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Fish, Not Gold

Category: Newsletter Articles | Posted by: Jonathan | 2/5/14 | Comments: 92

Summary: Kim McDonald of Shelterwood Consulting chimes in on the current lack of regulations for suction-dredge mining in Washington streams and their effects on critical habitat for endangered salmonids.

Seeking early season fishing, I headed for small streams high up in the North Central Cascades.  I found a spot, along Scotty Creek, with a few riffles and a deep pool.  As I gingerly walked into the stream, I looked upstream for my first cast.  There was a man upstream.  I waved and he nodded.  Wanting to make sure I wasn’t stepping into his spot, I walked upstream to talk with him.  As I got closer I noticed the man was running what looked like a shop-vac in the stream and swirling around my legs was a plume of chocolate colored water. 

He was mining for gold with a suction dredge.

KlamathRiverSuctionDredge_webSuction dredges are essentially gas powered floating shop-vacs.  A large nozzle (generally 4”in diameter) sucks up gravel and sediment, then the dredge runs it through a sluice.  The sediment and lighter gravel are deposited in long plumes downstream while the heavier metals such as gold, rest in the sluice.  Miners who work areas that have been mined, also disturb significant amounts of mercury, used years ago to amalgamate gold flecks into nuggets.

“What are you doing here?” he asked me.

While it seemed obvious to me, I told him I was fishing.

“No fish in these streams.  And, besides, this is private property.”

I tried to explain that we were both on Forest Service land, but he pointed to a hand painted sign nailed to a Ponderosa pine: NCWP Mining Claim.


Deciding not to engage in a confrontation, I went back to my truck and spent the next few months researching suction dredge mining.

As the price of gold began to rise in the last decade, hobby miners began to see profit in vacuuming up streams where there “may be gold.”  All over the West, the drone of Honda engines floating on pontoons, could be heard as miners sought gold.

In 2009, led by the Karuk Tribe’s threatened lawsuit, the California legislature enacted and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law, a moratorium on all suction dredging.  The Karuks maintained that suction dredging had impacts on fish, particularly salmon and steelhead, as well as invertebrates throughout stream systems.  They asserted that California’s system of regulation failed to take those impacts into account.  The moratorium, recently renewed by Governor Brown, gives the state time to evaluate impacts and promulgate rules that actually protect fish and habitat.

In tandem with the state legislative action, the Karuks sued the US Forest Service alleging that the Forest Service has an obligation under § 7 of the Endangered Species Act to seek biological opinions from National Marine Fisheries Service or the US Fish and Wildlife Service upon receipt of a Notice of Intent to mine from the suction dredgers.  The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the Karuks.

After the California moratorium, California miners moved north to Oregon, running suction dredges below the expensive homes along the Rogue and in fragile steelhead spawning streams of the Umpqua.  Cascadia Wild worked closely with Oregon legislators and in July  2013, Oregon enacted a moratorium similar to California’s, creating a mechanism for the state to study and understand the impacts of suction dredging on streams, fish, and other wildlife.

dredge2_webMeanwhile in Idaho, miners nailed signs to trees along the North Fork of the Clearwater, claiming mining rights as well as posting that the land was private property.  But it wasn’t.  It was US Forest Service land.  Our land.  Then the mining claims were found on eBay.  The fly fishing community swung into action, supporting the US Forest Service in using provisions of the National Forest Management Act which allows the Forest Service to deny mining claims if the Forest Service believes the mining would interfere with other multiple uses of the forest.  Also in Idaho, the Environmental Protection Agency, tasked with enforcing the Clean Water Act in Idaho (most states are delegated by the EPA to enforce the CWA, but Idaho chose not to accept the delegation), promulgated new and tougher regulations for suction dredge permits and denied permits on critical habit for steelhead and other fish species.

Amazingly, Washington State lags behind.  Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is “tasked” with regulating in-stream mining.  In 2009 WDFW published the “Gold and Fish” pamphlet, which outlines what equipment miners can use, has 20 pages of spreadsheets listing every river and stream throughout the state, and delineates the windows when miners can use suction dredgers or other equipment on those streams.  No licensing fee is required.

Here is the “kicker.”  If a miner wants to mine outside of the Gold and Fish windows, he can apply for a hydraulic permit, also without paying any fee, and routinely (only one permit application has been denied) obtain a permit to use a suction dredge in long extended time periods.

In other words, it’s the wild west in Washington.  And unlike California, Oregon, and Idaho, Washington doesn’t even know how many miners are altering the rivers because as long as the miner is “following” the Gold and Fish Pamphlet, they don’t even register with the state.

In order to “get at the gold,” suction dredge miners routinely winch out boulders and other in-stream structure, create weirs and barriers, and alter the streams.  They do this on streams that have been listed as critical habitat for steelhead, salmon, Bull trout: Wenatchee, Peshastin, Nason, Icicle, Methow, Early Winters, Simikameen, Klickitat, Stilliguamish…

The miners will tell you there is no fish in the streams or that fish swarm to the nozzles of the suction dredges, feasting off the nymphs that the suction dredges raise. They say it’s a hobby and they have property right to do it.

No one has the right to destroy the millions of dollars taxpayers have spent in stream restoration and enhancement projects trying, desperately, to bring back native anadromous species.

Dredge_webIt’s time, now, for Washington State to show the same leadership Oregon and California have demonstrated.  To hit the “pause” button on suction dredging, to engage the best scientific and policy minds in order to determine the impacts of dredging on our fragile and critical habitat for steelhead, salmon, and Bull trout.  In the end it may mean tighter regulations, more enforcement, better coordination between the State and Federal agencies, and a database of mining claims and suction dredge permits so that all of use can be aware of where this type of mining occurs and ensure the miners follow the rules.

And on January 17th, 2014, Representative Gael Tarleton, (D – 36), dropped House Bill 3508  that will require Washington State to prohibit suction dredging on all streams (and the tributaries) that are listed as critical habitat by federal agencies.  The legislation also proposes charging miners a licensing fee of $150 (currently they pay no licensing fees).  It’s a start.  Rep. Tarleton thinks it’s unlikely it will gain traction in this legislative session.

But whatever the result, it’s time to change the Gold and Fish free-for-all.

