Especially telling is that the New York Times didn’t want to publish a miner’s response to it (we will):

First- The hit piece:

Op-Ed Contributors

A Mining Law Whose Time Has Passed

IN 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a mining law to spur the development of the West by giving hard-rock mining precedence over other uses of federal land. But the law has long since outlived its purpose, and its environmental consequences have been severe.

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Mining claims for copper, gold, uranium and other minerals cover millions of those acres, and the law, now 140 years old, makes it nearly impossible to block extraction, no matter how serious the potential consequences. Soaring metal prices are now driving new mine proposals across the West.

Oregon’s Chetco River is one example. The river’s gin-clear waters teem with wild trout and salmon, including giant Chinook salmon tipping scales at more than 60 pounds. In 1988, Congress designated the Chetco a national wild and scenic river “to be protected for the benefit of present and future generations.”

But the river is now threatened by proposals to mine gold along almost half of its approximately 55-mile length. Suction dredges would vacuum up the river bottom searching for gold, muddying water and disrupting clean gravel that salmon need to spawn. Despite the Chetco’s rich fishery and status as a wild and scenic river, the United States Forest Service is virtually powerless to stop the mining because of the 1872 law.

As Michael P. Dombeck, a former chief of the Forest Service, explained to a Senate committee in 2008, “it is nearly impossible to prohibit mining under the current framework of the 1872 mining law, no matter how serious the impacts might be.”

Under the law, mining companies — not the government — decide whether and where to file their claims on public land. (National parks, monuments and wilderness areas are excluded.) Federal agencies review the plans, but they are approved as a matter of course. Mining companies pledge to protect rivers threatened by their operations. But the industry’s track record hardly inspires confidence.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that headwater streams in 40 percent of Western watersheds are polluted by mining. A scientific review in 2006 of 25 modern Western mines by the environmental group Earthworks found that more than three-fourths resulted in water contamination. Over all, the E.P.A. has estimated that it will cost $20 billion to $54 billion to clean up abandoned mine sites.

As fisheries scientists, we are deeply concerned about the impact mining has had on our nation’s dwindling fisheries and the inadequacy of the 1872 law to regulate modern mining. In contrast to the pick-and-shovel operations of a century ago, most modern mines are large-scale operations that use toxic chemicals to extract metals from the ore, and they generate vast amounts of mine waste. After these mines close, treating the polluted water in perpetuity is often necessary.

At Oregon’s Formosa mine, for instance, toxic metal-laden drainage from mines is contaminating 18 miles of prime salmon habitat. In Montana, the Zortman Landusky Mine has polluted a dozen streams with arsenic, selenium and other harmful metals. The acidic runoff will continue for centuries.

Last year, the Kensington mine in Alaska was permitted to dispose of toxic mine waste directly into a freshwater lake, decimating its native fish population. The Rock Creek and Montanore mines are proposing to tunnel under the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in Montana. Scientists predict that these mines will deplete flows in wilderness streams, including essential habitat for the region’s threatened bull trout.

At the request of members of the Oregon Congressional delegation, the Forest Service proposed to withdraw a portion of the Chetco River temporarily from the jurisdiction of the 1872 mining law while seeking additional protection. This type of stopgap effort highlights the need for a comprehensive overhaul of the archaic law.

In a 2010 paper published in the journal Fisheries, we recommended important mining policy changes. Federal land managers must have discretion to balance mining with other land uses, and say “no” to mine proposals when necessary. No mines should be approved that can result in perpetual water pollution. There should be clear environmental standards, requirements to restore fish and wildlife habitat to pre-mining conditions and sufficient reclamation bonds to cover the full cost of cleanup. A dedicated source of funding should be established to pay for cleanup of the thousands of abandoned mines that continue to pollute our streams.

The mining industry has powerful friends in Washington, however, and nothing has come of our proposals or of other reform efforts. Now Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, is pushing a measure that would require mining companies to pay a royalty equal to what other industries have been paying for decades, provide safeguards for clean water and give communities and agencies a say about where mining is permitted.

The bill merits broad bipartisan support. It is unwise to let this 140-year-old law continue to operate at the expense of clean water, healthy fisheries, public lands and taxpayer dollars. America’s mining law must be brought into the 21st century.

Robert M. Hughes and Carol Ann Woody are fisheries scientists based in Corvallis, Ore., and Anchorage, respectively.




In response to A Mining Law Whose Time Has Passed, By ROBERT M. HUGHES and CAROL ANN WOODY, January 11, 2012.


