On March 25, Oregon salmon has won a federal court case that upheld the state law restricting motorized gold mining (even on federal property) in and along sensitive salmon streams. Both gold prospecting and salmon are important to Oregon’s economy, history and culture. They clashed in court last year. Here is what happened.
In 2013, Oregon has enacted the Senate Bill 838 which imposed a moratorium, until 2021, on mining that uses any form of motorized equipment for the purpose of extracting gold, silver or any precious metal from placer deposits of the beds or banks of waters. The law came as a result of controversy around the practice of “suction dredge mining,” which is when pumps suck up river bottom stones and rocks.
A group of gold miners has sued Oregon in order to overturn that law. The miners argued before the U.S. District Court in Medford that Oregon’s ban on using motorized equipment during in-stream mining of precious metals violates federal laws that have guaranteed mining access on U.S. lands since the 1870s. Miners argued that, while Oregon has the right to regulate mining on state lands, the state does not have authority to regulate mining on federal lands located within the state. Miners further contend that there is insufficient scientific evidence that suction dredge mining disturbs the fish or pollutes water.
Environmental groups insist that the restrictions on motorized equipment are necessary in order for OR to comply with the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Environmentalists contend that suction dredge mining disturbs river bottom spawning grounds for salmon that have been classified as “threatened” or “endangered” under federal law.
The court has ruled for the salmon, holding that Oregon is within its rights to regulate both state and federal land to protect water quality and fish habitat.
Article & photo: Sergei Tokmakov