Kim McDonald grew up along the Nisqually River where she thought a really big fish was a guppy. She learned to fly fish on the legendary waters in Roscoe, New York which definitely didn’t prepare her for the cold Northwest winters steelheading. She has degrees in law and forestry. Kim currently resides in Seattle and Cashmere, Washington, where she takes her three labs out fly fishing as often as possible. She is currently working on a “pop-up” non profit to hit the pause button on suction dredge mining in Washington state. She can be contacted at: shelterwood55@comcast.net

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92 Responses

  1. Streams and rivers are a bit like boats. When ever one part or one person gains another part loses. The fastest boat will never be the strongest or the most stable. You have to make choices. Gold dredgers want us to think it is their inalienable god given right to ruin wildlife habitat. Worse yet there is little gain in this scenario anyway. Most gold dredgers are borderline low income dreamers who go bankrupt within a season or two anyway. While the destruction they leave behind last for decades. Sometimes for centuries.

    • Ecologist says:

      Sorry there Sandy, you are absolutely incorrect in all your assertions. How about you provide the science proving that small scale suction dredging harms fish habitat? Links, articles, scientific studies? Anything?

      There have been two studies performed by the USDFG, one in 1997 and another which began in 2008. Both CONCLUSIVELY state that small scale suction dredging has no significant impact on anadramous fish, or other fish habitat. This cost the tax payers millions and both studies show the same thing.

      I’ll be right here waiting for your scientific facts, or peer reviewed documents………

      • Bob Ferris says:


        I actually am an ecologist by profession and your facts are a way off. First, there have been numerous studies indicating that suction dredging or elements of suction dredging harms fish and fish habitat. The gravel beds needed by spawning fish are a complex composition of gravel and silt that have settled in such a manner that they allow for stability as well as oxygenation of fertilized eggs. When you such them up you break that structure and compromise stability and therefore chances of success. Studies have shown that uneyed eggs suffer near 100% mortality when entrained in a suction dredge. Suction dredges also harm bivalves and invertebrates. The “studies” you referred to were by CDFG (now CDFW) and these were reviews and analyses of existing studies not studies themselves and the were condition in that they said if you took this action and that action that there would be no significant impact or FONSI. That is a legal term of art rather than a biological measure and means that you will not significantly harm a species of legal standing rather than you will not harm things in general. The real danger of playing as an “ecologist” is that you might run into a real one at some point. It should be noted that in both CA and OR the American Fisheries Society the organization representing professional ichthyologists in the US, came out in support of legislation restricting suction dredging. http://www.cascwild.org/fonsi-not-fonzie/

        • Dan Miller says:

          How can you sit there and type about gravel and sediment dispersed by a dredge is different than the same exact sediment dispersed by nature? Do you seriously believe this fiction?

          “Studies have shown that uneyed eggs suffer near 100% mortality when entrained in a suction dredge.”
          The may be true if you launch your dredge well OUTSIDE of legal seasons and intentionally suck up the eggs. Your statement is blatantly misleading.

          If you find a real ecologist and not a environmental zealot, let me know

          • Bob Ferris says:

            Oh I don’t know perhaps it is because I am a scientist and have studied these issues and read the source literature rather than what passes for facts on mining advocacy websites.

            “The act of dredging has the potential to reduce substrate embeddedness in areas impacted by other human activities such as stream regulation and input of fine sediments associated with watershed development.  Although dredge tailings may be attractive to spawning Fish,they may be potentially less suitable for spawning than natural gravels.  The loose substrate often  found  in  dredge  tailings  may  be  too  unstable;  embryos  may  experience  reduced survival under these conditions due to increased scouring (Thomas, 1985; Harvey and Lisle,1999),which can be exacerbated as embryo development frequently coincides with periods of high flow which mobilizes streambeds (Holtby and Healey,1986; Lisle and Lewis, 1992). Hence,loose 
            tailings could have a substantial adverse effect on eggs and developing Fish unless this material is allowed to disperse before spawning commences.” From the California Suction Dredge Subsequent EIR. Section 4.3.5, lines 13-22

            The fact that dredges makes otherwise armored spawning gravels unstable in a manner that winter storms do not means it has an unnatural-like impact. The fact that it looks no different to you when the matrix is disturbed does not mean that it is not different to the fish.

        • Ecologist says:

          All one needs to do there Bobby, is ask you for facts. You reply with a bunch of nonsense and nobody is buying it anymore.
          WE will not allow you to obtain your agenda…………….and as your hero would say……………….PERIOD.

    • Joe of Pville says:

      Your comments are not based on any fact. 1) Inalienable god given right to to ruin wildlife habitat? Dredges suck up loose gravel that sits on bedrock and is redeposited back, minus the gold and mercury and lead,nails and what ever was discarded. Border line “low income”. Wow that is a stretch. A dredge can run anywhere between $500 to $10,000 depending on whether it is used or new. You really need to educate yourself on what you are talking about. Dredging in CA. has been shut down since 2009, can you show me anywhere on the streams that were dredged where they left destruction? I’ll bet you can’t.

    • Darrell Welch says:

      I resent that statement. Most of us are retired who dredge as a hobby. We are not in it to “get rich”. We do it for recreational benefits and are very conservation minded. When I fish, I look for dredge holes, where the fish are.

  2. moderator! “…….while the destruction they leave behind lastS” ….last should be plural

  3. Pete Speer says:

    Are you sure about the reference to HB 3508? I cannot find this bill referenced, can you please double check? I believe you have the bill number listed incorrectly, try HB 2579 – 2013-14

  4. Kim McDonald says:


    You’re correct, it’s HB2579. This piece was written based on a draft copy that was shared by Rep. Tarleton.

    Thanks for catching it!

  5. Washington Gold Miner says:

    I fish and mine gold. I love both of them. If someone said that you could not fish any longer because the flies you use hurt the wild fish you are trying to protect. Would this make you upset? Unless you put your feet in the shoes of others, don’t think that you are always right. Mining is a hobby, just like fishing. Its not about striking it rich, its about having fun, just like fishing. The way things are going, i think you people want to end all fishing for wild fish. you want to protect them and close every river. Maybe, If the rivers were open, people would fish rather than gold mine. Why don’t you pick on the Indians with nets? Oh, maybe because you know you cant do anything because they are protected by the Feds. That is why you pick on everyone else.

