First Dredge-Mining Season Opens in Nez Perce-Clearwater
BOISE, Idaho - Suction dredge mining will be allowed for the first time in a long time on the South Fork of the Clearwater River, French Creek and Orogrande Creek in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, as part of a new permit system announced by the U.S. Forest Service. Up to 15 miners will be allowed to operate for a one-month period, starting late next week. Dredging was closed three years ago in all areas considered critical habitat for endangered species, but many miners set up their machines anyway, dredging up the river bottom in search of gold.
Jonathan Oppenheimer, the senior conservation associate with the Idaho Conservation League said, "You've basically got a new system in place this year that is going to attempt to better control the illegal mining that we saw last year."
He said dredging can harm fish and unearth heavy metals that were once trapped in the riverbed, so violations are not treated lightly. Last week, the EPA charged two miners with violating the Clean Water Act, and the men could now face fines of $16,000 apiece.
Oppenheimer said local mining advocates have publicly announced plans to flout the rules in protest, and a California-based group, the American Mining Rights Association, is promoting a dredging "event" for the South Fork of the Clearwater from July 15th through August 12th.
"The Forest Service and the state are both going to be doing inspections, and we expect that the EPA will as well," he said. "There's the potential for some citizen monitoring as well. So, there will be a lot of folks watching to see whether or not the miners are complying with the rules this year."
Miners will now have to get three separate permits: one each from the state, the Forest Service and the EPA. So far, a dozen people have applied.