CENTRAL POINT, Ore. – A bill to ban certain forms of mining in Oregon has stirred up threats of a legal battle over suction dredging. The practice of using vacuums to gather gold from river beds is being targeted for its impact on fish and plant life.
A bill awaiting Governor’s signature – Senate Bill 838 – would place limitations on suction dredging for several years. The bill would also set aside funding into scientific research on the effects of suction dredging.
After a certain time period, if no long-term regulations can be figured out, the bill would call for an outright ban. Locals miners say if that happens, they plan to take the issue to court
“You know it might just seem like a little thing – gold miners,” said Dave McCracken, a professional suction dredger. “Who needs gold miners, you know? But I tell you what, it’s a fundamental.”
Suction dredging has become increasingly popular in Southwest Oregon. The number of permits given out has increased from about 650 in 2007 to nearly 2,500 in 2012.
“Gold prices have gone up. There’s a lot of people interested in it,” said McCracken. “There’s a lot of room in Oregon.”
But the practice has gone under fire for its impact on fish populations. Environmental groups say it disturbs the river beds that those fish use to spawn.
“One dredge in a three foot wide stream is a pretty big deal,” said KS Wild’s Robyn Jenssen. “And as a lot of us have seen out on the Rogue River there’s upwards of 30 dredges in one single area.”
Environmentalists say Oregon is behind the curve when it comes to regulating this practice. California instituted an outright ban, and Idaho has also set heavy restrictions.
“It’s kind of interesting that Oregon sits in this area and not protecting our iconic rivers and streams for the state,” said Jenssen.
But miners say they aren’t giving up easily. After California banned it, they challenged it in court and were able to score a temporary restraining order allowing them to continue mining. Now they say they’re prepared to do the same here.
“It’s our experience that once this moratorium goes in two years from now we’re not gonna get it back,” said McCracken.