Protecting our native species

  • Coho Salmon
  • Lampreys
  • Freshwater Mussels
  • Bull Trout

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What it is

Suction dredge mining is a form of recreational gold mining that involves vacuuming up riverbeds through a hose using a motorized floating dredge. This vacuuming has dangerous, detrimental effects on our streams and native fish.

Between 2009 and 2012, the number of suction dredge mining permits in Oregon nearly tripled following a moratorium on the practice in California and an increase in the price of gold. The passing of SB 838 in 2013 put a five year moratorium on suction dredge, starting in January of 2016. This legislation provides protection for streams that support or flow into critical salmon habitats.

Although the limited moratorium provides some level of protection for native fish and water quality, it is only a temporary solution that expires in 2021. And we need a more permanent solution. Our legislation creates long-term protections, particularly in lamprey and essential salmonid habitat.

The rivers and fish that we depend on are being pushed to their limits. As a river guide, I see the harmful effects suction dredges have on our rivers, streams, and fish.Robyn Janssen, 2/1/17
Suction Dredge Mining Can:
  • Smother critical spawning gravel for salmon: Suction dredges discharge plumes of fine sediment that can extend several hundred feet downstream, coating the river bottom and smothering gravel spawning grounds for threatened salmon.
  • Kill aquatic insects, fish eggs, and young fish: When suction dredges vacuum up riverbeds, they can trap and kill aquatic insects, fish eggs, and young fish including lamprey and freshwater clams and mussels.
  • Degrade stream habitats: Suction dredge miners sometimes illegally excavate stream banks, damaging vegetation, increasing erosion, and degrading aquatic habitat by altering the stream channel itself.
  • Mobilize legacy mercury: Dredges can mobilize mercury from historic mining that would otherwise remain buried deep in streambeds. This mobilized mercury can be ingested by fish and pose a risk to human health.
A suction dredge mining framework will:
  • Protect critical salmon and lamprey by prohibiting suction dredge mining in key areas for fish, including but not limited to stream reaches designated as Essential Salmonid Habitat (“ESH”).
  • Protect clean water by prohibiting suction dredge mining in streams already heavily polluted by turbidity, sediment, or toxics like mercury; that are designated for state or federal clean water protections; and on public lands set aside or withdrawn from new mining activity.
  • Develop a comprehensive permitting approach that ensures the full protections of the Clean Water Act, requires dredge inspections, and establishes appropriate fees to support the program.
  • Ensure that tribes can protect cultural resources by prohibiting suction dredge mining on the boundaries of or streams that flow through Tribal Trust land or Native American reservations.