Bates introduces bill to ban suction dredges in some rivers

State Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, has introduced a bill in the Oregon Legislature to ban suction dredge mining in 30 rivers identified as State Scenic Waterways.

Senate Bill 401 would protect segments of the Rogue, Illinois, South Umpqua, Grande Ronde, Sandy, Molalla, and other rivers across the state. The bill would prohibit suction dredge mining, a practice involving the use of gasoline-powered vacuums, mounted on floating rafts, to suck up riverbed sands and gravels in search of gold, in rivers designated as State Scenic Waterways.

"World-class rivers like the Illinois, Rogue, and South Umpqua have become ground zero for destructive suction dredge mining in our state, and this practice is impacting imperiled wild salmon runs," John Ward of Rogue Flyfishers said in a press release supporting the bill. "This designation will benefit salmon recovery as water quality and fish habitat get protected."

California placed a moratorium on suction dredge mining in 2010. That resulted in an increase in suction dredge miners In Oregon as California miners moved north.

Oregonians created the State Scenic Waterway system in a 1970 initiative vote. The program originally contained all or part of six rivers but has grown through additional initiatives to include 19 rivers as well as Waldo Lake. The system was last updated in 1988.

The Oregon Conservation Network, which consists of more than 40 organizations, has identified the bill as one of its four priorities for passage in the 2013 session.

Opponents of the measure say it will not only affect suction mining, but also property owners' rights along the banks of the protected areas.

— Staff reports

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