    Think of it this way, rivers like the Queets change every year, gravel bars shift, new holes are made, huge trees fall in creating new sediment to flow down stream. This is nature and the steelhead flourish. Rivers now are confined with rip-rap and cannot create the new channels and such, so, maybe you should thank the miners, for creating better habitat for your precious steelhead not ruining it.

    • Tom says:

      I believe it was 2008, when the department of ecology gave awards to a few dredgers for removing the mercury. It is still a very sought after poison that dredges collect in the sluice boxes. A large amount of lead sinkers were also removed.

  6. Bob Tarleton says:

    So dredging rivers for gold creates better spawning habitat for wild steelhead and salmon?! Okay, I guess up is down, the earth is flat, and the sun revolves around the earth. Actually, peer-reviewed scientific research has shown repeatedly that suction dredging can damage streams by repeatedly changing and disrupting streambeds over and over in short periods of time and destroying fish eggs in the process. It is an unnatural, repeated disruption of streambeds as opposed to the natural shifting of gravel bars and other debris that occurs seasonally and which fish have evolved with over millions of years. If suction dredging is so great for streams, why have California, Oregon, and even Idaho banned or severely restricted it? I guess the fisheries managers in those states are real dummies, right?

    • Dan Miller says:

      Peer reviewed science will show that fishing CAN damage fish populations…the only point here is if you do it wrong, it can damage.

      Every single one of your scientific reports use words like “maybe”, “can” and “might”. I can show you other peer reviewed scientific reports that state there is no damage from responsible and legal dredging.

      • Bob Ferris says:

        Please do so then. And please do not roll out the CDFG FONSI because that is purposely misleading for the following reasons: http://www.cascwild.org/fonsi-not-fonzie/

        • Dan Miller says:

          They are purposely misleading because Cascadia Wildlands doesn’t like what they say?
          Yeah, there is a logical argument considering you are the Exectutive director of Cascadia Wildlands and intolerant of anything that that contradicts your hard left propaganda.

          • Bob Ferris says:

            Dan, I see a lot of vitriol and rhetoric here but not much offered in the way of information or facts.

          • Ecologist says:

            Correction “their Communist propaganda”. There, fixed it for you.

            These people really want totalitarian control Dan, and there used to be a time when adults could debate topics. Liberals/Progressives/Democrats or whatever they are calling themselves these days don’t give one crap about facts or debate. You either subscribe to their agenda, or you are the enemy. For an example………..see this Administration.

            Which also, the last time we checked, was the very definition of Fascism.

    • glenn says:

      Well dude you said it in your last sentence. Those agencies have an agenda
      And when the miner is gone so will everbody. The facts show dredging does not harm fish .infact dredging is not allowed during spawning. You are an ignorant lemmings that does not follow scientific fact.you believe what you are told! Its time to wake up fool

    • BB46 says:

      Bob,,, “Peer reviewed” LOL “CAN” damage streams. LOL That is just made up scare crud that doesn’t float.

      Look it up. In Colorado a “Trout” organization took a hydraulix excavator into a river to dig holes (Which the suction dredgers do) to help habitat. But teh excavator doesn’t remove mercury or lead.


      You see the dirty water caused by Mother Nature. Then the changing of “Nature” by ‘Friends” of the river.

      What you have here is a self centered work crew that do what they do to “Public” lands for their own gain.

      Yet,,, you pick on the dredgers which the fish love??? Get real buddy. If you can’t get “real, unbiases” data don’t bring any here.


    • S. P. says:


      Please post a link the peer review scientific research that shows what you have stated, you won’t find them, because they’re non-existent.

      There are however peer review scientific research that show the opposite.

      I agree that a suction dredge could destroy fish eggs, IF suction dredging was allowed during the time there are fish eggs within the streambed, but there no areas in any state that allows dredging to take place during spawning of any fish.

      • Bob Ferris says:

        S.P. The literature review contained in CA’s Final Subsequent Environmental Impact Report http://www.dfg.ca.gov/suctiondredge/ you will see pages and pages of peer-reviewed literature that is applicable to suction dredging and other similar aquatic disturbances. There are impacts relating to invertebrates, there are noise and stress issues document and impacts to other fish and the structure and integrity of gravel beds. Have you visited this document? Suction dredge proponents frequently site this document, but they really do not understand it or characterize it properly.

  7. Scott says:

    I would really like to visit with you some time to fact check some of your comments. I am an active member of NW Steelheaders, I am a certified Stream Steward, I have worked on spawning and habitat projects with our local Fish First group and I am also a prospector. In March I will be on the Oregon Governor’s Workgroup to develop and establish regulations that protect the resources, fish, and still allow small scale mining in Oregon. I was also on the Washington Gold & Fish workgroup where we worked with State and Federal agencies to come up with sound regulations. That being said…there will always be people who don’t like anyone intruding in the areas where they fish. Unfortunately that is like asking for the highways to be cleared so you can drive down them without having to worry about delays or accidents to impede you while you are driving.

    So if you are willing to listen to reasonable facts and evidence where the miners have worked with WDFW to save over 100,000 baby salmon, dredged in spawning areas to clean them for better salmon spawning opportunities, and removed of old lead fishing sinkers…65 + pounds and counting…let me know. Thank you…

    • Doug says:

      That is nonsense and you know it !!
      Scares the hell out of me that you are on the governors work group.
      I can take you tomorrow to sites the where mined over 50 years ago and you can still see the evidence and destruction!!
      My fishing usually leaves me nothing other than my own memories !!
      Sp please spare us about how good it is for the rivers (Everyone’s rivers)
      so a few of you can chase after gold!!!

      • Scott says:

        Sorry Randy but your comment is poorly vague…I too have seen areas where OLD Mining practices have left tailings and where Hydraulic mining was done before better mining practices became the normal. The small 4 inch dredge does nothing compared to the OLD days practices.
        It is not the effort of the present day miners to excuse the OLD days methods but those against mining always bring up the OLD day methods. Please pull you head up above your turtleneck and recognize that mining AND fishing methods have improved over the many years. Banning gillnets in any river would be a great improvement. Stopping over fishing and by catch would be another great way to improve conditions for the fish. Stopping the Herring Commercial fishery and anchovy fisheries would allow food stocks to improve for Salmon and seals. Unfortunately the big money lobby forces that contribute to the Green non profits keep people’s eyes off the real targets. Let the oceans heal and then you will see Salmon return like the OLD days.

