The Fish Not Gold Campaign is the ultimate “grassroots” effort. It started as three folks, avid anglers, who realized the headwaters of several rivers in Washington and Idaho were being dredged by gold miners. The three anglers (I am one of them) started emailing, then talking, researching, and finally I went to a constituent meet and greet for my state legislator to talk with her about the lax regulation of suction dredge mining compared to what was happening in Oregon, California, and Idaho.
A number of weeks later we learned Representatives Gael Tarleton and Gerry Pollet had “dropped” the Give Fish A Chance Act (HB 2579) into the legislative hopper during this past session. We were thrilled. The proposed legislation called for establishing a licensing/permit fee for suction dredge miners (they currently pay none) and for a prohibition on suction dredge mining on streams, rivers, and their headwaters that are listed as critical habitat by the Federal wildlife agencies.
We then decided to enter into the 21st century and show our support of this brave legislative effort by creating a Facebook page and through many weeks of volunteer effort, launch a web page. Our friends and now colleagues in California and Oregon must be shaking their heads at their naive buddies in Washington, because we had no clue about the tsunami of backlash that was about to hit us. Indeed within hours of the Facebook page going live, waves upon waves of comments started deluging our email boxes from miners. We were told we are communists, believed in the United Nations takeover of America, that we were eco-terrrorists, several comments that would make my mother blush if she was still alive, and then came the pressure of folks trying to figure out who was behind the Fish Not Gold Campaign. As if once they knew, they could further demonize us. They have us linked to everyone from the Sierra Club to receiving money for profit just to shut them down. It was simply amazing. We were stunned.
Even the article I wrote for the February 2014 Adipose received more comments, almost all of them from people who have never met me but were absolutely sure they knew everything about me, my friends, and my business. Representative Tarleton told me that of all the pressing issues in Olympia: transportation, education, the budget; this issue received the most response in her office. None of it from folks in her district (except me)!
Meanwhile, HB 2579 never even received a hearing. The mining community seemed sure that the Chairman of the Natural Resource Committee, Representative Brian Blake (D – 19) wasn’t going to give the legislation a hearing. Several miners said they had conversations or emails from Representative Blake. The Give Fish A Chance bill is dead for this year.
What does that mean? We learned several lessons these past few months. First, there are more people opposed to suction dredge mining in critical habitat streams than are for it. But the mining community throughout the West is well organized, motivated, and believe they are victims of some environmental conspiracy. They are not. Concerned citizens don’t want to continue with taxpayer subsidized habitat destruction. What this means is we have to be even more motivated and better organized. That work begins now so we are ready in January, 2015.
Second, many in the mining community believe their tactics work. That bullying succeeds. A strategy has been to make fun of people, belittle, name call, threaten, and stymie the public process. We have to show them, over and over, that we are not afraid, won’t back down, and that our commitment and concern for fish and habitat outweighs their silly attempts at photoshopping our pictures, threatening us, and libeling our work. We also have to let our public officials and administrators, both in the legislature and WDFW, know that if they propose changes, we have their backs. After being inundated, threatened, libeled, and bullied, we can understand why the easier path is to simply ignore the miners. But the fish depend on us not walking away.
Third, it’s good to laugh.
We are elated to find hundreds of people willing to work on this issue. Tribes, conservation organizations, angling, hunting, and good government groups have all jumped onto this issue. We’re working on strategies and will be back, soon, to seek your help. Give fish a chance!
Kim McDonald is the principal at Shelterwood Consulting. She has degrees in law and forestry. An avid fly fisher, she can be found in small streams throughout the Cascades and eastern Washington. She resides in Seattle and Cashmere. She can be reached at email@example.com