Sunday, February 1, 2015

Lead and the Wisdom of Sleeping Dogs

By Bob Ferris

I entered into a “dialogue” with a suction dredge miner the other day about lead.  He thought that he had caught me with my pants down because in one blog post I said that suction dredgers should not think they are doing “good” by removing sequestered lead from steam beds and in another I was talking about the dangers of bullet fragments in big game.  Why couldn't I just be consistent?

The issue raised in the above discussion is one of risk and consequences and one faced far too often in our industrialized world when it comes to legacy pollution.  With current pollution the answer is simple you just stop using the offending material (as I suggested with lead bullets and have suggested with lead fishing weights), but once the substance is released other considerations enter the picture.

If you cannot win with facts or logic then Photoshop
The question with these latter pollutants is whether we risk more by trying to clean something up or just letting it be covered and buried deeper by natural processes or artificial methods such as geo-membranes or other mechanisms that act as protective barriers between the toxic substances and natural systems such as aquifers and surface waters where they can do harm.  We have, for instance, elected to leave dioxins in river beds because the resulting attempts at decontamination would leave the area in worse shape.

This same thinking has been applied to mercury in California’s gold country.  Yet these self-same suction dredge miners seem unable to grasp this concept of relative risk, particularly when it stands in the way of them sucking up streambeds and spitting gravel hither and yon.  Certainly dredges remove most of the mercury that passes through their hoses and sluices.  But what little that does pass through re-enters the water column when under normal circumstances it would not.  It does in this sense make things worse not better.

I suppose there is a great deal of rationalization involved in this equation as well as a gap in understanding of the true nature of natural processes.  No one wants to think their hobby causes serious risk or harm—even when they see that it causes massive disruption.  Moreover, there is the very active role of those wanting to continue selling dredges and related mining paraphernalia coupled with the very significant efforts of allied industries to use small practitioners as leverage to protect themselves from needed regulation and revision of the badly dated 1872 mining laws.

I think it is important to have these dialogues and have always engaged in them because it is critical that we continue to lay out the facts and try in every way possible to educate.  I am also encouraged that Trout Unlimited is taking a more active role in efforts to curb suction dredging and continue to be grateful for the efforts of Fish Not Gold and others as the battle in Washington’s salmon, steelhead and bull trout waters begin in earnest.  More on this later.

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