        And all the anti mining arguments fail when you consider the streams that have never seen a small dredge have failing fish returns. Listen to the lies if you want…there will always be gullible and easily swayed folks that don’t want to do any research to find the truth on their own.

      • Dan Miller says:

        Mining practices were a lot different 50 years ago. You can still see evidence of logging practices that happened over 100 years ago, will you use that data to shut down modern selective logging practices?
        I can take you to ALL of the places I have dredged in the last year and for the previous 2 decades and you will be completely unable to detect that I was even there.

    • Bob Ferris says:

      Scott, This set of arguments did not work in Oregon so why would you think that they would work in Washington.

  8. Randy says:

    Fisherman and small scale miner here.

    I completely support small scale mning, every aspect of it,
    I also support the recovery of the wild fish of Washington state, why not attack tribal netting, gill netting, the industrial part of COMMERCIAL fishing (which by the way DO NOT use a selective harvest).

    You wild fish are depleted completely by these sources above, small scale mining provised CLEAN habitat, removing mercury and the other garbage fisherman leave behind (LEAD, Steel hooks, excess fishing line, beer cans (yes we pick up all the garbage we see around while we prospect usually that the quality people of Washington State leave behind on our public and private lands) Its not going to produce one more fish in this state by stopping small scale mining, NOT ONE FISH!

    Those wild fish will return, but in order for that to happen commercial gill netting, tribal netting and sport fishing as a whole needs to be abolished completely for quite a few years.

    WDFW is a joke, they soley support commercial fishing over the sportys like me and most of the other people of Washington State. Why attack the gold prospector and not the POWER administration of Washington? they have too much money to fight you keeping their Dams up and running blocking these little fisheries in the areas around Washington?

    Go out and REALLY do your own footwork on the creeks, go on a few trips with some miners during the off season for dredging, i am QUITE positive you will be amazed and the abundance of fry swimming in the creeks we dredge, i also GO BACK AND FISH FOR THEM!

    Stop development of pesticides and small scale poop systems (septic) they leech into the waters and do a SERIOUS amount of damage to the fish, WAY more damage to habitat than all the dredges combined.

    I could go on and on about how wrong you are, this reply will most likely be deleted and me blocked for not agreeing with your vision, if you wish to have California, oregon and Idaho laws. Simple — MOVE TO ONE OF THOSE SATES!

    Let us enjoy our forests how we wish to use them, you use em as you wish. just dont take anymore freedom from us americans!

    Administrator of Washingtonfishingfools.com
    Randy Biedler (also known on EVERY fishing and hunting website in the PNW as Phishigroovin)

  9. Dan Miller says:

    The OP obviously spent some time writing the post and it is full of info. However some of it is greatly exaggerated and some is flatly misleading, It would take more time than I have to rebut all of it so I will just hit a few points.

    Mercury – while it is true that pioneer miners spilled some mercury into the environment, this was never intentional as this is a ineffective and expensive way to try and catch gold. There is HG in many gold bearing (and non-gold bearing) rivers because gold and HG and a variety of other minerals commonly occur together naturally. When we dredge we actually remove much of this naturally occurring HG along with nails sinkers bullets and anything else that is heavy.

    Wild west, free for all – this is pretty dramatic and seems to be crafted to instill an emotional response. The facts are that gold prospectors have a complex rule book that reads much like fishing regulations do. They detail exactly what type of equipment may be used in specific streams and at what time. The most remarkable difference between fishing and mining regs is that the fishing regs tell you exactly how many fish you may kill and the mining regs are specifically designed to prevent any fish from being killed. I encourage anyone interested to please read them for themselves. They may be found here: http://wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/mining/
    When you read then you will see that the “winching of boulders and other debris” mentioned by the OP is clearly not allowed under the G&F rules. If she witnessed this it was a violation. It is not fair to paint all miners with the same biased brush…just as it’s unfair to say all fishermen throw their garbage int the water and keep too many fish

    Free HPA’s that expand my season – this is also misleading. I have several Hydraulic Permits and each one started with a JARPA then they were individually reviewed by a WDFW biologist. The primary interest is fish and habitat protection and no exceptions are granted that may cause harm. I have one HPA that grants no additional season but only allows different equipment and I have to schedule each use directly with the biologist and enforcement officer for that area. All HPA’s are free, not just for miners.

    Thank you,
    Dan Miller

    • SG says:

      Well said Mr. Miller.

      Thank you for pointing out the facts!

      Wonder if we should compare the number of documented fish killed by fishermen in Washington state to the number of documented fish lost to a couple hundred dredgers? Probably millions killed by fishermen
      compared to zero lost to dredgers due to the strict WDFW fish and gold regulations.

      PS. I am an avid fisherman (which is a recreational activity)

    • Bob Ferris says:

      Dan, This made me cringe when I read it, particularly the part about the mercury removal. That was a big question in CA and it was determined that suction dredges should not be used for this purpose because of the issues of “flouring” and re-suspension of Hg. This was documented in a 2005 paper and because of questions that was sent out for independent review in 2011. The independent review found that the re-suspension estimates from 2005 were conservative and the reviewers were even more convinced that recreational suction dredgers should not be encouraged to try and remove mercury (see page 5 http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/cwa401/docs/suctiondredge/dfg_cmmnts/suction_dredging_peer_review_curran.pdf). I am baffled as to why WA DEQ would think this is a good idea.

      • Dan Miller says:

        Bob, you are clearly a intelligent person and you are very well educated. It is perplexing why you apparently choose to disbelieve the obvious especially considering your scientific training.
        We have mercury in our streams and rivers. Just because it may be covered by a layer of gravel does not make it any safer at all. The bacteria in the water converts it to methyl-mercury, a toxic form that is constantly infused into the waterway. A gold dredge will dig this elemental mercury up and recover up to 97% of it, completely removing it from the waterway. The +/-3% that is lost returns to the stream and quickly settles back to the bedrock layer. This is a beneficial activity with a 97% efficiency rate.
        I would post links to the studies but I know you have read them already and refuse to acknowledge them so I wont waste my time.

