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COMPLETED ACTION: Protect our Rivers, Salmon and Resident Orcas from Unregulated Mining

Posted on Feb 1, 2019 in Action Alerts, Conservation News, Mining, WA Wild Blog

Washington’s wild steelhead, salmon and native trout are in trouble. Our beloved Southern Resident orcas are on the brink of extinction due to decimated Chinook salmon populations, and yet Washington State still allows motorized suction dredge mining to destroy the critical habitat our Chinook and other salmon species depend on. As the state wrestles with these challenges and spends millions on restoring our rivers and fisheries, we continue to allow this damaging practice in our waterways to go unchecked. This legislative session, we have a chance to change this.

Your legislators need to hear from you about your concerns about this form of gold mining and its impact on our water quality and fish populations. They need to enact commonsense legislation that brings Washington up the standards of our neighboring states on this issue – preventing impacts to Endangered Species Act (ESA) Critical Habitat for our native fish populations.


Suction dredge mining is unraveling our investment in Washington’s water quality and fish habitat restoration.

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.

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.

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

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

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. 


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