Comments to DSL on proposed mining rules in essential salmon habitat

11 May 1998

Mr. Eric Metz
Policy and Planning Section
Division of State Lands
775 Summer St., NE
Salem, OR 97310

Dear Mr. Metz:

The Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society (ORAFS) appreciates the opportunity to comment on the Division of State Land’s proposed changes to administrative rules designating essential salmonid habitat. ORAFS is a volunteer organization of professionals in fisheries and aquatic sciences. We have over 500 members in Oregon, representing a diverse mix of scientists in federal, state, and tribal agencies, and in the private sector and higher education.

One goal of our Chapter is to promote the application of sound science to resource management decisions. The Oregon Chapter supports effective stewardship and conservation to maintain healthy ecosystems and recover degraded ecosystems for wild fish populations. We support the Division of State Land’s proposed changes to the administrative rules for the most part. These changes would significantly increase the stream miles designated as essential habitat. Fill and removal activities involving less than 50 cubic yards of volume can only be regulated within designated essential habitat. Therefore, the effect of the proposed rule change will be to significantly increase protection to salmonid populations by subjecting smaller fill and removal activities to DSL criteria concerning timing and location.

The proposed rules will also clearly articulate that unregulated agricultural activities do not apply to activities which block fish passage. Therefore push-up dams will be subject to the language of the proposed rules.

The proposed rules will also subject recreational and small-scale placer mining to regulation in essential salmonid habitat areas. It is here where we are a little concerned because best management practices have not yet been discussed. We understand that this discussion will take place and that we will be invited to participate. However, we are concerned that highly mechanized means will be used to mine for gold, with increasing power. The definitions at OAR 141-89-040 allow for motorized dredges, and the eligibility requirements at 141-89-050 1(l) allow for an increase in the power of the motors operating those dredges from ten to sixteen horsepower.

This four inch nozzle size allowed at OAR 141-89-040 moves precisely those gravels which are important for spawning salmonids. Moreover some of our membership have employed such a device with a 3.5 hp 2 cycle engine and found that it could displace a lot of gravel in short order. We prefer nonmechanized means only, and certainly oppose the increase in allowed engine size. Without proper enforcement, a smaller engine will take longer to cause the same disturbance. One cubic yard is a pick-up truck worth of gravel and with several thousand registered recreational miners in this state, cumulative impacts can be huge. A family of 5 could effectively disturb 25 pickup loads of stream gravel within a single year. For comparison, a coho or chinook salmon redd could occupy a volume of a one quarter cubic meter to three cubic meters, based on a surface area of two and half to ten square meters and an average egg deposition depth of twenty to thirty centimters (Meehan 1991). We argue that until we restore coho populations, a more reasonable annual limit should be 2 cubic yards per person or 5 cubic yards per family. We also note there are no provisions for filling holes, pits, furrows and potholes nor flattening out dredge piles in the stream proper. We are concerned that such activities can lead to destabilizing stream substrate and alter bedload transport processes, leading to a loss of spawning materials downstream. We urge that some provision be made in the new rules governing recreational mining in essential salmonid habitats.

We appreciate the efforts of the Division in formulating these proposed changes and are willing to support many of them as proposed. We still have concerns, but perhaps these will be alleviated as discussions concerning best management practices proceed.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.


Hal Weeks, President for the Executive Committee

c. Patty Snow, ODFW

Jim Myron, OR Trout

Ref. Meehan, W.R, ed. 1991. Influences of Forest and Rangeland Management on Salmonid Fishes and Their Habitats. Bethesda, MD. AFS Special Publication 19.