        • Bob Ferris says:

          Dan, Sequestered mercury is not “in the waterway” per se. Your stirring it up and releasing 3% of it puts it in the waterway and in form that allows it to travel and cause problems.

          • Dan Miller says:

            Bob, Sequestered mercury??!? WTH are you talking about? I don’t think you know anything about heavy metals.

            HG is not sequestered anywhere just because it is covered with a bit or gravel. Water is constantly circulating around it so long as it is present in the stream at ANY level. A dredge collects 97% of organic (liquid) mercury and nothing collects methylmercury. Once it methylizes it is a toxin to just about everything. Organic HG is far less toxic and is easily metabolized. The minuscule 3% of ORGANIC hg that a dredge fails to catch quickly settles back to the bottom of the gravel layer.

          • fred weil says:

            Then why is the Sierra Club removing mercury using suction dredging for the state at a cost of 7000.00 per ounce. We removed it for free and the state stopped accepting the mercury because the miners overwhelmed the state with all the mercury recovered..

      • Ecologist says:

        So Bobby, why is Sacramento giving a multi-million dollar grant to an enviro group for mercury remediation when they are using a suction dredge, a dredge which has already been proven in studies to be less effective than a gold dredge?
        In your words……..they are “flouring” the mercury. But I guess that doesn’t count if they do it because they want the same agenda you do right?

        • Bob Ferris says:

          Amazing, you impersonate an ecologist which is a professional title which you clearly are not qualified to use and then you use a diminutive form of my name to demean me. I would probably take offense both personally and professionally if you had the courage to do so in some other form that anonymously.

          • Frank says:

            so Bob
            answer his question, cuz you did delete mine
            Why is the Sierra Fund wanting the tax payer funding for renting of a suction dredge that those of in the know, has a automatic loss before it hits the water

          • Bob Ferris says:

            Frank, I have not deleted your post, I just have not gotten to it yet. I am bundling all the myths you and others have forwarded and addressing them in a blog post, I have a few things on my plate at this point and that is the most efficient way to get the information out there.

            Bob Ferris

  10. Steve says:

    So many claims about environmental impact to the negative .. .instead of opinion, can you please cite ANY scientific studies which have shown suction dredging to be of negative impact? You can’t, because there isn’t any other than opinion. On the contrary, suction dredging has been shown to remove many of the heavy metals (already cited by previous responders), and creative new and better spawning grounds. As for the plumes of sediment sent down stream, have you ever seen a brown river after a rainfall? What’s next, ban God from making it rain? Granted, there are miners who abuse their craft… running motors late at night, leaving a mess, etc. But that small percentage is no differently found in any other outdoor sportsmen’s arena. I went to metal detect near a river in a NFS about a month ago, and found 117 shotgun shells in probably less than 1/16th mile radius. We picked up every one of them. Most miners abide by the creed of leaving a site cleaner than the found it. Indeed, many clubs in CA have “river clean up days” where organized efforts are there to clean up the mess hunters, fishermen, and campers have left behind. So much of the chatter regarding negative opinion on suction dredging is just repeated, incorrect opinion. So unless you can quote studies, please do not just express opinion. I am a miner, AND an environmental list … I worked for the EPA for 5 years on their response to the NRDC lawsuit regarding poor monitoring of 129 priority pollutants. I DO understand both sides. But in my years of mining, I have yet to find fellow miners who did not respect the great outdoors. The miner you stated told you to leave was indeed incorrect, if you were truly on government land. But don’t portray that kind of attitude on to all miners. That would be like saying all democrats are cheaters because Bill Clinton was. But the anchoring of the inappropriate behavior of THAT miner to that of all suction dredge miners is indicative of spin to forward an agenda, rather than a professional debate on the subject.

    • Bob Ferris says:


      I think a lot of us who have been involved with this issue are also folks who are very careful about making generalizations. That said, the general occurrence of name calling and threats from miners in CA and OR has been very high and I see no evidence that this debate is shaping up any differently. Moreover, as a scientist, I grow exceedingly tired of the assertions by suction dredgers that there are no peer-reviewed studies that indicate impacts, because these studies exist and have been presented repeatedly. And one only has to do a simple search on Youtube to see that suction dredgers cause incredible damage. I would also say that the public persona that you attempt to display in forums like this of law abiding individuals and stewards of rivers and fish is wildly out of step with the record of behavior and the dialogues we see when you think that we are not looking. In those places you are doing all you can to avoid compliance, skirt the rules and live out some wild west fantasy. Taken in total you do not make a compelling case for access to waters with vulnerable species.

  11. C. Watson says:

    You will notice in the article the high usage of words such as ‘assert’ and ‘maintains’, there’s no scientific study references. There are plenty of studies about how the dredging does ‘minimal’ or ‘no harm’ and actually improves many of the stream attributes. The prospector/minor has as much right to enjoy the stream as the fishermen do. They improve the fish habitat by removing the mercury from both historical mining operations as well as naturally occurring mercury. Yes! it does appear naturally in these areas. They remove all the lead weights that are lost by fishermen too. When will you realize that they(prospectors & dredgers) are some of your greatest allies in protecting your rights to enjoy the great outdoors. Your fishing rights are just a step away from being in the sights of the greenie environmental radicals. They don’t want anyone in the forests or streams. Look at the pictures, but stay out! I love the outdoors and want them protected, and treat them with respect. I enjoy fishing also, but I would like to be able exercise my right to spend time dredging for gold also. The person you encountered was wrong, don’t paint a picture based upon one encounter. I’ve seen plenty of fishermen leave trash behind. What would your reaction have been if instead of a miner, he was another fisherman who told you to beat it, this was his spot. You’ll find good and bad attitudes in people of all kinds. I bet you will find more good, if you would just take the time to look.

  12. BSMiner says:

    Fisher-folk, instead of fighting the miners, you should team up with us to keep OUR lands (not the governments) open for all to enjoy and use. You’ll realize someday that you are next on the list to be “outlawed” for introducing lead sinkers and killing fish. Think Salmon, trout, steelheads, and others won’t be thrown on the endangered species act? just watch.

