Suction dredging benefits rivers, community.
The Register-Guard's March 4 editorial that came out blatantly against suction dredging makes it obvious why the recent mining rally in Salem was not covered in this newspaper.
By showing only one side of an issue, the editors do a great disservice not only to themselves but to the community that they are supposed to serve.
I have been suction dredging since 1980 in Oregon and California, and I am the owner-operator of a hard rock mine in Baker County. I am a third-generation Oregonian, so I know a little bit about the subject. I wonder how much dredging experience the editors have that enables them to render such an opinion.
While gold mining in the past century did damage waterways, suction dredging is in no way like those practices.
In fact, due to the installation of dams and other water diversion projects over the last 100 years, our rivers have been altered more than ever before. Suction dredging helps mitigate the damage caused by these practices. I will appeal to common sense to make my point.
When suction dredging in a river or creek, it is common for fish to be right there dredging with you. They swarm up to see what kinds of food you are digging up for them. They also go through the dredge itself over and over again, like a carnival ride.
When I inquired about this unusual activity, a California state fish biologist who worked in the area we were dredging explained that since the installation of the dams, the rivers have been slowed down a lot, allowing parasites in the water to flourish. Without fast-moving water, the parasites build up in the fishes' gills, and they have problems breathing. That is why they ride through the dredge - it's to remove parasites.
Not only that, the biologist continued, but slowing down our rivers causes the gravels to cement together, depriving the fish of loose gravel to spawn in. Dredging breaks up the cemented gravels and turns them into perfect spawning beds.
I am sure this biologist no longer has a job with the state.
After hearing this, I thought: Wow, that makes perfect sense. No wonder we had native 36-inch German browns throughout the creek we had been dredging for years.
We let our mining claims go back to the government in the 1980s after getting too much hassle from the government. Since then the property has been traded to a private corporation. The fish are gone now, except for a few small ones.
As for the issue of mercury: Yes, we sometimes dredge up mercury, and we remove it from the river. It sticks to our gold and then has to be removed by a retort - the mercury is separated from the gold and recaptured in a sealed container.
We also remove many pounds of lead that have been put into the rivers by other people including fishermen. So we are actually cleaning up the streams by removing toxic materials.
On the seal of the flag of the great state of Oregon is a miner's pick, symbolizing the importance of mining and its impact on the state. Gold mining continues to be a mainstay of our economy. It could do even more and put a lot of people to work at family wage jobs with full benefits, filling state coffers.
We should be doing more to promote mining in our beautiful state. It is one of the best outdoor family activities you can find. If it weren't for mining, the town of Sumpter, where I now live, would cease to exist - as would several other small communities in Southern and Eastern Oregon.
Gold mining provides jobs, creates wealth, pays taxes, brings in tourist dollars and helps our state. I urge everyone to visit Sumpter Dredge State Park and see for themselves the unique habitat with its fish, elk, deer, eagles, osprey and other wildlife.
Gold miners also care about the great outdoors, because we work and live there. We want to continue, and hope that everyone leaves an area better than they found it.
Please, if you pack it in, pack it out.
Darold Smith of Sumpter is a dredge and hard-rock miner.