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Bill to protect critical salmon habitat from suction dredge mining passes Senate

Today, a statewide coalition of more than 160 conservation, recreation, and wildlife organizations, local businesses, electeds, and Tribes celebrated the Washington State Senate’s vote to approve legislation that would ban the harmful practice of motorized suction dredge mining in stream segments designated as critical salmon habitat. The reform legislation (ES HB 1261) passed by a vote of 37 to 10 with bipartisan support. The bill passed all relevant committees and both houses of the legislature before the bill cutoff date of Friday, March 6 for the abbreviated legislative session. 

Photo courtesy of John Gussman

The legislation will now be sent to Governor Jay Inslee’s desk and we expect it to be signed into law. Once signed, the provisions that will protect critical habitat for salmon on Washington rivers and streams will go into effect later this year.

Washington Wild helped coordinate a statewide and diverse coalition of more than 160 conservation, recreation, and wildlife organizations, local businesses, and electeds. Tribal nations from across Washington State, including the Quinault Indian Nation, Snoqualmie Tribe, Yakama Nation, Sauk-Suiattle Tribe, and Tulalip Tribes have also supported the bill. Earlier this year, nearly 300 Washington Wild activists sent more than 689 emails to state legislators supporting passage of the reform bill. Passage of this legislation is a decade old hard-fought win for salmon recovery, orcas, and clean water.

Washington currently invests hundreds of millions of dollars in salmon recovery while allowing this activity to take place in critical habitat for ESA-listed salmon, including Chinook salmon which are the primary food source for our endangered Southern Resident orca whales. The legislation introduces commonsense updates that align with court-backed regulations for this activity in neighboring states (OR, CA, ID, MT).


During the 2019 state legislative session, a broad coalition of conservation, recreation and tribal groups supported legislation (HB 1261 and SB 5322) to restrict suction dredge mining in river reaches designated as critical habitat for salmon and endangered fish species and require permitting under the Clean Water Act. The bill was approved by key committees in the Senate and House but ran out of time before passing the House.

There is strong political momentum and optimism about passing reform legislation during the current abbreviated legislative session which began on January 13.

Effective and commonsense rules limiting suction dredging in our neighboring states of Oregon, California, and Idaho have displaced miners that have now moved into Washington State, creating an even greater pressure on our streams.

Impacts of suction dredging and other forms of motorized mineral prospecting include:

· Erosion and sedimentation in streams
· Mobilization of mercury and other heavy metals
· Increases in water temperatures due to elevated turbidity and loss of riparian vegetation
· Water contamination at access areas (e.g., gasoline spills)
· Physical impacts on fish eggs, juvenile fish, invertebrates, and other aquatic organisms
· Interruption of natural stream form and function (and creation of fish stranding hazards)
· Denuded riparian habitat caused by repeated equipment access and long-term encampments
· Destruction of habitat features (e.g., removal of large woody debris)