Washington State Suction Dredge Mining Reform Updates

In Live Action Alerts, Washington by Jenny Weis

Update from Dean Finnerty, Northwest Director on Outreach from Summer, 2018:  

Thank you to dozens of supporters for your interest and willingness to engage and help protect fish life, water quality and make meaningful changes to rules and regulations for motorized suction dredge prospecting in Washington’s rivers and streams. If you want to be part of this team, the best way to do so is to sign up for our emails!

Your voices were heard and are now a part of the written record being considered by Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission members. The comments received during the public comment period you participated in showed OVERWHELMING support (104 to 1) for adoption of rules that would bring the state into compliance with state and federal laws under the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.   

Unfortunately, the agency (WDFW Habitat Program staff) has taken a different route and created a rulemaking process that was so narrowly focused that virtually nothing will change with the rulemaking process.  The likely outcome will simply be a “form-style” Hydraulic Approval Permit that will do nothing to bring the state and the agency into compliance with the laws mentioned above and improve protections for Washington’s native fish and water quality.  

Finding a Solution for Washington’s Waters:  

In addition to participating in the rulemaking process, we’ve been working hard to find other solutions to the problem. We recently met with executive staff at the Department of Ecology, which has authority over National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits (water pollution enforcement and authority) for Washington State, to try and get their help and involvement in this issue, which clearly is within their purview. They expressed deep concern about Washington’s ability or willingness to make substantive changes to suction dredge mining, but simply put, they don’t have the resources to deal with this.   

While these efforts have not made the headway we hoped for, there is some good news. Because of the vision and leadership of the Snoqualmie Tribe, other tribes in Washington have taken an active role in shining a spot light on this issue with the Governor and his staff and agency heads. At the recent “Centennial Accords” meeting, suction dredge mine reform was on the agenda and Matt Baerwalde from the Snoqualmie Tribe gave an amazing presentation that put the Governor on notice that this is an issue that needs his attention, especially given the recent international attention given to the plight of the orca whales in Puget Sound. How can we expect to improve conditions for orcas and their primary food source (salmon) if we’re not going to protect the hundreds of millions of dollars we’ve invested in salmon recovery and habitat restoration from destructive actions like suction dredge mining?  

Shifting Focus to the Legislature 

It is clear that if we are going to make substantive changes to suction dredge mining laws in Washington, the direction is going to have to come from the State Legislature.  In the 2019 legislative session, we’ll work to ensure protections for and ESA-listed fish and their critical habitats, and we will need your help to execute it.   

Success this Legislative Session requires YOU! 

In the coming weeks, we’ll begin providing you with information on how you can help.  We’ll need your voices to be heard by your elected officials representing you in Olympia.   

There are a few key ways you can help:  

  1. Send a letter (and make a meeting!) with your legislator. We’ve made it easy to do so at this page. 
  1. Sign up for our emails. We’ll reach out to you with clear, concise directions and materials that you can use to make your voice heard. Click here to sign up. 
  1. Share the sign-up page with your friends and neighbors in Washington. Here is the link again. 

With your help, we’re confident we’ll soon see a day when Washington rivers and streams are protected from motorized suction dredge mining. Thanks for sticking with us! 


Dean Finnerty 

Trout Unlimited