  13. Joe of Pville says:

    Environmentalists can not prove that even one fish of any kind has ever been killed by a suction dredge. It is not a hobby if you sell any of your gold. It is a profession. Many keep their gold for the sake of the price going up or retirement when necessary. Winter rains raise the streams and cause the water to go brown, yet every year the fish are there afterwards. Those of you that have an unfavorable view of dredging do need to spend time with someone that does dredge otherwise I can’t understand your point. No study has been done to prove that dredging is harmful to fish and wildlife.

    • Bob Ferris says:

      This is absolutely not true. Go to google scholar and search suction dredge and your will find numerous studies. My of them I have been cited here as well.

  14. BSMiner says:

    Question, is Ms. McDonald writing this out of true concern (even though her opinions are exaggerated), or is this an attempt to push $$$ to her company?

    To paraphrase her own company’s website:
    “We try to understand what is beneath the surface. We ask tough questions and learn from each answer. Our beliefs and values? Well, it’s not just words. We live them every day.”

    This is a pure attack article, based on opinion. Ms. McDonald is NOT asking “the tough questions” or “learning from the answers”. It has been proven, time and again, that dredging during late spring through early fall harms no fish or eggs, and in fact improves conditions for spawning.

    I welcome Ms. McDonalds’ sound, scientific, un-sponsored, evidence in her rebuttal, if any. No arguments, no opinions, just FACTS.

  15. Mike says:

    More lies from the eco-terrorists promoting their socialist agenda… they cant dazzle you with their brilliance so they try to baffle you with their b.s. You should be ashamed of yourself, you greedy selfish socialist pig. We are granted the right to mine by mandate from congress, is congress mandating fishing? Gotta be a reason for that too, komrad.

  16. Terry McClure says:

    First, a claim is for mineral extraction and is private property only for mineral extraction. Anyone can go onto a placer claim. They can hike, bike camp, hunt, fish or any other legal activity. A claim holder cannot keep anyone off of the claim. The claim owner can only keep people from interfering with his operation or keep them from taking any minerals. Second, There are rules and laws against dredging during spawning seasons. Thus there is no damage to the redds (eggs). Third the only way to extract lead, mercury, or other trash is by dredging. Even the government uses dredging to clean up and deepen waterways. Some mercury is left from pre 1900’s and is deposited naturally through the mineral cinnabar. Dredgers clean up about 95% of the mercury they come in contact with. Fourth, some streams over time become “rock bound” that is no gravels for spawning. Dredgers open up these streams for spawning. Fifth, some plumage from the dredge can cloud stream and river beds and an uninformed person would initially think that this is pollution. It is not. Just come to that same stream or river after a rain storm or during spring runoff and see real clouding that does not harm aquatic life. Sixth, if the uninformed could see behind and under the dredge they would see a school of fish eating the decayed plant life that the fish feed on that the dredger supplies. And last, the opposition against dredging is purely political from those that can’t seem to share the rivers and are willing to openly lie about dredging and are ignorant about the dredging process. The lawsuit against dredging came from a rafting/kayaking company that used a half breed,drunk, wife beating (convicted of the crime) meth possessing (arrested at Medford airport) Karuk indian. And the Kalifornicating judicial system along with their political cronies (right after the bill against dredging was introduced the senator retired for mental reasons) bought in this fecal matter. Journalists with a biased assume that they know better than anyone else instead of actually doing their due diligence before reporting.

  17. john keir says:

    Ms. McDonald has been lured in as a cronie of the environuts to war against the unrepresented miner in the USA. I find this very sad as when miners are gone who will be next. There is a growing tide in this country to remove people from the countryside, end private property ownership, and pack us into villages. Its called Agenda 21 otherwise known as Sustainable development. The strategy of the movement is to isolate groups and attack them with mixtures of other groups. Fisherman, Indians, Hunters, Environmentalist, Rafters, Ect. join together to ban miners. Then drop the fisherman and attack them, So on and so on. Soon the wildlife areas are strictly for wildlife and people are banned. This is the ultimate goal. Go to the UN website and read the Agenda 21 goals and look at the maps of how much land is to be left for people to use and how much will be for wildlife. It sounds insane but it is a fact. My home state recently banned any city or county from taking money from any group associated with the UN. We had people lose their homes in tornados and could not get building permits for years to rebuild unless they allowed bike and hiking paths to be built right outside their bedroom windows. This was because of the dream of these nuts that we all live and work in villages. These folks want to end private property ownership, cars, outdoor activities, and regulate your entire life. Where you live, how much space you live in, how you travel, how much power you consume, how much water you use, what you eat, and every other aspect of our lives. Our state had enough and grouped together to ban the sustainability movement from our state. I for one agree with everything the miners and others have posted here. The goal of all these groups of people who love the outdoors and their ability to use and enjoy them should be the same. They should be joined to keep them open to everyone instead of falling into the trap of our own greed and selfishness to ban some so we can have the lands all to ourselves. The environuts funding most of this want all people banned from wilderness areas. Not just miners. It starts with miners and may well end with you. Be careful what you wish for. When I am banned from hunting, or mining so you can fish, I may be joining the movement to stop you from fishing or rafting or whatever it is you thought more important than my hobby. Do you think when I can no longer enjoy the outdoors I will stand idly by while you gloat and fish with that selfish grin on your face. Hell no. You will fuel the movement to end outdoor activity for us all. All outdoor activities can be seen as having some impact on nature. It will never stop with mining. Its time we learn to share nature before we are all banned from stepping foot in the woods. Divide and conquer is at work here and I hope you open your eyes and see what is really at stake and stop your selfish attack on the present group divided from the rest. Yes you may be able to ban others and have your little fishing hole for a while but you children and grandchildren will never see the wilderness let alone be able to enjoy it. You say mining is bad but fishing is not. What about the sediment you stir up walking around in the stream, the lead and metal left behind, the fish killed. The same can be said for walking paths. Insects and rare plants crushed. Biking also. Indians net fishing. Hunters spraying lead everywhere. It can all be seen as bad for the environment and believe me before its over it will.

