Legislation Introduced to Protect Water Quality and Wild Salmon

For Immediate Release
February 19, 2013

John Ward, Rogue Flyfishers (Medford), 541-482-2859
Frank Armendariz, River Trail Outfitters (Eugene), 541-228-4084

Legislation Introduced to Protect Water Quality and Wild Salmon
SB 401 would curb destructive suction dredge mining in Oregon’s iconic waterways

Salem, OR — Local businesses, outdoor enthusiasts, and conservation organizations applaud the recent introduction of Senate Bill 401 by Senator Alan Bates (D-Medford/Ashland) which would protect 30 rivers as State Scenic Waterways in recognition of their outstanding scenic vistas, value to fish and wildlife, and importance as sources of drinking water.

“Safeguarded rivers attract river enthusiasts, which means more business and more people enjoying them for the long term,” says Frank Armendariz, owner of River Trail Outfitters in Eugene. “As our population grows so will demand for river access, and that underscores the critical need to protect these special rivers.”

SB 401 would protect segments of the Rogue, Illinois, South Umpqua, Grande Ronde, Sandy, Molalla, and other renowned rivers across the state. A State Scenic Waterway designation maintains free-flowing waters in their natural state, and protects water quality and quantity at a level necessary for municipal sources, recreation, and fish and wildlife. Inclusion in the system also means these rivers would be protected from damaging suction dredge mining, a practice involving the use of gasoline-powered vacuums, mounted on floating rafts, to suck up riverbed sands and gravels in search of gold.

“World-class rivers like the Illinois, Rogue, and South Umpqua have become ground zero for destructive suction dredge mining in our state, and this practice is impacting imperiled wild salmon runs,” says John Ward of Rogue Flyfishers. “This designation will benefit salmon recovery as water quality and fish habitat get protected.”

California placed a moratorium on suction dredge mining in 2010 due to its impacts on imperiled salmon. With the moratorium in place and gold prices near all-time highs, many California suction dredge miners have moved operations north to target Oregon rivers, including the Rogue, Illinois, and South Umpqua.

Increases in suction dredging in Oregon on places like the Rogue River have led to complaints from nearby landowners of illegal trespassing and noisy engines running in the river, as well as river damage to salmon habitat.

If successful, SB 401 would represent the third addition to the State Scenic Waterway system. In 1970, Oregonians voted by a two-to-one margin to create the system, following a successful citizens’ initiative petition. The program originally contained all or part of six rivers but has grown through additional initiatives to include 19 rivers as well as Waldo Lake. The system was last updated in 1988.