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Task force: Tighten Oregon rules on dredging for gold

Herald and News 12/4/14

     MEDFORD  A task force is recommending that gold dredging be banned on Western Oregon rivers running through private lands considered essential to the well-being of salmon and Pacific lamprey.

   The Mail Tribune reports that on federal lands, the task force recommends gold miners be required to get a special permit after providing documentation that their operations would not harm wild salmon or their habitat.  

   The Legislature created the task force, which included miners, conservationists and others, in 2013 as part of a stop-gap bill limiting gold dredging permits. Gov. John Kitzhaber has said he hopes to get a bill based on the report through the Legislature and into law by 2016.

   Hobby and smalltime commercial miners use portable, gasolinepowered dredges to suck up gravel from river bottoms and sift out gold left from the 1850s gold rush.

   Restrictions have been tightening to protect water quality and salmon habitat and to deal with the influx of miners from California and other states with moratoriums.

   In southwestern Oregon, a popular location for gold mining, the report recommends the restrictions apply to the main-stem Rogue, Applegate and Illinois rivers, all heavily mined in the 1850s. They would also apply to every tributary downstream from major dams and waterfalls that offer no way for salmon to pass.  

   On federal lands, no permits would be granted on streams that fail to meet state standards for sediment, turbidity, toxins or heavy metals. The heavy metals ban is likely to include the Rogue, where testing has shown elevated mercury levels from its source to the ocean.

   Karen Tarnow, a state Department of Environmental Quality policy adviser who worked on the report, said she believes the report will generate lively debate in the Legislature.


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