Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Much passion, (and litigation) has been generated in recent times by opponents of the mining industry, particularly as it pertains to small-scale dredging operations. Most of this litigation has been initiated by special-interest or environmental groups. In many cases, these groups are well-funded, employ highly paid staff, and their product is lawsuits. Environmentalism has become a virtual industry. There are now numerous law firms which concentrate solely upon bringing suit against various defendants on behalf of “environmental” interests.
Most of these suits generally allege adverse environmental impact of some type, and in particular, harm to biota in a particular area. These claims have been numerous and varied and in most instances are completely without scientific foundation. These claims are generally rife with supposition, such as “can, might, could, possibly, may, etc, and are not supported by actual scientific discovery. In order to lend legitimacy to these claims, several “biological studies” have been commissioned by these environmental groups, or as a result of pressure brought to bear by them.
It is reasonable to expect that as members of our scientific community, biologists would be completely neutral in their approach and in their findings, and that their observations would be all-encompassing. For the most part, this is true. However, upon reading the conclusions of numerous studies, it is readily apparent that some of these conclusions are slanted against the mining community to varying degrees. Many of these studies merely cite selective components of studies done by others, and many of them herald the possibilities of harm while omitting or minimizing potential or known benefits. This is not balanced science. It is natural to mankind to suspect to some degree that an intrusion into our “realm” may possibly be of an unwanted nature, but science demands complete objectivity, and a complete picture. Some of these studies appear to be driven by expectations of a certain outcome.
Many people tend to relate modern mining with the irresponsible methods utilized half a century ago, when huge bucket dredges ground their way up rivers and streams, where entire mountainsides were washed away by water cannons, where trash was dumped where it was convenient, where worn-out equipment was simply abandoned, and where poisonous mercury was carelessly lost into our waterways. This is very uninformed.
Modern-day regulations and the permitting process have strict rules that forbid any type of this former abuse. These rules were adopted to provide complete protection to our environment and the wildlife which live there. These regulations are strictly enforced, and mining activity is closely monitored by enforcement personnel. Today’s miners are environmentally conscious, and to some degree, they even police each other. Also, mining clubs and other organizations have been formed that teach responsible mining methods to new entrants, and admonish those who would act irresponsibly.
This essay is an attempt to discuss in an all-encompassing manner, modern mining and its effect on the environment. In particular, this essay addresses issues with dredging.
First of all, it is highly obvious that environmentalists and their legal advocates generally know very little about dredging for gold, or they would not make some of the outlandish claims that they do. They are largely unfamiliar with the scope and mechanics of a dredge operation, and apparently are hoping that the courts in which they plead their cause are equally unaware as well.
A few things that are important to know about a small dredge operation are as follows.
A dredge is a small mechanical platform that is mounted on floats. It consists of a small engine, a water pump, an inclined sluice ramp, and sometimes an air compressor to enable the dredger to breathe underwater. A suction hose is attached to the front of the dredge. Water is propelled through this hose by an injection of water from a water pump. This pumped water is injected into the dredge hose at a very shallow angle, and thereby causes greater volumes of water to be propelled up the dredge hose by what is known as the “venturi principle”. None of the dredged water or material passes through any pump or mechanical device. The dredged material enters the front of the dredge, where it spreads out and slows down, and flows down over a series of small barriers known as “riffles, and then out the back of the dredge. It is now important to understand that gold is the heaviest element found in a stream. Gold has a “relative weight” of 19. (Water has a “relative weight” of 1.) Therefore, gold is 19 times as heavy as water of equal volume.
Water and streambed materials will readily travel down this sluice mechanism and out the back of the dredge. Because gold is so heavy, it will drop out of the material flow and become lodged in these “riffles”. This is how miners capture the gold and not everything else. Other things that are relatively heavy, though not as heavy as gold, will also become lodged in the sluice. This includes “black sand” which contains quantities of iron, fishing lures, tools, metal trash, lead sinkers, nails, bottle caps, beer can tabs, and just about any other form of human junk that is unearthed by the dredge. Also, poisonous mercury from ancient mining methods is often captured in a dredge, and can now be safely disposed of. As you can see, a dredge is somewhat of a “vacuum cleaner”, and in addition to capturing gold, can help significantly to remove trash from a streambed. This “concentrated” material is removed from the dredge sluice at the end of the day, and usually taken back to a campsite or other location where it is “panned down” with a gold pan. The gold is captured, and the trash is properly disposed of.
