Today, the Washington State House of Representatives voted to approve legislation that would ban the harmful practice of motorized suction dredge mining in stream segments designated as critical salmon habitat (HB 1261) by a vote of 60-35 with bipartisan support.
The bill was supported by a statewide and diverse coalition of more than 160 conservation, recreation, and wildlife organizations as well as local businesses and faith leaders. Native American tribes from across Washington State, including the Quinault Indian Nation, Snoqualmie Tribe, Yakama Nation, Sauk-Suiattle Tribe, and Tulalip Tribes have also supported the bill.
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 Killer Whales. Proponents say House Bill 1261/SB 6149 introduce commonsense updates that align with court-backed regulations for this activity in neighboring states (OR, CA, ID, MT).
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)
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.