As a scientist, engineer and miner, I was asked to participate in the Oregon Governor’s SB 838 Study Group on mining.
This Study Group is comprised of many interests including members of state and federal agencies, tribal members, recreationalists, environmentalists, and miners; and was formed to submit recommendations to the governor who will pass on his recommendation to the 2015 Oregon Legislature regarding necessary legislation and a revised and simplified regulatory framework for motorized placer mining in Oregon, as called for in SB 838. The group has been meeting monthly since May, with its last meeting scheduled for October 9, 2014.
Of major concern is the five-year moratorium on all small-scale motorized placer mining (in-stream and up to 100 yards to either side of the stream) now in SB 838 (scheduled to begin January 2, 2016). One of the Study Group’s tasks is to study small-scale placer mining and then make a recommendation by November, 2014, as to whether the moratorium is needed or desirable, and if not, recommend that the 2015 Legislature amend SB 838 by passing a bill removing the moratorium from the statutes. The group may also make recommendations regarding restrictions on mining added in SB 838, along with future permitting schemes.
This has not been an easy task. The group has not been presented the best available science related to mining using motorized equipment, so recommendations to the governor will be based upon a biased, misunderstanding of the science.
State agencies have presented selective and even hobby science to the study group. Absent in the presentations and proceedings were “the best available science” as required by law in SB 838. Also absent was any science that showed that small-scale motorized mining near and in streams has harmed human health or the environment.
Attempts by responsible mining interests to articulate concerns were continuously truncated by the state’s selected study group mediator, making voicing our concerns nearly impossible. The concerns of the attending environmental activists, however, were allowed free opportunity for lengthy oration (which could not be debated due to lack of time), as were the concerns of the regulatory agencies who already have an inbred bias towards more restrictions and more funding. To further predetermine the study group’s recommendations, the study group’s members, and meeting agendas, were selected by the state and the state chosen mediator. Thus, altogether, the group meetings, presentations and discussions were not fair and neutral to all participating parties, which was one of the group’s operating principles.
Examples of what the miners in the group have faced include: Right from the first group meeting it was apparent that they did not want to hear about our rights, the Mining Law, or about any science we had; and although the state burned up at least 3-4 hours presenting information just on mollusks and lamprey eels (without even showing mining has harmed either), the miners were afforded all of one (1) hour of one meeting to give a presentation explaining all forms of small-scale placer mining, including suction dredge mining, to the group—most of whom had no knowledge of mining whatsoever. (This ignorance of mining was most apparent when many group members thought suction dredge mining was the one and only form of placer mining—which makes us wonder if those who wrote and passed SB 838 acted under the same misconception).
The Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) stated at our meeting held September 11, 2014, that “precautionary principles” will be followed when designating Essential Salmon Habitat (ESH) streams, eliminating any need to show actual harm. The current General Authorization permit issued by the Oregon Dept. of State Lands (DSL) for activities within areas designated as ESH prohibits mining of over 25 cubic yards in and within 300 feet of the stream’s high water mark, including mining on claims and private land. Dredges are limited to a 4” nozzle opening with no more than 16 hp. The five-year moratorium (if it isn’t canceled in 2015) will be a prohibition on all motorized placer mining in or within 300 feet to either side of any stream that has any portion designated as ESH, or habitat for Bull Trout (i.e.; even if just a portion of a stream is ESH, the whole stream will be affected even if dry during the year). The only exempted mining will be operations requiring a permit from DOGAMI (required if moving more than 5,000 yd3/year). At present, approximately 85% of all Oregon streams are designated ESH.
Chinook salmon will become an indicator species for pacific lamprey habitat that is not even on the USFWS endangered species list to determine ESH streams. In addition, the state will list 303(d) streams for sediment, turbidity, toxics or heavy metals and prohibit mining based again upon “precautionary principles.” These 303(d) stream listings will not have public comment input, which could allow for the best available science to be presented or reviewed. Precautionary principles are described as “when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically” (www.sehn.org). Thus, the state agencies of Oregon will select science and establish biased cause and effect relationships promoted by environmental activists to prohibit and ban our activities on public and private lands and to further restrict, obstruct, and stop mining in Oregon.
A five-year moratorium on all small-scale motorized placer mining in Oregon goes into effect January 2, 2016, unless the Oregon Legislature acts in 2015 to take a different path. The State of Oregon does not view this moratorium to be a taking, arguing that miners, claim and private property owners will still be allowed to use limited non-motorized methods.
WAKE UP VOTERS!
They have closed our forests to most logging and now they are burning. They have shut down all suction dredge mining in California since 2008. They want to close our roads on public land (built by taxpayer funds) to keep us and our disabled veterans out. And it won’t stop with just mining. I heard one of the environmental activists say at the study group meeting that they want to ban jet boats while an ODOJ attorney acknowledged that dissolved air from jet boat pumps could be classified as a pollutant. What activity will be prohibited next on our public land? Will it be skiing, hiking, bird watching, swimming, hunting, camping, fishing, picking berries, mushrooms and herbs, rafting, firewood cutting, flying kites, watching a sunrise, enjoying a picnic or even hugging trees?
Like California, mining is a major part of Oregon’s heritage. In the next elections, cast your vote for those candidates who support the public use of public lands. Our state senators, representatives and governor need to hear from you this November. Please VOTE, and urge others to vote. Fighting these kinds of battles in court are too expensive and take way too long, with uncertain results.
August 2014 Representative Paul Shepherd stopped by, and Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik dove with one of the dredgers so he could see for himself that no harm was being done to fish or their habitat.