PORTLAND, Ore. Sept. 12, 2018 – The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld an Oregon law restricting motorized gold mining in sensitive salmon streams. In 2017 Oregon passed the Suction Dredge Reform Bill (S.B. 3) to protect water quality and fish habitat across the state from damaging suction dredge mining.
“The court correctly ruled that states can protect water quality and wild fish from harmful motorized mining,” said Pete Frost with the Western Environmental Law Center. “This decision supports a growing effort in western states to protect clean water and wildlife for everyone.”
Suction dredge mining is a type of recreational gold mining that uses gas-powered, floating dredges to suck up the bottoms of rivers. This type of mining can trap and kill fish, smother critical spawning gravel for salmon, and stir up legacy mercury and other toxic metals from historic mining operations.
“Democrats and Republicans in urban and rural Oregon worked to pass Senate Bill 3 to protect Oregon’s rivers and fisheries,” said Stacey Detwiler of Rogue Riverkeeper. “Today’s decision honors the legacy of Senator Alan Bates from southern Oregon who championed the rights of all Oregonians to clean, healthy waterways where iconic salmon and lamprey are protected from harmful mining practices.”
The Suction Dredge Reform bill protects Oregon’s rivers and the communities that rely on them by prohibiting suction dredge mining in essential salmonid habitat. Outside these areas, suction dredge mining can only occur under permit.
“This is a major triumph in the battle to protect our waterways and wildlife from this dirty, outdated form of mining,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s now clear that recreational miners have no right to pollute our rivers with toxic mercury or destroy irreplaceable cultural resources.”
Peer-reviewed science shows that suction dredging can stir up toxic mercury buried in streambeds, as well as reduce salmon spawning success due to alterations in habitat. Additionally, in hot spots — such as the Umpqua and Rogue rivers — the number of dredges has created conflicts with anglers and other recreationists.
“This victory comes as a huge relief,” said Nick Cady with Cascadia Wildlands. “It would have been ridiculous to let gold mining in salmon spawning habitat proceed unregulated after all we have invested as a state in salmon recovery.”
The Suction Dredge Reform bill works to protect clean and healthy rivers that support Oregon’s recreation and commercial fishing industries. In 2008 the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife found that people spent $2.5 billion on fish and wildlife recreation in the state.
A coalition of conservation and fisheries groups joined the case to help defend the Oregon law, including Rogue Riverkeeper, Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Oregon Coast Alliance, Cascadia Wildlands, Native Fish Society and the Center for Biological Diversity. The groups were represented by the Eugene-based Western Environmental Law Center and the Colorado-based Western Mining Action Project.