form of mining that our families, waterways and wildlife shouldn’t be subjected to.” is incorrect !
    Any Heavy metals like Mercury and Fishing Lead is collected in the sluice box and Not Returned to the river ! I follow the rules and feel the suction dredging Improves the habitat and I have never harmed a fish while dredging ! Although I have killed many Salmon and Trout While Fishing !!

  4. Paul says:

    Your article tells me you know absolutely nothing about suction dredging. In fact, dredging cleans up the bottom of the rivers and creeks by sucking up all the garbage that is thrown into the water by the public. Miners are just as concerned about clean water and conservation as anybody else is. Dredging is not done during spawning season. They in fact prepare a better streambed for the fish. Miners want clean waters and clean environment the difference is, they actually live in it and tree huggers just whine from there condos and play on their computers which would not exist if it were not for miners.

  5. This is agood thing, that in truth the environmentalist ca loose this law suit, and would bring court conflict, as it will be responsibility of the environmentalist to prove such harm. And they cannot do so, as dredging put sno polutants into the river, only removing such polutants already existing.

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