Today, Washington Wild coordinated a joint comment letter signed by 84 conservation and recreation groups and local businesses to the State House and Senate supporting HB 1261 and SB 5322. This legislation would protect water quality and fish habitat in Washington from unregulated motorized suction dredge mining that is harming our rivers and salmon populations.
Washington’s current regulations allow suction dredge mining in virtually all waterways and Pacific coastal beaches, including those designated as Critical Habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), without requiring permits or monitoring. This activity is occurring largely unchecked in Critical Habitat for Chinook salmon, the primary food source for our struggling Southern Resident Killer Whale population. This is simply unacceptable given what’s at stake.
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 to 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)
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.
Suction dredge miners in Washington State enjoy what essentially amounts to a blank check: there are no fees; no permits required; and no tracking and accountability. When the rest of the regulated community is subject to strict permitting and monitoring requirements for work in and around our waterways (including fish habitat restoration projects), it simply doesn’t make sense that suction dredge mining isn’t held to the same standards. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is currently engaged in a rulemaking process that will likely result in the requirement that miners apply for individual permits, but this does not address impacts to ESA Critical Habitat and other concerns.
Legislative action is necessary to improve protections for ESA-listed fish and their critical habitats and ensure durable reforms for Washington’s suction dredge mining regulations.
What we are requesting in the 2019 Legislative session:
- A ban on suction dredge mining in ESA-designated Critical Habitat for salmon, steelhead, and bull trout.
- Washington State Department of Ecology oversight for Clean Water Act compliance for suction dredge mining activities.
The impacts of suction dredge mining on fish such as steelhead and salmon can be significant, and our laws don’t do enough to protect our fisheries, even in Critical Habitat designated under the Endangered Species Act. Suction dredge mining is currently allowed without oversight, tracking, or accountability – state agencies are currently in the process of making minor changes to the rules to require permits, but this will not result in substantive improvements for our fish populations.
Write your state representatives today and let them know you support legislation to regulate suction dredge mining!