Suction dredging in your backyard

In Oregon by Shauna Sherard

This week, anglers will gather for a hearing on House Bill 2467. If passed, this legislation will bring some much needed reform to rules (or lack thereof) regulating suction dredging in the state of Washington.

[Show your support for HB 2467 by attending the hearing: House Hearing Room B at the John L. O’Brien Building Olympia, WA. Time: 8a.m. Or, tell the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee you support this legislation.]

But before we get too far in the weeds on how we feel prospectors should be required to purchase licenses, or observe seasons, or minimize their impact in sensitive habitats – all measures of accountability other sportsmen and women have long expected…we thought we’d take a look at where this activity is occurring.

Turns out, it’s pretty widespread.

Suction dredging map_steelhead

Suction Dredging and Steelhead in Washington

Suction dredging map_ESA Critical Habitat

Suction Dredging and fisheries in Washington

Suction dredging map from Tim Hyatt_web

Suction dredging map courtesy Tim Hyatt, fish biologist for the Skagit River System Cooperative.

The points on the maps come with a number of caveats, says Crystal Elliot, a suction dredging expert for Trout Unlimited:

  • These point features on the WDFW Gold and Fish Individual HPAs map are primarily limited to those prospecting operations permitted under HPAs, which (according to Jeff Davis at WDFW) amount to only about 5% of total suction dredging in WA. The other 95% of the operations happen under the auspices of the Gold and Fish Pamphlet, which are not tracked. In short, the points on the map represent about 2.5 percent of all the suction dredging in Washington.
  • Even with tracking limitations, the maps do decent job of providing a picture of the geographic distribution of  suction dredging across the state. In general, prospecting happens in hotspots of historic mining activity, and these areas get hammered.
  • There are definitely areas being impacted that are not represented in the data due to lack of tracking. The Methow River is one of these.