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The message Oregon should be sending dredge miners: leave


Published: Wednesday, August 25, 2010, 9:00 AM

By Jason Atkinson

FOLLOWED BY comments by Joseph Greene, retired EPA Research Biologist

Last year, California ended the practice of dredge mining in its rivers. With the ban in effect, out-of-state miners have flooded into southern Oregon rivers armed with $25 permits issued by the state.

I've a long history with "The New 49'ers," the miners association that organizes equipment and permits for dredge miners. I've seen what its members have done to some of the great rivers in the West. Dredge miners dump all the material they remove from a river bottom downstream, changing the entire structure and hydraulics of streams and their fish habitat. They squat on public land, not in campgrounds. They live next to their rigs the entire season. The responsibility to make them move on falls on local law enforcement. As someone who has represented two large southern Oregon counties for more than a decade of meager public safety funding, I'll tell you that our sheriff's officers don't need this chore.

Dredge mining was an issue when I was first elected to Oregon's House of Representatives in 1999. While I didn't have the ability at the time to stop the practice, I worked to ensure that the diameter of the vacuum pipes that miners use were limited, that dredge material was placed upstream instead of downstream, and that miners must fill the holes they create in stream bottoms.

As I did then, I still support Oregonians pursuing recreational gold panning, but I didn't want out-of-state commercial permits allowed in Oregon. That hasn't been an issue for years, but with the new California ban in effect, miners from across the United States are rushing into southern Oregon.

If you believe in protecting Oregon's rivers, you too should be outraged. If you're a taxpayer and believe in private property rights, you should be outraged. If you're a farmer who manages your land, you should agree this is wrong. No Oregonian has the right to go to Texas, Indiana or North Carolina (just a few of the state license plates I saw on miners' vehicles on the Rogue River) and dredge-mine their rivers' spawning grounds. So why are we providing that ability here in Oregon?

I'm an unashamed, passionate steelheader, and I'm raising the fifth-generation Atkinson fly-flinger. Two weeks ago my 7-year-old and I caught trout and released them by a sandy bar next to our favorite run on the Applegate River. Days later, that same sandy bar had an out-of-state dredge miner on it when I arrived with Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian. Twenty-five bucks gave him the "right" to camp for months on public ground, set up a modern mine, transfer gasoline from the bank to his rig on the water, and destroy what the local community -- from both agriculture and conservation interests -- agreed was worth protecting.

I asked to see the miner's permit and talked to him about his intentions. It was simple: He was going to use larger-diameter vacuum hoses, move material downstream and suck the riverbed dry of gold. Then he planned to move on to the next river.

I asked: "Did the state agencies who gave you the permits tell you how long you could camp here and what the Oregon restrictions are regarding sensitive fish habitat?"

The answer: "No."

Private property advocates, taxpayer groups and the environmental community all have a reason to work together to stop this practice. Rafters, fishermen and Oregon's river boating industry should join in. In Oregon, we're proud of our rivers and have worked together for years to protect them, and we shouldn't allow this dredge mining.

Let me be less diplomatic than former Gov. Tom McCall when it comes to out-of-state dredge miners: Welcome to Oregon; now leave.

Jason Atkinson, a Republican, represents Central Point in the Oregon Senate.



WindStalker August 27, 2010 at 10:41AM

I have done my homework and the effects of small scale gold suction dredging are less-than-significant. What the miners have stated here is accurate so there is no need for me to repeat it. Senator Atkinson is totally wrong and he will find no scientific data to support his position. Emotion and hysteria have no place in this discussion because the root of this issue is based on a threat to deny citizens their right to mine on public domain lands.

There is no scientific evidence that small scale suction dredging harms fish if performed following the State’s designated in-water work periods. On the other hand, there is published scientific data showing that fishermen kill thousands of fish eggs and fry by wading through the streams and fish redds while fishing during spawning season.

I thought it interesting that some suggest increasing mining permit fees to $500 or requiring that a bond be posted. This makes no sense -except for the authors misunderstanding of the effects of dredging- because the science clearly demonstrates that the effects are local and temporary. So what about those fees. I suggest a reasonable fee for small scale suction dredging should be the same as the State requires for a fishing license.

As an invited member to the California Department of Fish and Game Public Advisory committee on suction dredging, I am an Oregon resident, I have seen some data that some of you might not. The following is some of that data regarding economics of small scale suction dredging. I have taken the information from a survey of economic damage caused to the mining Community in California and recalculated the data to reflect removing the 1200 miners, that would be 1115 Oregon miners and 85 California miners, that have purchased permits from Oregon waters.

1200 suction dredge permit holders would spend approximately $10,760,400 for groceries, restaurants, camp fees and other living expenses;

1200 suction dredge permit holders would spend approximately $5,164,800 on gas, oil, equipment maintenance and repairs;

1200 suction dredge permit holders would spend approximately $2,582,400 on suction dredge and related equipment every 4-years; and,

The State of Oregon collected $30,000 in dredge permit fees.

These activities represent approximately $18,537,600 lost to the Oregon economy if Senator Atkinson is able to pass his plan through the Oregon State Legislature.

These calculations are based on information collected in California for the year 2008.

Scientists have become advocates for certain agendas - they have become believers and crusaders, forgetting that science moves forward and makes progress by skepticism rather than by the preservation of some status quo or some consensus position.

Joseph Greene, retired EPA Research Biologist, bio

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