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Media Highlights Dangers of Dredge Mining in Critical Salmon Habitat

Posted on Sep 20, 2019 in Conservation News, Mining

The Seattle Times featured an Op Ed “SOS: Gold dredging hurts Washington streams” detailing the dangers of unregulated dredge mining on salmon habitat, an issue that Washington Wild has led on.

To suction dredge, miners in SCUBA gear suck-up streambeds with gas-powered vacuums to hunt for gold. Discharge from the dredge machine spits out the back in a plume of turbid water, and what’s left behind are dredge spoils and a river bottom that has been turned upside down. Suction dredging has become increasingly common on Washington’s rivers and creeks because it is now banned or tightly restricted in neighboring states due to its impacts on threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead.

Back in May, Washington Wild coordinated a letter signed by 60 conservation, recreation and wildlife organizations to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission calling for stronger regulations by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife restricting the practice of motorized suction dredge mining in Washington State rivers.

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. Washington Wild will be advocating for Senate Bill 5322 and House Bill 126 during the 2020 legislative session.

Read the full article here.

Photo credi: Jeff Barnard


Suction dredge mining is unraveling our investment in Washington’s water quality and fish habitat restoration. Washington’s water quality and fisheries resources are critical to our state’s economy, community well-being, way of life, and identity. Many of our most important fish populations – including Chinook salmon, the primary food source for our endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales – are struggling, with some on the brink of extinction, and we are spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on recovery efforts to try to save them.

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.