We have known Bob Hughes for many years. He is a respectable scientist. However, he is clearly a “fish out of water” on small-scale suction dredge mining issues. I do not know what motivated him to write comments regarding hardrock mining and carelessly interjecting comments on the Chetco River and suction dredge mining. This juxtaposition of one size fits all information infers that small-scale suction dredge mining is killing fish and spilling chemicals into America’s waterways. This was very sloppy work and is unbefitting a published scientist. I also question why a theoretically unbiased fisheries scientist would leave the realm of science to write an op-ed piece for the New York Times. He and his co-author carelessly threw out data not related to suction dredge mining and used it as if the data could somehow be projected across years of improved mining techniques.

We are retired USEPA scientists and have spent considerable time researching the potential effects of suction dredging on the environment. I have come to see that there are many benefits of suction dredging. Benefits of habitat restoration by suction dredge mining include, but are not limited to: loosening compacted or embedded gravels; cleaning spawning gravels of embedding sediment allowing for spawning in these otherwise unavailable reaches of waterways; creating deep hole resting and protection areas in streams (refugia) used by fish to get out of the current and in some cases cool down and avoid predation; improved population diversity; and food stirred up by dredging increases fish weight and health.

I would love to know what peer-reviewed journal articles specifically written on the effects of suction dredge mining that Bob Hughes and Carol Woody used to form their opinion when they stated, “Suction dredges would vacuum up the river bottom searching for gold, muddying water and disrupting clean gravel that salmon need to spawn.” Why do they believe it is acceptable to blatantly disregard the published data that have demonstrated that the effects of small-scale suction dredging on the environment is less than significant and potentially beneficial to fish habitat. At the same time they refer to adverse effects from other forms (not modern suction dredging) of historic mining and use that data as factual information to smear small-scale suction dredge miners. This is just wrong, poor judgment, and bad scientific interpretation of published science regarding small-scale suction dredging.

Suction dredging in Oregon is regulated federally by the 1866 and 1872 Mining Laws and the appropriate Federal agency governing the lands where the mining will occur. It is also heavily regulated by State agencies.  Suction dredge rules are in place to ensure that clean water is protected. In our state, it is regulated by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. In-Water work times are governed by the Oregon Department Fish and Wildlife to ensure suction dredge mining does not occur during the fish’s sensitive early life stages.

In most of the rivers and streams in the Western United States small-scale gold suction dredging occurs for less than 4-month out of each year.  No suction dredging occurs during spawning season as so many of these irrationally emotional written letters to the editor repeat time and again. Furthermore, small-scale suction dredging seldom occurs in locations on a river or stream where salmonids spawn. Salmonids prefer areas with water flow that would be sufficient to aerate the redds (nests). Suction dredgers work in low pressure areas of rivers and streams that salmonids would seldom select for spawning because of unsuitable water flow conditions.

We totally reject Dr. Hughes implied suggestion that chemicals would be used during a suction dredge operation. This is totally false and misleading.  This goes to the issue of Hughes and Woody improperly inserting comments about small-scale suction dredging while discussing the effects of large scale land mining. Let me say loudly and clearly for Dr. Hughes and his cohorts to hear…SUCTION DREDGING USES NO CHEMICALS IN THE PROCESS OF DREDGING.

A small-scale suction dredge does not generate mining waste! It simply lifts bottom material (sand and gravel usually less than 4-inches in diameter) in low-pressure areas of the waterway, flows it across a sluice box and returns the riverbed material not captured back into the waterway where it settles to the bottom. The sluicebox method is exactly the same as the hand boxes Dr. Hughes refers to as being less destructive and the outfall is the same class size that habitat restoration groups use to improve spawning gravels that are lacking adequate spawning material. The gold, other heavy metals, and trash such as lead weights used for fishing, nails, bolts, etc. are captured in the sluice box. Trash taken out of the water by dredgers is removed from the waterway and recycled. As is the trash left on shore by campers, fishermen, and picnickers.

Dr. Hughes also points to increased turbidity as a pollutant effecting fish. Turbidity although listed by USEPA as such is no more than a measurement of transmitted light from particles in the water that could be sediment or coloration from dissolved organic compounds. When I first started researching the effects of suction dredging on the environment I discussed this very issue of turbidity and its effect on fish with Dr. Hughes. His answer to me was that “fish do not care about turbidity” this sentiment is supported in the scientific literature as well.  Suction dredging is not performed with the intensity or the duration to cause harm to fish.


Claudia Wise

Suction Dredge Researcher

Physical Scientist, USEPA retired


Joseph Greene

Suction Dredge Researcher

Research Biologist, USEPA retired


The authors can be contacted for verification at:


Claudia Wise (541) 990-7009

34519 Riverside Drive SW

Albany, Oregon   97321


Joseph C. Greene (541) 929-5745

33180 Dorset Lane

Philomath, Oregon 97370-9555

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