Dredging Western rivers for gold


An item in the October 11th edition’s “Heard around the West” reported on an influx of “gold miners” on Southern Oregon’s Rogue River. But the article did not explain why so many miners are on the Rogue now.

The vast majority of these “miners” do not make a living mining. Rather they dredge in the summer and do other things in the winter. They are referred to as recreational miners. As HCN reported back in 2006  these “miners” flock to Oregon streams when the price of gold skyrockets as it has recently.

Suction dredges on the Scott River, a major Klamath River tributary

The increase in “recreational” dredge mining in Southern Oregon this time, however, is also related to a successful drive by a coalition of tribes and environmentalists to end the practice of suction dredge mining in California. Those who oppose the practice say that it harms salmon runs. Led by the Klamath River’s Karuk Tribe, the drive to end the practice has resulted in litigation and a new California law which bans suction dredge mining in California until the Department of Fish and Game completes and environmental review of the practice and issues new regulations. Many of California’s suction dredgers do their thing along the Klamath River just south of the Oregon border. When dredging was banned in California these folks simply moved a bit north to the Rogue River.

High Country News has not reported on the battle over suction dredge mining in California. For more on this issue – including information on the ecological impact of suction dredge mining - follow this link to the Klamath Riverkeeper website’s extensive section on the issue. 

Recreational miners claim that dredging is good for salmon because the practice puts food into the water column and cleans spawning gravels. But scientific studies and experience on the ground has not substantiated these claims. As in the picture below, the gravel piles left behind by dredgers can attract spawning salmon only to dewater the nest and kill the eggs when the water level drops. Scientists also tell us that the clean gravel piles left by dredging are unstable; salmon nests made in the loose piles rarely if ever survive the flood flows of winter.

 Dewatered dredge tailings on the Scott River, a major Klamath River tributary

Putting the terms “recreational” and “mining” together has always seemed ludicrous to me. There is nothing “recreational” about real mining – it is hard and dangerous work. But most of those who practice “recreational mining” do not appear interested in hard work. In my experience they spend more time setting up their free campsites on public land and sitting around in armchairs than they do mining.

Nevertheless these recreators enjoy the free access, free camping and other benefits conferred by the federal Mining Law of 1892. That law was designed to encourage real mining….not recreation. As far as I can tell, however, no one has yet challenged recreational mining enthusiasts’ claims to coverage under the old law.  

High Country News has extensively covered the 1872 mining law. Here are links to a few of the more recent stories:

Felice Pace has lived in the Klamath River Basin since 1975. For 15 years, he worked for and led the Klamath Forest Alliance as Program Coordinator, Executive Director and Program Director. He remains part of the Alliance’s Core Group, and now consults with environmental and indigenous organizations on fund raising and development. He currently resides at Klamath Glen, near the mouth of the Klamath River.

dredge lies
l broman
l broman
Oct 23, 2010 06:53 AM
public lands are open to all (so far) whether you carry a gold pan or a nikon. the only recreational miners are the ones that go to public panning areas, other that that if you are a full fledged miner enjoying the protection of the nations mining laws ... if you interfere with a mining/prospecting operation its a felony so when you call in a miner you are for one making a false ploice report and breaking the law and with all the grief youz guyz give us we will gladly press charges against you and more than likely the local sherriff WILL ARREST YOU.they dredge in the summer because spawning activity is nill during those months. the army corp of engineers have determined from many of its studies that a 4" dredge(s) couldnt screw up a river if they tried.

when they lock up the lands it will include you too
no such creature ...
Kerby Jackson
Kerby Jackson
Oct 23, 2010 09:08 PM
As a miner, putting the term "recreational" and "mining" together, also seems ludicrous to me.

The reality is, there is no such thing as a "recreational miner" and this is a term that was originated by BLM and originally applied to sometimes gold panners.

That said, you are either a miner, or you are not a miner. The fact of the matter is, obtaining mining equipment of any type requires an investment (usually a substantial one) and even those who openly admit to enjoying this activity, work to make a profit. In the case of what took place on the Rogue this season, the majority of those who kept at it, made anywhere from "wages" up to good profits on their investment and time.

Also, the mining activity on the Rogue is not a result of "these folks simply moved a bit north to the Rogue River" because of SB670. Though there were a few California miners working in SW Oregon this summer, this was not their first season on the Rogue. Quite a few miners also came in from states other than California. As well, out of state miners on the Rogue were actually greatly outnumbered by LOCAL miners.

Why the Rogue and why that portion of the Rogue? Simple. It is one of the greatest gold bearing rivers in the country and its reputation for gold is so great that in 1853, the name of the river was officially changed to the "Gold River" and it appeared on maps under this name until locals raised fuss enough to overturn the legislation and reclaim the name "Rogue". Also, that particular stretch of the Rogue has a long standing reputation for being exceptionally rich.

For many of these guys, the three months they spent on the river this season were profitable enough that it will be what helps to put food on their family table and pay their mortgage the rest of the year.

Meanwhile, during their stay on the river, they injected a tremendous influx of much needed business into our local economy. That is fitting because it was actually MINERS who built this portion of Oregon.

Needless to say, we are not talking about recreational activity and the majority of people who do call it "recreational" tend to be those who have never done it themselves. The fact of the matter is, mining is hard and dangerous work that requires an investment of substantial capital and the possibilities for success are always hampered by the interference of government agencies, not to mention organizations like your own which are always funded by global corporatists with an agenda.

And as for the so-called "ecological damage" created by this particular type of mining, you are are hardly an unbiased source to present "scientific facts". The fact of the matter is, there are over 100 published scientific papers by leading biologists that disagree with your assertions that you failed to back up with a citation.
Ron Wagner
Ron Wagner
Oct 24, 2010 07:51 AM
This great influx of California miners amounted to a grand total of 35, yes 35 dredging permits issued to California folks coming up to Oregon. Even though it was this GREAT MASS EXODUS from California like like everyone wants you to believe, these 35 extra miners did do a great service to the Rogue by removing harmfull material from the Rogue such as lead and mercury, which in turn makes it a better place for all of the fish and the people that use the water for recreation and water.

 It would be really great if just one of you enviros would get the real story out there but that day will never happen.
Comment removed
Jodi Peterson
Jodi Peterson
Nov 04, 2010 08:23 AM
The most recent comment on this thread was removed because it contained a personal attack. Our comment policy is here:
- Jodi Peterson, HCN Managing Editor
Brian McIntosh
Brian McIntosh
May 01, 2011 11:05 AM
Broman Kerby Ron well put! These people don't under stand the spawn is over and the fry are heading back! While being fed by the dredger! Gill nets real problem chief!!! Two cents from californiastan! What ever happen with the spotted owl?