SIZE AND SCALE:
Compared to the natural lay of a stream, dredging activity is quite insignificant. Even in the most heavily dredged regions, the area affected by dredging is almost always less than even one percent of the area of a stream. A dredger who moves a single cubic yard of material has done a very hard day’s work. This is because a dredger very seldom works a full day in the stream. Dredging is exhausting work. The streambed materials are often impacted, and require difficult digging with tools to penetrate. Also, anything too large to go through the dredge hose must be dug up and moved manually to a location nearby, and a dredger must stop a great many times per day to clear a dredge hose that has become plugged. In addition, a dredger must get fuel to the dredging location, along with food and supplies. A dredger must also perform maintenance on his/her dredge, and get into a wetsuit and secure all tools that they will need. Also, the water in the stream will often be colder in the early part of the day, so a dredger often will not start before mid-day. A dredger must also stop occasionally to rest and consume food or drink, and refuel their engine. A typical dredger will usually be accomplishing “productive work” between two and four hours a day in the stream. And, due to the exhaustive nature of the activity, along with things such as weather considerations, a dredger will seldom work every day.
The typical dredging operation will involve working a hole down through the streambed material until they reach solid bedrock, where gold, being the heaviest thing in the stream, has settled. Gold, as well as all other streambed material is moved downstream by raging winter floods. This gold will readily become lodged in cracks and crevices in the bedrock. It is primarily these imperfections in the bedrock that the dredger is looking for. The dredger suctions the easily-moved materials with the dredge hose. Anything that is too large for the dredge hose must be manually moved to one side. Once the bedrock is reached and cleaned, if reasonable gold has been found, the dredger will usually expand their hole off in another direction, dropping material back into the area they originally dug out. If the yield has not been worthwhile, they will usually open another test hole some distance away. There are particular areas of a stream or river where gold is most likely to be found, but it is still mostly a matter of chance.
Having provided a basic understanding of a dredging operation, we can now examine some of the claims made by opponents of the mining industry. These claims have been numerous and are mostly without scientific foundation. Once the allegations are proven false, they simply move on to a different allegation.
DREDGING DAMAGES EQUATIC PLANTS.
First of all, there is nothing that will plug up a dredge and rob the sluice section of gold any faster than running vegetation and the silty, clay-laden soils that they grow in, through a dredge. Every dredger knows this. They simply don’t do it.
Secondly, the calm areas of a stream or river where plants can find the needed soils to become established is not an area where gold will usually be found. The gold, and heavier streambed aggregates that contain gold, will have settled out considerably upstream in much faster water. Every dredger knows this.
DREDGES FRIGHTEN FISH, AND CAUSE THEM STRESS.
Actually, the opposite is true. In a dredge hole five feet wide by six feet deep, it is not uncommon to see over a dozen juvenile fish in the hole, in close proximity to the operator. They are usually looking for edible tidbits that are unearthed by the dredger or they have ducked into the hole to rest from the currents. I have observed this countless times. There are hundreds of hours of media videotapes showing this.
The motor on a dredge is shock mounted to the frame, and is almost not audible underwater. Many times, the only way that a dredger knows that his/her engine has run out of gas is by the fact that their air supply quits, and the dredge hose stops suctioning. This requires a mad scramble to the surface. The most prominent sound when operating a dredge is a “whooshing” sound made by aggregates going up the dredge hose. This is much like the normal rushing sound that you will hear underwater in any stream. Fish routinely swim all around a dredge looking for food. They are not a bit frightened of it.
DREDGES RAISE THE TEMPERATURE OF THE WATER, WHICH KILLS FISH.
This claim is completely false. First of all, the only thing that is warm or hot on a dredge is the engine. Absolutely no water comes in contact with the air-cooled motor, or it’s hot exhaust. Dredges are not like outboard motors where the hot (and oily) exhaust is vented underwater, and the engine is cooled by water. If a dredge has any effect on the temperature of water at all, it probably cools it slightly, due to the aeration and evaporation of the water as it flows over the riffles of the sluice.
