"The Shop-Vac Pirates" - Interview with "Fish Not Gold" (WA) Director Kim McDonald, PhD, by Willi Paul, Planetshifter.com Media
"The Shop-Vac Pirates" - Interview with "Fish Not Gold" (WA) Director Kim McDonald, PhD, by Willi Paul, Planetshifter.com Media

Introduction -

"Washington's rivers are slowly being destroyed by a few hobby miners. Destruction of redds, refugia, and release of toxic metals are just a few of the problems resulting from suction dredge mining.

Suction dredge miners routinely remove or displace in-stream boulders, root wads, and logs from streams to gain access to the gravel under them. These objects provide fish with critical habitat, and when moved, put fish at risk. There are currently no provisions for requiring miners to replace habitat or to repair or remediate the damage they've caused.

In 2013, Washington State taxpayers spent over $216 million in salmon and steelhead restoration projects. Many of those projects are jeopardized by suction dredge miners. The WDFW literally has no idea where miners are operating or when. The department does not track where miners work or when and are unable to monitor their activities or provide enforcement.

Mining laws in Washington State are appallingly behind current science. Years of longitudinal studies in California have concluded the cumulative impacts from suction dredging on salmon, steelhead, and resident trout populations, are enormous. Washington State has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in restoring salmon, steelhead, and trout streams. Countless numbers of volunteer hours are devoted to work in riparian areas. Yet a suction dredge miner, with a pry bar, a winch, and a dredge, can undo all that work in a matter of moments.

The administrators of our state's mining program, the Washington Department of Fish and Game (WDFW), have no idea who is mining, where they are mining, or when they are mining. The only permit a miner needs to suction dredge for gold in Washington is to download a copy of the state's Gold and Fish pamphlet. There are no licensing fees. And despite a requirement that miners notify the appropriate federal agencies where they are mining, most do not because they don't want to invite any scrutiny of their actions."

content from: Fish Not Gold Web Site

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Interview with Kim by Willi -

Who is giving you straight answers and which parties are giving you the run-around?

As the the volunteer director of Fish Not Gold I would say in the "activist" world, we get straight answers from our colleagues who have tackled this issue in Oregon and California. We generally get an effective run-around from government agencies that should be doing a better job enforcing their own regulations, the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Water Act.

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Is Fish Not Gold the "last stand" for fish and stream health in WA?

No. There are many, many components for helping our endangered runs of salmon, steelhead, and bull trout. Our work on reducing the impacts of suction dredge mining is but one of the components. It is one that can be accomplished if policy makers had the will, but like many impediments to recovering salmon, steelhead, and bull trout, there is very little political will.

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How are the politics between Fish Not Gold, Trout Unlimited and the Government these days?

Generally activists have found that trying to work with government agencies is sometimes effective and sometimes frustrating. But we should persist at not only trying to make our natural world better but also our democratic world better, that is, to work within the system and use all the tools available. Participating in our public sphere can be a frustrating experience, but collaboration is often far better than confrontation in the long run.

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Are the hobbyist dredgers typically older white males, unemployed?

Don't know about their general employment status, but the white older male demographic is generally descriptive of the suction dredge miner.

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"Suction dredges are essentially gas powered floating shop-vacs. A large nozzle (generally 4"in diameter) sucks up gravel and sediment, then the dredge runs it through a sluice. The sediment and lighter gravel are deposited in long plumes downstream while the heavier metals such as gold, rest in the sluice. Miners who work areas that have been mined, also disturb significant amounts of mercury, used years ago to amalgamate gold flecks into nuggets."

What are the basic remediation strategies?

Restoring streams hammered by suction dredge mining is similar to restoration techniques used for salmon, steelhead, bull trout. Providing cool, clean water with sufficient in-stream flows. Shady riparian areas, sufficient in-stream cover against predators, etc.

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How much gold is in the WA streams, really?

The streams where suction dredge mining is occurring in Washington are streams where mining has been active for over a century. While there is no survey of quantity of gold, anecdotal evidence is showing the miners are not recovering any significant amounts.

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"A retired mining engineer stated, "Large scale miners have to follow all sorts of regulations. These hobby miners with their suction dredges can do more damage than a large gold mine, because they are not regulated and there is no enforcement."

What is your plan to regulate and enforce?

A few thoughts on that. Washington State currently has no idea who is mining, when, and where. So one of the first things we are seeking is a system to monitor (and enforce if necessary) where the mining is occurring and by whom so if there are issues, we can hold the miners accountable.

Second, Washington State is the epicenter of Endangered Species listings for anadromous and residential trout and salmon. We spend hundreds of millions in taxpayer and hydroelectric rate payer dollars in restoring critical habitat for salmon, steelhead, and bull trout. Yet the miners are allowed into the streams that are listed as critical habitat and can destroy not only the remaining habitat but restoration projects. We would like to see the miners not be allowed to suction dredge on those critical streams. If they want to pan for gold, fine, but they should not be allowed to put a suction dredge in those streams. We would like to see the dredges subject to similar regulations as other floating devices in order to ensure invasive species don't get into our fragile waterways.

And last, we believe the miners should pay a licensing fee to assist the agencies in paying for regulatory costs, like anglers and hunters pay a licensing fee. Unfortunately in this day and age we have become a pay to play society and the miners should stop getting a free ride.

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Background Reading -

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Connections -

Kim McDonald, PhD
Fish Not Gold
shelterwood55 at comcast.net

Willi Paul
Mythologist & Transition Entrepreneur
PlanetShifter.com Media | Academia.edu Portfolio
@planetshifter @openmythsource @PermacultureXch
willipaul1 at gmail.com