The Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) is considering weakening suction dredge mining rules in the South Fork Clearwater River of North-Central Idaho.
The South Fork Clearwater provides habitat for numerous sensitive species and is designated as critical habitat for species listed under the Endangered Species Act, including steelhead, bull trout, Chinook salmon, Pacific lamprey and others. Further, the South Fork is recovering after decades of harmful mining, and isn’t meeting water quality standards.
Under rules prescribed by federal and state partners with oversight and authority over the river, up to 15 dredges are permitted each summer. The rules, established in 2016, are designed to reduce potential harm to threatened species and to protect clean water while still allowing recreational suction dredge mining.
Nonetheless, under pressure from a handful of miners, IDWR is considering weakening conditions and expanding the number of dredges, regardless of whether other agencies (such as the Forest Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and NOAA-Fisheries) agree.
Based on the limited monitoring and oversight that’s occurred, it’s unclear whether the existing rules are protective enough. Still, there’s no question that the 2016 rules that were put in place, have helped to limit out-of-control mining and established a system of accountability.
That’s why we’re concerned that IDWR is considering weakening these rules.
The South Fork Clearwater River and some of its tributaries-including Red River, Crooked River, American River, Newsome Creek and others-are recovering from decades of historic dredge mining. In fact, the Forest Service, EPA and other agencies have invested millions of dollars to restore fish habitat in nearby Crooked River after years of industrial dredge mining. Restored fisheries in the area are estimated to be worth $23 million to the local economy.
While the current dredge mines operate on a much smaller scale, the watersheds deserve a chance to recover from historic damage, and to ensure that the river meets basic water quality standards. And miners must consistently comply with the laws before we consider opening any more sensitive areas to their recreational pastime.
What You Can Do
[Deadline is past.] IDWR is considering comments until Tuesday, Dec. 19, on whether to change the rules to protect water quality and fisheries in the South Fork Clearwater River. It’s important that you take a moment to let IDWR know that you want to see the river managed to protect clean water-for current and future generations alike.