NEAR TOLO, Ore. — A controversial legislative bill signed by Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber on Thursday limits who can operate a gold dredge on Oregon streams. It’s bringing praise from environmentalists and condemnation from the mining community.
Alan Mash was pumping up his Tahiti prior to paddling out to a small dredge he has anchored in the Rogue River, a few miles upriver from Gold Hill. Mash is one of dozens who have staked out claims here to suck up sand and gravel from the river bottom to sift for small bits of gold. So when Governor Kitzhaber signed legislation rolling back the number of permits and making other demands, mash was upset.
“We’re working under the mining act of Congress of 1872. Some people say that’s outdated mining law. Well, if that’s outdated, maybe the Constitution of America is outdated, right? So it’s just all hypocrisy. They just don’t want us here,” Mash said.
The new rules will first reduce the number of dredges on Oregon rivers. That number exploded a few years ago when California authorities clamped a moratorium on dredge mining and many of those miners moved north to work.
“I think cutting the amount of that activity happening in Oregon by two-thirds, starting next year is a really good first place to go,” explained English.
It’s claims by English and others that mining harms salmon that really upsets Mash and other miners.
“Now I’ll go somewhere else and dredge, and there’s a softer back there where I was, and the salmon can spawn there for years because it’s not hard packed anymore,” Mash said.
If the legislature does not come up with new rules similar under the new law, a five year moratorium is called for to stop suction dredge mining. Dredgers who have seen what happened in northern California in the last few years are noticeably anxious about the new legislation.
They say one of the most difficult things about the new law is that it would require them to post their dredges at least 500 feet apart, and they would have to remove them from the stream every day, and put them back the next day. And some of those dredges weight several hundred pounds.
Alan Mash says he expects that the mining community will file suit over the new regulations if a moratorium on dredge mining goes into effect.