  18. Dan Miller says:

    Just so everyone knows who we are dealing with.
    An earlier poster (now lurking silently) named Bob Tarleton is , husband of representative Gael Tarelton, the sponsor of HB 2579 13-14 known as the “give fish a chance act” This act would close dredging on all ESA or critical habitat rivers. When you consider this is the Snake and Columbia drainage’s and tributary’s, most of the state is included.
    Bob is a elitist liberal steelhead fisherman who does not care about the rights of any other user group. Kim McDonalds is a liberal biologist for hire and she will write anyone a report with a hard environmentalist spin if the money is right. I am sure a public disclosure request will show she was hired by Gael Tarleton.

    I talked to Representative Brian Blake this morning. He will not be scheduling this bill of hearing this year…dead

    • Bob Ferris says:

      Dan, I am all for disclosure and along those lines you should disclose that you are the owner of Blue Sky Gold Mining Company (http://blueskygoldmining.com/) so your dog in this fight is dredging and also keeping your opportunity to sell the leavings from your dredging after you have removed the significant pieces of gold (see http://blueskygoldmining.com/products/). Really? I wonder about a person who makes money selling dirt to someone and plays off their “gold fever,” questions the motivations of someone who spent their professional career learning about how natural systems function and then working in the public good to protect those systems. How exactly does that work in your personal calculus?

      Bob Ferris
      Executive Director
      Cascadia Wildlands

      • Dan Miller says:

        Well Bob, I am glad you finially disclosed that you are executive director fo Cascadia Wildlands. I have to say that you have personally written some of the most biased and nonsensical articles I have ever read. You narrow minded environmental zealot viewpoint is obvious. Ya Know, I am probably you polar opposite in life but at least I try to read what you have with an open mind..

        I intentionally did not post as BSGM because I did not feel that using any business leverage I have to sway this argument was appropriate. You clearly feel different as your entire professional existence is dedicated to leverage of the masses. Not very ethical if you ask me.
        I also resent the implication that I am playing off anyone. I sell exactly what is advertised and offer a guarantee. I have never had a single dissatisfied customer.
        Do you offer a guarantee of your new world order?
        Do you take personal responsibility for anything you are doing?

        • Bob Ferris says:

          Dan, I absolutely take personal responsibility for all my actions–always have.

          • Dan Miller says:

            Personal responsibility maybe but not a word about guarantees?

            I guarantee what I sell and you never explained what you meant….”I wonder about a person who makes money selling dirt to someone and plays off their “gold fever”
            Have you ever produced a product and sold it?
            Do you have a problem with free enterprise?
            Exactly what to do you wonder, Bob?

        • Scott says:

          Well said Dan…and yes…Bob is just a paid hack for any group that will keep him around as long as he can stir up problems. He walked away from a good job in the Puget Sound because his views and those he was getting paid by differed. They were not as obtuse as Bob is…

      • Perlot says:

        Why don’t you just come clean and tell us your real agenda? Why try to conceal it under the guise of “conservation”?

        A man of integrity and honor would not hide behind the skirts of the enviro movement when science and conclusive scientific studies destroy your argument.

        Provide one piece of evidence that small scale suction dredging kills fish.

  19. Dryflyguy says:

    Time to cut out the online back & forth boys. You ain’t gonna convince them, and they ain’t gonna convince you. We live in a Democracy; I suggest all of you make your voices heard in Olympia, and/or in the courts. ‘Cause that’s where the rubber meets the road. Tight lines, boyz.

  20. SG says:

    I think you hurt Bob’s feelings. His true colors come out when his audience is more than just lemmings willing to blindly accept his agenda. Sorry Bob, the Truth hurts doesn’t it?

    -An avid fisherman (which is a recreational activity)

    • Bob Ferris says:

      SG, No hurt feelings just have a busy, complicated job. My agenda is absolutely transparent–I run a biodiversity conservation organization that is trying to protect and restore functioning habitats for fish and wildlife. I have pursued that path for more than three decades as a professional biologist and advocate. Suction dredging impacts those efforts in a negative way ergo I oppose it and at a minimum what to get it removed from those areas where it does the most harm or has the potential to do the most harm. My position is supported by societies of professional scientists that work in these aquatic ecosystems. Pretty simple and straight-forward. Certainly you can question my motivations because they are different from yours but it strikes me that working to protect something that can be better enjoyed in a higher function state by more people seems a higher purpose than forwarding a destructive activity enjoyed by few that makes things worse for others.

  21. Marc Valko says:

    Dan Miller: Do you actually know Bob? I do and hes a regular guy. He might vote dem but he’s no elitist. His favorite music is country (Willie & Waylon) and he drinks PBR and 10 HIgh, fishes with a glass installer pal. Maybe he just doesn’t like your gold mining company tearing up our trout streams. I know I don’t.

    • Dan Miller says:

      Marc Valko,
      I don’t know Bob Tarleton well but that’s not my fault. I formed my opinions based on what he showed me. He posted on here and other forums until met with a bit of resistance then he vanished only to reappear under a anonymous alias.

      Neither he nor you know me well wither nor have any of you made even the most basic attempt to learn more. I do not own a gold mining company, I am a gold mining outfitter, like a fishing guide. I teach people how to dredge and not wreck the habitat and how to remain in full compliance with the law…which is primarily designed to protect fish.

      • Marc Valko says:

        Bob probably has better things to do than argue wtih the owner of a gold mining outfitter. Some people might think you have a personal financial stake in continuing to dredge, but that cant be true can it?

        • Dan Miller says:

          Mark…Try this…cruise on over to any of the fishing forums and ask if any of the numerous fishing guides in there have a financial stake in the fishing industry. Or better yet, try telling them their opinion doesn’t count because they have a financial stake in preserving what their business is based upon.

          Here is another thing to consider…the success of each of those fishing guides is measured by how consistently they can kill fish.
          Everything I do is intended to prevent killing any fish.

  22. Scott says:

    Here is a link to a project where we miners worked with a local fish group to accomplish a WDFW project…

    I was running the dredge…

  23. Scott says:

    When I read about how great it is to remove dams…from the enviro perspective…can anyone show me how dumping millions of tons of sediment into lower stream reaches and into the Straights is better than what a small dredge does in a stream…?

