The U.S. Supreme Court has closed the book on a years-long battle to overturn a ban on suction dredge mining in Oregon’s salmon-bearing streams.
The court declined to hear their petition on Oregon’s 2017 ban on using industrial dredging machinery in streams that are critical coho salmon breeding grounds. The dredges suck up gravel from streambeds so miners could sift for precious metals.
Miners argued that a federal law dating back to the mid-1800s renders Oregon’s moratorium illegal.
“The mining law clearly states that all valuable mineral deposits on lands of the united states open to the mining law shall be free and open to exploration,” Tom Kitchar of Cave Junction said.
Kitchar is the president of the Waldo Mining District in Cave Junction.
Legal director Nick Cady with the environmental group Cascadia Wildlands says suction dredges destroy critical breeding grounds for coho salmon.
“It’s ridiculous, from our point of view, that a recreational mining activity should be allowed or permitted in areas where we’ve spent millions and millions of dollars restoring salmon habitat,” Cady said.
Kitchar said the ban went further than suction dredging.
“It’s a ban on all motorized equipment,” he said. “And the state has defined motorized equipment as anything not human-powered.”
Cady participated in study groups during the legislative process. He says the law is much narrower than that.
“If you're using a small piece of equipment, it’s not going to fall under the purview of the law,” Cady said. “But if you’re using a motor and you have over a 4-inch nozzle, then the restrictions will apply.”
The petition was essentially the miners’ last chance to challenge the state’s moratorium in court.