Scientists have measured water temperatures of numerous streams and rivers above and below a dredge, and were unable to measure any discernable difference whatsoever with the instruments that were available to them. Given the design of a dredge, this is not surprising.
DREDGING ALTERS THE COURSE OF STREAMS.
This allegation is a reach at the very best. To hear this allegation, one would imagine a stream or river being significantly diverted from it’s present course. This is not the case. As mentioned before, dredging involves working a hole down to bedrock, and piling cobbles too large to feed into the dredge to one side. This leaves a hole in the streambed with a pile of cobbles beside it. Much of the time, there is not even a cobble pile, because as the dredger moves his/her activity along the streambed, it is easier to drop the cobbles behind them, back into the hole where they were working previously. There is also a “tailing pile” immediately downstream of the dredge. This tailing pile is composed of the smaller aggregates that came out the back end of the dredge. And, a larger rock or boulder may have been tumbled to one side by the dredger, although it is most common for a dredger to work around a boulder or tumble it into the dredge hole. We now have several potential alterations to the streambed.
In discussing these alterations, we must be mindful of the entire picture, and the fact that in addition to any negative potential effects, there can often be beneficial effects of man’s intrusion into nature. Ironically, much like fish in the ocean benefit and find safety in the refuges created by man as the result of the intentional sinking of rogue ships and other structures, fresh water fish have also been able to reap significant benefits from a dredger’s labors. And these benefits are not merely potential, they are scientifically documented.
The dredge hole.
Dredging is very hard work, so a miner generally tries to find a location where he/she will not have to dig down more than a few feet to reach bedrock. The ideal bedrock is just a few inches beneath the streambed. However, a dredge hole can sometimes be as deep as four to six feet. More than this is quite rare. If not continuously worked, a dredge hole will usually fill back in after a short period of time due to the natural flow of aggregates in a stream. Winter floods will erase all traces of it.
CONS: Environmentalists do not generally give a lot of lip service to the dredge hole itself, aside from the fact that it can be considered an eyesore, and another challenge for persons wading in the stream. They even acknowledge that the dredge hole can have a benefit for fish.
PROS: The annual spawning migration is a very strenuous trip for fish, and there is a significant mortality of fish during this migration. The fish become weakened by their constant struggle against the water currents. Most importantly though, is the fact that fish migrate during the time of year when the water is at it’s warmest. Warmer water contains less oxygen, heightens the chance of disease, and saps the strength of fish. Fish will often pause in an area of river where a cooler side-stream enters the river to regain their strength. These areas are known as thermal refuges. Dredging is often prohibited within a certain distance of these refuges. In between these natural refuges, migrating fish will frequently duck into vacant dredge holes where the water is calm and the temperature is stratified with the cooler water being near the bottom. Frequently, a dozen or more adult fish can be observed using dredge holes. In many instances, fish seem to prefer dredge holes over natural refuges, possibly due to the depth and calm water. Although environmentalists reluctantly acknowledge this benefit for fish that is provided by dredgers, they fail to include in their “possible effects” the fact that some of these fish may not have survived the normal “holding period” in their migration before moving to their spawning grounds had they not been able to rest and escape predation in the calm, cool water of a dredge hole.
These are rocks that will not pass through the dredge hose and consequently are piled to one side by the dredger. They usually range in size from roughly 12 inches in diameter down to about 2 inches, depending upon the size of the dredge. Larger than this, the rocks are generally too heavy to pile. These piles represent a certain percentage of the aggregate removed from a dredge hole.
CONS: About the most frequent claim by mining opponents is that these piles may divert the flow of water and may “possibly” cause erosion of river banks. At this point in time it would seem proper to mention that dredging into riverbanks, undercutting riverbanks, and doing anything that would cause erosion of riverbanks is strictly forbidden by dredging regulations. There are heavy penalties for violating these regulations and every dredger knows it. Dredging regulations are provided annually when a dredger is issued his/her annual dredging permit. And, dredging operations are frequently monitored by enforcement personnel. Dredging is a tightly regulated and monitored activity.
