Citing danger to fish populations, Oregon will ban suction dredging in early January. The gold extraction technique uses a giant vacuum to hoover river bottom substrate such as gold… and, consequently, bugs and salmon and steelhead eggs.
Shortly after the decision, Oregon miners filed a lawsuit against the state. Based on historical mining laws, plaintiffs claim the state lacks the authority to restrict suction dredging. Moreover, many folks with gold fever say the activity is fish-friendly:
“There’s benefit for all of us in cleaning up our waterways,” says Scott Harn of Prospecting and Mining Journal. He adds, “The vast majority of suction dredge miners are environmental stewards.”
Rogue Riverkeeper, the watchdog organization for Oregon’s Rogue Basin, on the other hand, says that’s bullshit, ”Dredging causes turbid plumes of fine sediment for several hundred feet below the dredge. The fine sediment settles as a fine coating on the stream bottom that degrades habitat for aquatic insects and juvenile fish.” Suction dredging is thought to mobilize mercury from historical mining operations into the water column, cause bankside erosion and increase scouring from floods.
Oregon fish populations most at risk of suction dredging fallout are coastal coho, Columbia and Willamette steelhead, Columbia chinook, and bull trout. All are listed as federally threatened or endangered.
Tom Bie is the founder, editor, and publisher of The Drake. He started the magazine in 1998 as an annual newsprint publication based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He then moved it to Steamboat, Colorado (1999), Boulder, Colorado (2001), and San Clemente, California (2004), as he took jobs as managing editor at Paddler, Senior Editor at Skiing, and Editor-in-Chief at Powder, respectively. Tom and The Drake are now both based in Denver, Colorado, where The Drake is finally all grows up(Swingers, 1996) to a quarterly magazine.