Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 10, 2019

Contact: Sophia Ressler, (206) 399-4004,   

Washington House to Vote on Bill to Protect Endangered Fish, Rivers From Toxic Suction Dredge Mining

OLYMPIA, Wash.— In a vote that could come as early as today, the Washington House of Representatives will consider a bill to protect salmon and waterways from harmful suction dredge mining.

The destructive mining practice vacuums up stream bottoms and riverbeds in search of gold. It also destroys important habitat for endangered fish and increases sediment and toxic mercury in waterways. Suction dredge mining is currently not tracked or monitored in Washington, despite the state’s commitment to restoring salmon habitat.

The bill, S.B. 5322, would prohibit suction dredge mining in habitat for endangered salmon and help bring Washington into compliance with laws protecting fish and water quality. It would also create rules similar to measures in California, Oregon and Idaho meant to protect water quality and endangered species.

“This bill will go a long way toward protecting Washington’s salmon and waterways from this toxic mining,” said Sophia Ressler, a Washington-based staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Taxpayers have spent millions of dollars to restore salmon habitat, but we still allow a small group of hobby miners to trash critical spawning areas. Creating common-sense measures to regulate this harmful mining practice is an essential step for protecting our endangered salmon and the highly imperiled orcas that rely on them for survival.”

Suction dredge miners use gas-powered dredges to suck up the bottom of riverbeds and streambeds. This suspends heavy metals and other sediments, putting endangered fish like salmon and bull trout, and their habitat, in peril.

Washington does not currently require water-quality permits or even nominal fees for the practice, and there is no monitoring or tracking of suction dredge mining. Idaho, Oregon and California have all enacted programs to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act and protect endangered species. Washington is the only state with endangered Pacific salmon and whales that allows suction dredge mining without effective regulatory oversight.

The bill would protect water quality and wildlife, while continuing to allow recreational mining on other waterways with a permit. It has been passed by the state Senate and, if approved by the state House, would go to the governor for signature..

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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