Secondly, dredging is usually not done adjacent to riverbanks, but closer to the deepest part of the stream or river as this is where the gold has settled. In those places where the deepest channel is along the side of a river or stream, the bank is usually not composed of soil but rather by ledge, or gravels. The soil was eroded away eons ago by the natural river currents. It should also be mentioned that these cobble piles are very porous so the water flows through them as well as around them. And, one does not have to be a genius in fluid dynamics to know that when water encounters a cobble pile or even a boulder resting in a stream for that matter, the water splits, flows around both sides, and then closes back in on itself behind the obstruction, leaving a “pigtail” of turbulence that trails several feet downstream. There is no changing of the course of a river or stream. This is a cobble pile, not a diversion dam.
PROS: It is hard to imagine that a pile of rocks resting on the bottom of a stream or river could provide very much benefit to anyone or anything, but it does. And this one is quite important. It is also a benefit that is carefully not mentioned by environmentalists.
Fish generally spawn in the late fall in favorable gravel beds that they select as best they can. After a period of incubation, the small fish (fry) emerge from these gravels during the spring months. Many biologists regard this period immediately following emergence, (known as the “juvenile rearing” stage) as one of the most important stages in the life of a fish. It is important that as many of these (fry) as possible survive to the next stage, (smolt stage), which prepares them for their migration to the ocean.
Shortly after this general emergence, at the beginning of summer, the dredging season begins.
Immediately after emerging, these fish are very small, they are relatively poor swimmers, and it is during this time that they are in great danger of predation. Fish lay eggs by the billions, but only a very small fraction of them ever survive to adulthood. The juvenile stage is a period of very heavy losses. It is extremely important that these juveniles find food to grow as much as possible, and it is infinitely important that they are able to find shelter from predation during this stage of their growth. This is where cobble piles come into the picture. Cobble piles provide an excellent refuge for these small fish. The passageways between rocks go deep within the pile, there is sufficient water flow to provide adequate oxygen, and they are virtually free from silt which is very important. Due to the varying sizes of the rocks and the resultant caverns, fish of various sizes can find a place within the pile that is most suitable for them. As they grow, they can move to a different area.
Shelter from predation is not the only benefit of a cobble pile. Biologists note that these juvenile fish attempt to remain within a very localized area if they are able to do so. During periods of high flow such as dam releases, thunderstorms, etc that cause elevated flow, these fish are often swept away from their preferred location as they cannot always find refuge from these currents. Cobble piles provide that needed shelter from these swift waters.
These underwater “birdhouses” are very valuable to small fish.
These are the piles of small to medium dredged aggregates that come out the back of a dredge. These tailing piles are also the present focus of mining opponents who seek to shut down small-scale dredging.
A streambed is an environment that is constantly being changed by water flow. Each year, the riverbed erodes a little bit more and some of the streambed material is moved. This streambed material can range from fine silt to huge boulders and there can be other things that fall into the stream or river from it’s banks such as parts of trees and brush. Streambed composition varies from place to place and from year to year.
When fish spawn in the late fall, they try to select a streambed area that is shallow, relatively flat, free of fast currents, and comprised of loose gravel in which they can lay and bury their eggs. Successful reproduction by fish is highly dependent upon the available quantity and quality of these spawning sites. Once fish lay their eggs, these sites are known as (redds).
Since the composition of tailing piles is often similar to the loose, gravely material that spawning fish prefer, they occasionally select a tailing pile as their spawning site. Fish greatly prefer natural spawning beds over tailing piles, and the extent to which fish select tailing piles is dependant upon the availability of natural beds. A recent biological study in Northern California found that out of a total of 372 “redds”, 12 of them, or roughly 3 percent, were on tailing piles. Elsewhere, it has been observed that when natural beds are scarce, the selection of tailing piles increases. In rare instances where spawning fish have entered streams in which the streambed has become compacted or silted-over, and there are no natural beds available, tailing piles offer virtually the only suitable opportunity to spawn.
