Last year, California ended the practice of dredge mining in their rivers. With the ban in effect, out of state miners have flooded into Southern Oregon rivers all armed with their $25 permits issued from the state of Oregon.

Last year, California ended the practice of dredge mining in their rivers. With the ban in effect, out of state miners have flooded into Southern Oregon rivers all armed with their $25 permits issued from the state of Oregon.

I have a long history with the "New '49ers," the miners association that organizes equipment and permits. I have seen what they have done to some of the great rivers in the West, how they camp streamside for months on public land and the incredible damage done to fish habitat.

Suction dredgers dive, staying underwater with oxygen tanks with a simple practice: move rocks, dig deep holes, vacuum up the sediment, and later put it in a sluice box to shake out the gold. Open engines with fuel, holes that don't fill in, and vacuuming up steelhead spawning grounds. All for $25 courtesy of Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality and Department of State Lands.

As a kid, I used to fall in these holes while wading. I would wade in 12 inches of water and take a step into a hidden miner hole 12 feet deep. Miners dump all the materials they remove downstream changing the entire structure and the hydraulics of rivers, fish habitat, and dirtying up the water downstream. Miners squat on public land, not in campgrounds. They live next to their rigs the entire season. The responsibility to have them "move on" falls on local law enforcement. As someone who has represented two large Southern Oregon counties for over a decade of thin public safety funding, I'll tell you our sheriff's deputies don't need this.

When I was first elected in 1999, this issue came up. While I did not then have the ability to stop the practice, I worked to ensure the diameter of the vacuum was limited and materials were placed upstream, instead of downstream, to fill in the holes. I remain OK with Oregonian recreational gold panners, but did not want these out-of-state commercial permits allowed in Oregon. This has not been an issue for years, but with the California ban in effect, miners from across the United States are rushing into Southern Oregon.

If you believe in protecting Oregon's rivers, you too should be outraged. If you're a taxpayer and believe in private property rights, you should be outraged. If you're a farmer who manages your land you'll agree this is wrong. No Oregonian has the right to go to Texas, Indiana or North Carolina (just a few of the miners' license plates I saw yesterday on the Rogue) and dredge their rivers' spawning grounds. So why are we giving that ability here in Oregon?

I took Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian to my son's favorite spot on the Applegate River to look for a few fish. I am an unashamed passionate steelheader. I'm raising the fifth generation Atkinson fly flinger. Two weeks ago my 7-year old and I caught trout and released them in a sandy bar next to our favorite run. At this same sandy bar I've taught him how to avoid stepping on fish eggs, how to indentify insects and how to leave no trace as we wade. Last night this same bar had an out-of-state dredge miner in it when Brad and I arrived. 25 bucks gave him the "right" to camp for months on public ground, set up a modern mine, transfer gasoline from the bank to his rig on the water, and destroy what the local community, both agriculture and conservationists, agreed was worth protecting.

I asked to see his permit and talked to him about his intentions. It was simple: He was going to use larger-diameter vacuum hoses, move material downstream and suck the riverbed dry of gold, then move on to the next river.

"Did the state agencies who gave you the permits tell you how long you could camp here and what the Oregon restrictions are regarding sensitive fish habitat?" I asked. The answer was "No."

I will introduce legislation next session to end this practice and I'll need your help. Private property advocates, taxpayer groups and the environmental community all have a reason to work together. Rafters, fishermen and Oregon's river boating industry I hope will join in. In Oregon, we are proud of our rivers and have worked together for years to protect them and we'll not allow this.

Let me be less diplomatic than Tom McCall when it comes to out-of-state dredge miners: Welcome to Oregon, now leave.

Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, was first elected in 1999 and was a candidate for governor in 2006.