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Oregon Lawmakers Aim To Restrict Mining On Chetco River

Members of Oregon’s congressional delegation introduced two bills today that would restrict gold mining on the Chetco River in southern Oregon.

A national environmental group recently listed the river as one of the ten most endangered in the United States. Among the reasons for that listing was the threat of suction mining. Amelia Templeton reports.

The gold mining in question is done with a small-scale dredge. Miners wade or scuba dive into streams.

They use something like a large vacuum cleaner with a five horsepower motor that floats on a pontoon. It sucks up gravel from streambeds and spits out gold.

This year the practice is temporarily banned in California. That’s due to concern over the impact on salmon.

Oregon representative Peter DeFazio says the moratorium may drive recreational miners to a handful of rivers in southern Oregon.

Peter DeFazio: “We’re worried that there’s a potential for many, if not thousands of recreational miners to flood north to Oregon.”

The mining season for the Chetco starts July 15th.

DeFazio and two other Oregon Representatives have introduced a bill that would remove the Chetco river from listing under the federal mining act. That 1872 law is still in effect.

Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have sponsored a Senate version of the bill.

DeFazio is particularly concerned about a developer named Dave Rutan. Rutan owns nine mining claims on the Chetco. On his website, he’s invited Californians to check out the territory. Defazio’s concerned.

Peter DeFazio: “He could get potentially 100 people who want to come just for the fun of it and maybe they’ll find a little gold and maybe they won’t but that’s a lot of impact. “

Rutan says only a dozen or so Californians are planning to come.

Dave Rutan: “Its interesting that the scale is being blown completely out of proportion for the purposes of the environmentalists to get what they want.”

Rutan’s claims on the Chetco are on Forest Service land, three in the Kalmiopsis wilderness.

Bob Fujimoto is the minerals liaison for the forest service in the Pacific Northwest. He says it’s up to Rutan to voluntarily report how many people will be mining on his claims.

If the new bill becomes law, it will only completely block new mining claims. Fujimoto says Rutan will still be able to suction mine if the Forest Service finds commercially viable gold on his claims.

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