There are two primary concerns with regard to the survival rates of the eggs within these redds. Scouring and siltation can cause mortality within these redds. Scouring occurs when the unstable material of a streambed is moved downstream. This movement is usually greatest during the winter floods. Siltation, or the covering of redds by silt, is of far more concern than scouring. Although the extent of mortality by scouring is not of a known quantity, mortality by siltation is often complete as the eggs and pre-emergent fish become smothered by silt. Biologists have even suggested that a certain amount of scouring is actually necessary to limit silting in some of these spawning beds.
Due to the fact that newly created tailing piles have not had the opportunity to go through a winter flood, and become flattened and stabilized, there is more movement and scouring in these piles than there would be in a normal streambed spawning site. This can possibly result in greater mortality for eggs that were laid in tailing piles. It has been noted, however, that once these tailing piles have become flattened and stabilized by winter floods, they can remain viable as a suitable spawning site for a period of several years. This is extremely important in streams where there are few or no natural sites created. Even during the first season when scouring would likely be at it’s greatest, these tailing piles afford at least some opportunity to successfully spawn in a stream that might otherwise provide none. And this opportunity can continue for several years. Also, these stabilized tailing piles should be less susceptible to silting due to the fact that even though they are flattened and stabilized they can often remain slightly elevated above the surrounding streambed. And, these tailing piles start out as washed streambed material, therefore they are free of silt in the first place. It is not known how many of the “natural beds” that are counted by biologists are actually former tailing piles that have become flattened.
In view of the fact that fish tend to select tailing piles only as necessary, and that stabilized tailing piles can provide prolonged spawning opportunity where there would otherwise be little or none, it would seem only logical that the benefits of this relationship far outweigh any possible harm.
DREDGING CREATES TURBIDITY IN THE STREAM
First of all, dredging is only permitted within the wetted area of a stream. Dredging into a “loamy” area along stream banks is forbidden. The streambed materials that are suctioned by a dredge are materials that are constantly washed by stream currents. Therefore, these materials are virtually free from the finer particulate material that can “cloud-up” the water and remain suspended for a prolonged period of time. Most of the material that comes out of the back of a dredge sinks immediately, usually within two or three feet. Some of the finer particles can travel further downstream in a narrow plume that is sometimes visible from above the water. Depending upon the speed of the flowing water, this visible plume largely dissipates within 25 to 50 feet downstream of the dredge, and it is rare for it to extend beyond 100 feet.
To get some idea of the level of turbidity that is usually created by a dredge, we must understand some facts about dredging. A dredger cannot operate in water where there is an appreciable level of turbidity at all. When visibility is impaired, dredgers cannot see what they are doing. They cannot see the gold that is trapped in crevices, and rocks that are too large will get suctioned by the dredge nozzle and plug the dredge hose. These plug-ups are very difficult to remove. In addition, dredgers cannot see the looming danger of boulders that could tumble in on them, and injure or kill them.
It is common for dredgers to set up within 50 or 100 feet downstream of each other with no visibility problems. Yet, events such as dam releases or thunderstorms will cause the level of turbidity in the stream to rise to the level that dredgers often have to abandon their activity for several days. Even within a normal dredge plume, the level of turbidity is only a mere fraction of what is created by naturally-occurring and long-enduring events such as storms, and winter floods, which fish routinely endure.
As with many other aspects of the relationship between dredgers and fish, this particular aspect also has a benefit. Biologists have noted that juvenile fish who are suddenly threatened by a predator will readily duck into a dredge plume or any other turbidity for cover.
Excessive clouding of a stream or river with a dredge is strictly forbidden by dredging regulations. There are severe penalties for doing so. As mentioned before, dredging is heavily regulated and monitored by enforcement personnel.
DREDGING KILLS INVERTEBRATES IN THE STREAMBED
This is to be expected, but it is very minimal. Anytime soil is disturbed, organisms that live in that soil are killed or exposed to predators. When we dig for fishing worms in our back yard, multitudes of soil-dwellers are affected. Can you imagine the devastation when we rototill a garden? Fortunately, they will re-colonize very rapidly. A biological study done in 1981 found that less than 1 percent of the invertebrates in four different rivers that were entrained in a suction dredge perished. Re-colonization of the affected areas was complete within 4 to 6 weeks. It should be noted that during the time of this experiment, dredge design was significantly different than it is today. Years ago, dredges were equipped with a header box, or “crash box” as it is sometimes known. Dredged material would enter the front of the dredge and crash into the back wall of this box. The material would then drop down, slow down, spread out, and then flow down over the riffles of the sluice, and out the back of the dredge.
