Today, Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation that would ban the harmful practice of motorized suction dredge mining in stream segments designated as critical salmon habitat in Washington State. This was a hard-fought and long-awaited victory for protecting the billion-dollar investment in salmon recovery from federal and local governments, Tribes, and conservation groups. The law 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, Washington Wild activists like you sent more than 689 emails to state legislators supporting passage of the reform bill.
The reform legislation (ES HB 1261) passed the State Senate by a vote of 37 to 10 with bipartisan support on March 5. Prior to that it passed the State House of Representatives and all relevant committees.
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).
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 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)