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Suction Dredge Mining Costs Targeted By California Lawmakers

A California legislative panel has proposed action that would extend a ban on suction dredge gold mining for five years. The full legislature has yet to take final action.

Amelia Templeton reports on what this could mean across the border in Oregon.

Suction dredge mining is a little like using a turbo powered vacuum to extract gold from streams. State environmental regulators prohibit this kind of mining when fish eggs are in stream beds, so it usually happens in the summer.

It’s become more popular in the Northwest as gold prices have jumped. And as California’s tribes and political leaders have worked to limit the practice in the Golden State, more miners have shown up on the streams of Southern Oregon.

Last week a California legislative committee moved to block funding for dredge mining permits for five years. That has the effect of extending a ban.

Catherine Freeman is a consultant with the panel.

Catherine Freeman: “If you suction dredge and you take out a fish breeding ground, well, you’ve probably gained some money, but the public has lost and the public trust has lost.”

Freeman says it’s expensive for the state to ensure that mining is in compliance with environmental standards. She says issuing and enforcing permits would cost the state $2 million.

James Bucal represents several mining clubs that have sued California for the right to dredge mine. He says that in the past, the state has run the program for less than $100 thousand.

James Bucal: “It doesn’t pencil out, any more than the assertions of environmental impact.”

The number of Californians in Oregon streams has risen from about 10 three years ago to around 100 last year. That’s in addition to the 700 or so Oregonians who mine in streams.

Leslie Adams is with the Oregon Environmental Group Rogue Riverkeeper. The group is suing Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality, over it’s lack of oversight over suction dredge miners. Adams says she’s observed miners working in streams when fish eggs are present.

Leslie Adams: “DEQ has no requirement that miners report on their mining activities. So we have no idea when and where and how often these miners are mining in our creeks that have salmon in them.”

A permit specialist with Oregon DEQ says the agency doesn’t have the funding to monitor dredge mining in the field. It relies on tips from other agencies to catch violations.