Dredges are no longer designed with this header box. Modern dredges now employ a device known as a “diffuser” pipe. The dredge hose connects to the bottom of this diffuser pipe which increases in size and flattens out as it enters the front of the dredge. This causes the dredged material to slow down and spread out. It then flows down over the riffles in the sluice. Incidentally, this change in design was not made because of any concern for biological organisms because there was not a perceived problem with this, but rather to reduce the incidence of plugging, which was a problem with the header box design.
Dredging has very little effect on streambed invertebrates, and the recovery is immediate.
This would be an appropriate place to also mention that this unearthing of invertebrates is very beneficial to fish. It is important that juvenile fish find sufficient food to enable them to grow as much as possible in preparation for their future migration. Juvenile fish can routinely be observed swimming through a dredge plume, searching for these invertebrates, which are plentiful. This is a very significant benefit, one that environmentalists are reluctant to acknowledge. Ironically, one does not have to be a scholar to question the fact that when fish are being fed with grain in a fish hatchery, it is considered an ultimate act of conservation, but when fish are feasting on their natural diet in a dredge plume, it is somehow biologically unimportant. A dredger who spends a month or two in a given section of river has fed a lot of fish.
FISH ARE SUCKED INTO A DREDGE AND KILLED
This is very unlikely. Even the smallest of fish are nimble enough to avoid entrainment by a dredge nozzle. Fish routinely hover around a dredge nozzle, often closer than 12 inches. When the dredge nozzle is moved toward them, they quickly dart out of the way. As an experiment, I once tried to see if a fish could actually become caught up in a dredge. There were several small fish in the dredge hole. I began slowly at first and then progressed to the point that I was jabbing at the fish with the dredge nozzle as hard as I could. After many attempts, I was unable to capture a single fish with the dredge nozzle. They were too fast.
An experiment was done in 1981 whereby biologists intentionally fed 36 fish into a dredge to determine what harm would occur as a result of this entrainment. There was no mortality. All 36 of the fish survived. The fish ranged in size from juveniles to adults. (It should also be noted that during that period of time, dredges were manufactured using the old “crash box” design.) This experiment is so profound and potentially unbelievable that I will cite it. (Griffith and Andrews: 1981).
Recent biological opinion is that entrainment of fish by a dredge is unlikely, and even if they should become entrained they will likely survive it.
The previous narrative is an attempt to address the claims that are frequently made by environmentalists These claims are usually made without scientific basis and without first-hand knowledge about this activity. Naturally, they are very slanted against the mining community.
Dredging is a very visible form of mining. Dredgers do not crawl into a hole in the side of a mountain. They do not dig in a pit that is surrounded by a privacy fence. Their activity is out there for all to see. One can usually look down into a river and see their dredges floating on the water. There is often a visible plume trailing downstream from them. One can hear the distant drone of a lawnmower-sized engine, and if the stream is exceptionally clear one can often see the dredge hole and cobble pile that are underwater. Dredgers frequently park vehicles beside a roadway, near to where they are working. To some, this intrusion into nature is disturbing. However, at the same time, dredging is perhaps the most reversible form of gold mining that there is. Virtually all traces of dredging activity are obliterated by the winter floods that occur after each dredging season The dredge hole is completely filled in, the cobble pile is leveled, and the tailing pile is flattened and spread out, offering itself as a potential stable spawning site for years to come.
Even though our government has enacted mining laws to encourage the exploration and extraction of minerals and valuable metals, and confers possessory rights to enable a miner to do so, it is an affront to some people to witness individuals removing valuable metals from public lands which theoretically belong to all of us. Many allege that small-scale dredging is merely a recreational activity. This is not true. Many small-scale dredgers derive part or all of their annual income from this endeavor. Mining laws do not differentiate by how much an individual enjoys this activity. Miners are all bound by the same rules. And, many businesses in communities that are nearby to mining activity depend heavily upon the transient dollars that flow into their communities from miners.
