What's the Fuss about Hobby Mining?
Recreational dredge mining amounts to more than a few flecks of gold.
Yesterday, the Associated Press reported on ICL's efforts to protect water quality, trout and salmon from recreational placer mining. This information generated lots of interest on our Facebook page. I also blogged about it a couple weeks ago.
Some quotes in the article downplay the impacts of suction dredge mining to water quality and fish. No doubt the Environmental Protection Agency has many priorities to juggle, given cuts to the federal budget. But as the article points out, hundreds of hobby miners take to Idaho streams each summer. With record-high gold prices, even more dredging will take place.
Dredge miners use a vacuum-like machine that floats on pontoons to suck up streambed sediment and gravel in search of gold. Since gold tends to be buried near the bedrock, large volumes of sediment and gravel must be dredged to secure any gold present.
Dredging stirs up sediment, decreasing water quality. When the sediment settles, it can cover fish eggs, depriving them of oxygen. Dredging can also create unstable gravel beds, which are actually appealing to fish. Unfortunately, these deceptive spawning beds are easily washed away during spring runoff, to the detriment of any fish eggs deposited in the artificial spawning beds.
These mining operations have gone virtually unregulated. Recognizing EPA's limited resources and mounds of priorities, ICL continues working for oversight of these operations for the benefit of our clean water, trout, and salmon.