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WA Wild Coordinates Letter Calling for Due Diligence from State Agencies

In response to the recent approval of a Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Washington Department of Ecology (WDOE), 66 local businesses, recreation outfitters, and environmental conservation organizations have raised concerns about whether this approval adheres to and matches the intent of the 2020 law banning suction dredge mining in critical salmon and steelhead habitat


Photo: Chris Gug


Suction dredge mining is a form of recreational mining that uses gas-powered dredges to vacuum up rocks, gravel, and sediment from the bottom of creeks and rivers to search for gold. Scientific studies have shown this practice degrades water quality and destroys habitat for salmon and steelhead in a myriad of ways:

  • Erosion and sedimentation increase the turbidity (lack of clarity) of the water, which in turn decreased dissolved oxygen levels and increases water temperature
  • High risk of pollution from gasoline spills and disturbance of mercury or other heavy metals
  • 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, loss of riparian plants, etc)

Passage of Washington’s suction dredge reform legislation in 2020 (ESHB 1261) was a decades-long, hard-fought win by a coalition of more than 160 local stakeholders that finally introduced commonsense and effective updates to align with existing regulations in our neighboring states of Oregon, California, and Idaho. 

Beyond banning all motorized mineral prospecting in any stream or river that has been designated under the Endangered Species Act as critical habitat or would impact critical habitat for salmon, steelhead or bull trout, the law also requires both the Washington Department of Ecology (WDOE) and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to implement, and as necessary promote new regulations regarding the permitting and enforcement of all motorized mineral prospecting in Washington State. The law requires anyone using motorized mineral prospecting methods to obtain a determination of compliance with the federal Clean Water Act and Chapter 90.48 RCW. It also requires WDFW to verify Clean Water Act compliance prior to issuing a Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) permit.

Photo: A Chinook salmon, Idaho Conservation League

The Threat Continues

WA Wild recently learned that WDFW issued a Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) permit to a miner who seeks to use a motorized mining method to draw water out of a watershed designated as critical salmon habitat, and without a water right. In other words, WDFW acted contrary to the intent and requirements of the law, issuing a permit without all the necessary permits and approvals from WDOE.

Many of our salmon and steelhead runs continue to be on the brink of extinction as federal, state, and tribal governments continue to appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to restore habitat and improve water quality. We expect our state agencies to safeguard these important investments by providing due diligence to protect our beleaguered salmon and steelhead as directed by the legislature when they passed ESHB 1261 for precisely this purpose. We ask WDFW and the WDOE to stop issuing permits for motorized mining that withdraws water and gravel from streams and comply with the law preventing motorized mining in critical habitat.

Read the full letter.