I have been a small-scale miner and gold prospector for 12 years, and I'm a member of the Northwest Mineral Prospector's Club, a nonprofit organization with more than 600 members.
NWMPC was established in 1981 by individuals who had a common interest in prospecting and gold mining so members could meet to discuss these topics and teach others how to use a pan, sluice and suction dredge to find gold. NWMPC provides education on current rules and regulations that govern mining. Small-scale miners in Oregon, are regulated by the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon Division of State Lands, as well as county governments regarding fees, permits, reports and regulations, and we must comply or we can lose our equipment and be fined and/or imprisoned.
Starting in 1987, members of NWMPC have taught thousands of individuals how to pan for gold for a small price. NWMPC currently operates a panning booth at the Sportsmen's Show, Salem Ag-Fest, Clackamas County Fair and Hockinson Fun Days. NWMPC uses real gold in its panning booth and those who pan get to keep the gold they find.
In 1995 the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife asked for assistance in cleaning silt that had collected in Gray's River and was impeding salmon from going upstream to spawn. NWMPC, using its dredges, pumped the silt from the stream and then WDFW spread cleaned river rock into the stream. In the spring of 1996 members of WDFW and NWMPC were delighted to see the salmon had returned to Gray's River.
In 2004 NWMPC was asked to help save the Wood's Landing chum salmon (endangered species, 1999) spawning ground. Part of the spawning ground had been smothered by a plume of sand, killing many fish. NWMPC launched six dredges to remove most of the sand, carefully so that redds were not sucked up. It is not known how many baby chum salmon were saved, but a week later, WDFW reported seeing 571 baby salmon.
In 2011 and 2012, NWMPC was contacted by the Forest Service to interact with some summer student interns and teach about prospecting and mining. NWMPC jumped at the opportunity. There were about 20 students who were taught how to pan and sluice for gold, and were able to watch the operation of two dredges. We also gave a brief history of gold mining in Oregon.
In 2012, NWMPC was contacted by the Forest Service to assist with placing pole fencing to help protect areas of sensitive vegetation that were being destroyed by off-road vehicles. NWMPC answered with approximately 20 members helping put up approximately 15 fences.
There is proven science that the use of suction dredges aerates the streambed and loosens the gravels, making it easier for fish to make their nests. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has stated that use of suction dredges has a de minimus effect on fish and fish habitat. The use of suction dredges does not pollute the water, as there is nothing added to the water.
In the many years I have been prospecting I have never seen any environmentalist out cleaning up the forest or streams. It seems they just want to file lawsuits to keep people from enjoying the forests and finding a little gold. We are not only miners/prospectors, but also fishermen, hunters and campers who spend money in small rural communities buying food, fuel and equipment, which helps local economies. If miners are banned as some want, it will impact the economy of this state. The Oregon Legislature has many bills that are being proposed and sent to committee to ban mining and also take away private property rights. These bills must be stopped!
Oregon has had a rich history of mining. If it weren't for mining, where would we get the steel that is used in construction, aluminum for airplanes, gold, silver and copper for electronics? The next time you hear about miners and the destruction of the environment ask to see the science they are using to determine small-scale mining is so bad. Talk to some miners in your area and have an open mind. You will find miners want a good environment too!
Jon Becker of Portland is a board member and past president of the Northwest Mineral Prospector's Club.