Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Out-of-State Suction Dredge Miner Invasion in Washington: an Alien Invasive Species in the making?

By Bob Ferris

Suction dredger digging up bank and causing erosion.
In the late 1990s I had some peripherally involvement with the National Invasive Species Council—in part because advisory member Faith Campbell had office space just across from mine at Defenders of Wildlife. Like it or not I had front row seat to the development of policies in this body.  I liked their deliberative process because it really employed a triage-style approach whereby species were considered for the initial list if they were: 1) non-native (i.e., alien); 2) rapidly increasing; and 3) causing significant ecological or economic damage.  It was a good, measured approach that put the emphasis on species such as zebra mussels and wild pigs rather than striped bass in the West or pheasants.

I think about these decision screens for alien invasive species as I look at whether or not Washington State’s regulatory and enforcement infrastructure are sufficient to protect salmon, steelhead and bull trout waters from the onslaught of out-of-state suction dredge miners likely in their future.  This comparison seems aptly triggered because these miners meet all the above criteria for being considered an alien invasive species.

Too harsh and inappropriate?   Over the past several years I have become very familiar with suction dredge mining for gold and those who practice this destructive pastime (1,2,3) or profit for those who do.  I have had to contend with the specious and ridiculous arguments of a cadre of trumped up experts (1,2) promulgating myths (1,2,3,4) while suffering insults and jibes from those whose greed has convinced them that ripping up the bottom of our precious salmon and steelhead streams and sending plumes of silt across our waters is of little consequence or impact.  And I have watched suction dredgers (see above and below videos) belligerently break (1) or bend (1) our nation’s laws and issue direct and veiled threats to friends, colleagues, government employees, and elected officials.

For all the above reasons and more the activities of suction dredgers have been stopped in California (1,2,3), significantly reduced in Oregon (1,2,3,4) and restricted in Idaho (1,2).  As a consequence Washington State becomes the next frontier and battleground.  Oregon was not prepared in 2009 when the California moratorium went into effect and their suction dredging activity more than trebled.  Washington should take note.

Environmental legislation, regulations and enforcement systems depend heavily on a civil society that respects laws and essentially self-regulates.  These mechanisms need to be changed when the community to be regulated repeatedly demonstrates its inability to adhere to the nature and intent of those legal structures.

Moreover those mechanisms need to be overhauled when situations change such as greatly increased numbers.  Therefore, it is not only prudent, but necessary that legislators in Washington State craft strong and fair suction dredge legislation to look at this issue in the context of the players involved, their increased activity and also the threats that loom for salmon, steelhead and bull trout.  They seem to be doing that with HR 1162  and should be supported by those who value cold water fish habitat, clean waters and quiet in wild settings.

The public hearing for HR 1162 in Olympia is February 12, 2015

Other Useful Links:

Groups Speaking Out

Trout Unlimited Suction Dredge Page

Fish Not Gold

Gifford Pinchot Task Force

Wild Steelhead Coalition

Spokane Riverkeeper

Note: If I have missed your group and you have a page or statement and want to be included, please let me know.

Other Letters and Articles of Note

2013 Statements from the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society (1,2)


  1. bob you need your ass beat down you little fucken bitch, we have a RIGHT to work our claims and that includes dredge them and its people like yourself who need to be taken out of society for spreading your communist ideals, taking the rights of citizens away, i hope your life here ends extremely painfully.

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  2. Bob Ferris the Al Gore to miners, Ferris and TU other environmentals all about lining there pockets with tax payer monies, nothing to do with the truth

  3. Bob Ferris the Al Gore to miners, Ferris and TU other environmentals all about lining there pockets with tax payer monies, nothing to do with the truth