Because dredging is such a visible activity, it has become a prime target of environmentalists. Environmentalism is a wonderful thing. It has driven the cleanup of many of our rivers and harbors. It has exposed many pollution sites, and placed the responsibility for cleanup of these sites squarely in the laps of those responsible. Unfortunately, as with all good things, there are those who would abuse it. In addition to it’s great accomplishments, environmentalism has become a powerful and convenient tool for many “not in my neighborhood” activists. Environmentalists have been successful in thwarting roadway and rural development projects, and in keeping Walmart out of town. Often, one of the first considerations of opponents to development is “let’s get the environmentalists in here and see if we can stop this.” Many of the involvements by environmentalists were not born of concern for the environment, but by a political agenda. Opponents of an unwanted presence can challenge this presence with a powerful tool while cloaking themselves in righteous deed. The endangered species act (ESA) which they frequently rely upon has virtually become the preeminent law of our nation, it is so powerful.
We live in an imperfect world, and sometimes we must accept things that may not be to our liking. We must accept and respect the rights and activities of others. Those who live near a highway must expect that there will be some roadway noise. Those who live near airports must expect that they will be subjected to sounds made by aircraft. And those who choose to live in or near public lands where there are concentrations of valuable minerals must expect that there will be mining activity. However, there are those who will not accept this. They often engage environmentalists who will allege some kind of environmental harm and attempt to establish a “smoking gun” to validate their claims. Sometimes environmentalists do not have to successfully establish valid scientific proof as their intended target will simply bow to their power. Litigation is very expensive, and often times they simply bankrupt their opponent into submission with rapid-fire lawsuits.
Environmentalists and others have attempted to link the recent decline in salmon populations in some areas with mining activity, although they have not been able to provide concrete evidence that dredging has caused harm to one single fish. Environmental harm normally reveals itself as a decline in the population of a herd, schools of dead fish, or ugly mutations of creatures in a particular area. Yet, there has never been documented evidence that shows that dredgers have harmed a single fish. There have been generalized accusations, but they have been proven to be groundless.
Meanwhile, researchers associated with oceanographic institutes along the Pacific Rim have presented powerful evidence that the recent reduction in numbers and sizes of returning salmon is directly related to ocean conditions in which salmon spend nearly all of their adult lives.
These researchers, who study environmental influences on a much grander scale, have documented the fact that decades-long cycles in ocean temperatures are the primary cause of salmon decline. These ocean temperature cycles have caused a decline in the population of plankton, which form the basis of the ocean food chain, by as much as 50 percent in some regions. This determines the amount of available food for creatures all the way up the food chain in the ocean. Additionally, these researchers have discovered that these changes in ocean temperatures have invited a greater than normal number of predators into regions that salmon inhabit. And, most importantly, these scientists have positively correlated these regional changes in the ocean, over several decades, with the regional increase and decline of salmon populations all up and down the Pacific Rim, from Alaska to California. And this correlation remains constant whether dredging is present in the region or not. This would indicate that dredging has no affect whatsoever on salmon populations.
Commercial fishing pressure in our oceans and the intense seasonal harvest of spawning salmon by indigenous Indian tribes are certainly significant factors as well.
During recent years, in which we have observed alarming declines in the population of salmon in certain regions, many focus groups have lashed out in an attempt to offer some measure of remedy for this situation. Much of this decline has been caused by natural factors that are beyond our control. However, when it is within our reach, we must offer as much help as humanly possible. Salmon need a suitable place to spawn. Their juveniles need plentiful food, and shelter from predation. And, spawning adults need to find rest and refuge from swift currents and unfavorable water temperatures during their exhausting migration. Small-scale dredging provides all of these.
When examining environmental issues and trying to decide the proper course of action, we must carefully consider all of the important factors, not just the ones that suit our purpose. We must balance and fairly evaluate all of the evidence. We must seek out the truth, the whole truth, wherever it leads us.
Numerous sources were utilized in the preparation of this essay. I have read countless biological opinions and other scientific papers. Much of the information was gathered from a very informative and unbiased report published by the (TRRP) Trinity River Restoration Program, and from the sources cited in that report. I have also read several reports from oceanographic institutes along the Pacific Rim. And I have also relied upon my own experiences and personal knowledge.
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