Oregon State Legislature hears testimony on Suction Dredge Mining Reform (SB3)
February 3, 2017
To: Oregon Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee
Re: Native Fish Society Testimony on Oregon State Legislature 2017 Session SB3
Greetings Chair Dembrow, Vice-Chair Olsen, and Respected Members of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee,
My name is Jake Crawford and I am the Southern Regional Manager of the Oregon-based non-profit, Native Fish Society. We are a regional grassroots organization guided by the best available science and dedicated to the protection and recovery of wild, native fish and stewardship of the habitats that sustain them. Native Fish Society has over 3,000 active members and supporters, and 88 place-based, volunteer River Stewards who protect their homewaters across the Pacific Northwest.
Thank you for the opportunity to show our support for Senate Bill 3, which will establish the long-term regulatory framework necessary to reform suction dredge mining practices and help protect sensitive, distinct native fish populations across the state. I first became involved in this issue in 2011 after the influx of suction dredge miners migrated north to my homewaters of southwest Oregon and I am grateful to be here today to support Senate Bill 3, which is the culmination of years of effort by our grassroots stewards working with a diverse coalition of other interested parties who have participated in the collaborative process first brought forward by Senator Alan Bates with SB 838.
We are concerned about populations of Oregon’s native fish threatened by this practice including two populations of federally listed coho salmon on the Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast and Oregon Coast, federally listed Bull Trout, other sensitive species such as lamprey, in addition to world class runs of wild Chinook salmon and steelhead.
The negative effects of suction dredge mining have been well documented, in which peer-reviewed studies have identified that this practice can trap and kill aquatic insects, fish eggs and juvenile fish, and negatively alter salmon habitats (1)(2)(3). Suction dredge miners have removed trees in riparian areas that shade and cool streams and provide critical aquatic habitat, and on the South Umpqua River suction dredge miners illegally removed or altered habitat restoration improvements that were paid for with millions of public tax dollars invested to restore stream complexity and aquatic refugia for species of concern, such as spring Chinook salmon.
In addition, suction dredge mining can stir up legacy deposits of mercury left from historic mining operations, and put rearing juvenile salmon and trout at risk from exposure (4). A 2015 US Fish and Wildlife study reported that “fish metabolic processes are not effective at processing and eliminating methylmercury, and at certain tissue concentrations, methylmercury can negatively impact behavior, health and reproductive success” (5). This activity has also been identified as a threat to lamprey throughout all their different life stages, from adults, to embryos and ammocoetes, which are particularly sensitive to this harmful activity by being passed through the dredge, destruction of their nests (or redds), and displacement and degradation of their rearing habitats. Furthermore, the different life histories of lamprey can mean that they are present in the river system at different life stages for up to 7 years, and continued disruption of their habitat can have lasting negative effects and be detrimental to these populations (4).
In both the Oregon Coast (OC) and Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast (SONCC) Recovery Plans, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) specifically called attention to the need for improved suction dredge regulations in southwest Oregon watersheds to minimize or prevent impacts to coho salmon (6)(7). In the SONCC Recovery Plan, NMFS listed these reforms as Highest Priority Recovery Actions, and suggest special closed areas, closed seasons, and restrictions on methods and activities (6).
There is no targeted fishing allowed on these threatened fish and anglers have surrendered the ability to harvest these fish in order to lessen impacts from angling and help contribute to recovery. We believe that to allow this harmful practice in areas with sensitive populations of coho salmon, bull trout and lamprey, would be counter to the millions of public tax dollars that have been invested from state and federal agencies, public and private groups, and the individuals who have committed to these restoration actions to recover these iconic species.
For these reasons, I am here today to represent Native Fish Society and our membership in support of Senate Bill 3. I recognize that small-scale mining represents a part of Oregon’s cultural heritage, but similarly does the state’s rich salmon heritage with its world-class populations of wild salmon, steelhead and trout, and the ongoing recovery actions that are taking place across the state to prevent further extinction of these iconic species. We are requesting that we protect our public investments by limiting this harmful activity in waters that are necessary to protect the state’s important wild, native fish populations, and that we restrict this activity in waters that will jeopardize this important cultural resource.
Thank you for your time today, and for your consideration on this issue. We appreciate the opportunity to show our support for Senate Bill 3, and urge you to move this bill forward to find a permanent solution.
1. Harvey and Lisle. 1998. Effects of Suction Dredging on Streams: A review and an evaluation strategy. Fisheries Vol. 23 (8): 9.
2. Horizon Water and Environment (HWE). 2009. Suction Dredge Permitting Program. Literature review on the impacts of suction dredge mining in California.
3. United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 2012. Pacific Lamprey Fact Sheet.
4. Marvin-DiPasquale, M., J. Agee, E. Kakouros, L.H. Kieu, J.A. Fleck, and C.N. Alpers. 2011. The Effects of Sediment and Mercury Mobilization in the South Yuba River and Humbug Creek Confluence Area, Nevada County, California: Concentrations, Speciation and Environmental Fate. Part 2: Laboratory Experiments. U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report 2010-1325B
5. Oregon Chapter American Fisheries Society (ORAFS). 2015. “Effects of Suction Dredge Mining on Oregon Fishes and Aquatic Habitat Supplemental Information."
6. National Marine Fisheries Service. 2014. Final Recovery Plan for the Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast Evolutionarily Significant Unit of Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch). National Marine Fisheries Service. Arcata, CA.
7. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). 2016. Recovery Plan for Oregon Coast Coho Salmon Evolutionary Significant Unit. National Marine Fisheries Service, West Coast Region.