    It turns out there is even more sediment than originally thought – about 34 million cubic yards. That’s more than 3 million truck loads, enough to bury all of Seattle in a layer almost 3 inches thick.

    • Bob Ferris says:

      Scott this is a specious argument. Those sediments will be washed out in storm events and through natural processes. And this will happen all the better when the dams are removed. Suction dredging behaves differently in its timing and effect. The problem with suction dredging is siltation at a time of low flow when it cannot be flushed out so it covers and sometimes smothers organisms like sculpins and invertebrates that are part of the food change. And you confuse the necessary consequences of repairing past damage and making a river free-flowing again that restores a fishery with an unnecessary hobby that causes damage. How can you possibly think that these actions are equivalent or even similar?

      • Dan Miller says:

        Bob, I think the problem is that you simply do not have a effective grasp of the scale on which we operate.

        I could successfully argue that fishing is a unnecessary hobby that is harmful to fish, how does that fit?

  24. Scott says:

    I am done discussing this issue. Bob is like a barking dog that never shuts untill animal control is called or a the police take action. Remember Bob…intefering with any mining activity in any fashion is a felony in Washington. You might look good in an orange jump suit.
    Lets see if you have more than just bad retoric in your liberal mind.

  25. SG says:

    Now it’s obvious that Bob is lying and really has never seen a stream after it’s been dredged. “smother” ??? “low flow when it cannot be flushed out” ???

    I’ve seen a small creek with numerous dredges upstream. there MIGHT have been a light coating of sediment right below some of them, but nothing of any significance like Bob wants believe.

    On the other hand, there was a thunderstorm mid summer this year in Washington during the peak of the summer and lowest flow. There was literally a half inch of grey/brown silt all the way up the bank where the flooding crested and still in the active channel as well.

    Save your lies for your fellow socialists who are dead set on eroding the rights of all taxpayers.

    An avid fisherman (which is TRULY an unnecessary recreation. I say this because, as much as I love it, ALL FISHERMAN ARE KILLING FISH)

  26. Dan Miller says:

    Bob, I just noticed how you created a web page on your beloved Cascadia Wildlands site that attempts to my business as a derogatory example of gold mining


    I will caution you only once that you are on a very slippery slope that is fraught not only with ethical but potentially legal issues.

  27. BSMiner says:

    Hi, since Mr. Ferris hates for people to hide behind web-names, I’ll provide mine. My name is Tom Cullen, resident of the San Francisco Bay Area. Proud miner.

    Now, Mr. Ferris, why do you take a “do as I say, and not as I do” stance? I can see on several posts on this website – authored by you – where you and your compatriots build new campfire rings very close to stream banks, creating an eyesore, smoke pollution, and ash runoff into the streams?

    Are you calling the kettle black? Does not your mothership organization (Sierra Club) severely frown upon this practice? To *not* create new fire-rings? And to *ONLY* use existing fire rings when absolutely necessary? The excuse of “We forgot our stove”? Really?

    To introduce ash into the waterways, even in .1 PPB, is an unforgivable offense. I’ll be sending over the Sierra Club Gestapo to revoke your “green” card.


    One example: http://www.cascwild.org/fantastic-fourth-float/ (Although I expect this post to be deleted, so Mr. Ferris can keep his good name intact)

    • Bob Ferris says:

      First we have no official connection with Sierra Club and the post in question was from a fellow staffer and not me, but it will remain on the site. I agree on the fire issue and think that they should be engaged in sparingly, if at all. My 75-mile river trip (http://www.cascwild.org/?s=zane+grey) did not include any fires and we packed all our trash and poop out. And we thought carefully about where we camped and made sure that site looked better after me left than it did when we got there.

  28. Frank says:

    Dredging is not a hobby, i depend on this for my means
    fishing is a introduction of lead
    dredging is the extraction of lead
    dump trucks unloading of gravel on the american river should by allmeans given indication
    you are what u read, cherry pickin does not help the matter

  29. Mike says:

    Damn I wish I had gone to college so I could be as stupid as Kim. LOL the streams in Blewett Pass are to small to fly fish in. But I guess she and her rich fly fishing supporters would say any thing like they did in California to stop. Or perhaps they want prospecting so the rich friends can get the gold for themselves with permits from the Federal Government. Man I can’t wait till her next stupid comments with unsupported facts.

  30. attila fitzpatrick says:

    I want to do a documentary name of Whole Dam Thing…I am trying to get ALL sides to sit and have a conversation…not talk past one another. I figure we get some sense going, or as my forefathers did, start a war lol! I make the little joke. My native/mexican girl friend is a long time gold miner…I am so lucky…I have a back ground in digital media and was once tossed of radio for..Defending the Southern Confederacy…guilty as charged. Help me out here, lets sit down make the whole dam thing work. Attila

  31. attila fitzpatrick says:

    One last thing…me native Lass Little Most Beautiful makes the comment ” people think we sit under the water and kill fish with machetes… Its a lie…we use samurai swords, thank you LMB.

  32. Gabe says:

    Did you know that most of the pacific northwest was settled by miners who struck gold? The 1872 mining law gives the right to stake mining claims, which in this article are referred to as “private”. They are national forest land that is only able to be prospected by the person who staked it, or someone who has permission from the person who staked it. You might say “That was almost 150 years ago! That doesn’t apply anymore.” Do any of the amendments? That is like saying “oh, the constitution was written almost 350 years ago. It doesn’t apply anymore!” And when a suction dredge sucks up sand and gravel it deposits it right back in the streambed. It releases new food for fish to eat that was previously buried. What could kill fish worse, taking them from the stream to eat, or making the water silty. And by the way, silt actually settles to the ground. Amazing right?

  33. Tom Wright says:

    My brother and I are members of the Bedrock Prospectors Club and have taken a great deal of pleasure in panning for gold on their claims in the spring and early summer. Every member of that club promises (and I have not seen the promise violated) to care for the stream banks by replacing rocks in holes dug, pack out anything we take in and, if using a suction method, use only devices approved by Fish and Wildlife. I deeply resent some on this board acting like we are bringing in backhoes and scarring the stream beds.

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