Dredging doesn’t harm fish, experts say
3/28/2012 4:21 PM
The science — and politics — of dredging
By BRAD JONES
GPAA Editor/Content Director
Suction dredge mining does not harm fish and can actually improve fish habitat, scientists say.
Claudia Wise and Joseph Greene, worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for more than 30 years. Wise is a retired physical scientist and Greene is a retired research biologist. Both scientists have done extensive research on the issue and cannot find any evidence to substantiate claims made by environmental activists that suction dredging harms fish or fish habitat.
They say suction dredging can benefit salmon and other species of fish by improving habitat in rivers and streams.
The science of dredging
“Any negative effects of suction dredging on fish or fish habitat are insignificant. The benefits definitely outweigh any of the negative effects in any of the studies I’ve ever seen,” Wise said in recent interview.
In almost every study, the environmental impact of suction dredge mining on fish — including salmon — and fish habitat has been proven to be “less than significant,” Greene said.
Dredging improves fish habitat by creating pockets in the bottoms of riverbeds and streambeds. These depressions are ideal places for fish, especially salmon, to spawn when there are limited natural areas of loose gravel, called refugia.
“It’s a pool of water within the river you might say. If it is three feet deep, it’s considered refugia, which is a depression in the river bottom that is under the main currents where fish prefer to rest in cooler water, lots of times at the mouth of a tributary,” she said.
“There are so many benefits to it,” said Wise, explaining that the gravels in many rivers and streams have become so compacted over the years that the fish cannot always find a natural place to spawn.
Because suction dredgers break up or loosen the gravels and create small pockets in the bottoms of streams, it often creates manmade refugia, where none had previously existed. While opponents of suction dredging argue that fresh dredge tailings (gravels), are not as stable as natural gravel beds, they are better than nothing where natural gravels don’t exist, Wise said.
“However, the salmon are smart enough to recognize the difference between natural and manmade refugia,” Greene said.
If there is no suitable place to spawn, the fish will spawn anyway.
“The eggs will just be floating down river and be eaten by any predator that would eat them. They have to get through the gravel to build that nest.” he said.
After dredge tailings have settled for a year, they become more stable and more attractive to salmon.
“By the next year, you’ve got great spawning gravel,” Wise said.
So, adding more refugia means salmon have more places to spawn which helps to increase salmon populations. Even one redd (nest of salmon eggs) can contain thousands of salmon eggs, she said.
“One egg mass is thousands of fish. With one egg mass you’ve made a big difference in some rivers,” she said.
Politics of dredging
Even though most environmental activists are aware that suction dredgers are not allowed in the water during spawning season, they still use it as propaganda.
“That’s totally bogus. The opponents know that we DO NOT dredge during spawning season ... That’s what the environmentalists use as their hammer. You can see it over and over in their writings that we are killing all the salmon and sucking up the eggs. It’s just an absolute lie.”
So, why are environmental extremists so down on dredging?
Both Greene and Wise contend that the push by environmental activists such as the Sierra Fund, local Friends of the River groups, and some native American tribes has nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics and profits.
Wise said many radical environmentalist groups get government grants to research environmental issues that eventually lead to more bans, restrictions, regulations and even lawsuits against the government.
“Part of it is money. If they don’t have an issue that they can spread to their membership and government, then they don’t have wages,” Wise said. “Most of those clubs don’t do habitat restoration — they sue. That’s their whole mandate to sue the government.”
And, how are they able to use taxpayer dollars to sue the government for more taxpayer dollars?
While they may not directly sue the government, they use the funds to draft environmental reports which are then handed off to other groups to sue the government, she said.
“Part of the Endangered Species Act says that they have to allow funds to hold these agencies’ feet to the fire ...These people sue and they don’t even have to have their own money on the line,” Wise said.
Follow the money trail
In fact, there is so much money involved, that new environmental groups seem to be springing up everywhere. One example is Friends of the River.
On the surface, Friends of the River groups seem to be local, but they are far from it, Wise said.
“There’s so many of them. I mean, it’s a good way to make money. There’s lots of money so they are popping up all over the place. We’ve got friends of every river. They can apply for grant money. They can sue agencies. They can be the stakeholder in places they don’t even live. It’s like a franchise. So, they’ve got a Friends of the River for every little tributary … It’s a business; they’re out there making money.”
Groups like the Sierra Fund, Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund are doing the same thing — making money — but on a larger scale, she said.
Hedge fund billionaire George Soros, founder of Earthjustice contributes millions of dollars to various environmental groups. Infamous for betting against the value of U.S. dollar among other currencies, Soros has also predicted the collapse of the Western economy. He is known for lavish funding of big-government, globalist causes and left-wing organizations such as www.moveon.org.
In recent times, part of doing business, means appeasing environmental groups whether that means siding with them or paying them off, Wise said.
“Big mining companies, energy companies and drilling companies are paying them off. They are giving millions to environmental activists to stop them from suing,” she said.
Because environmental groups have amassed so much money, and the big companies have appeased them in one way or another, environmental activists have resorted to suing smaller companies that don’t have the money to pay them off, Wise said.
“There’s a whole environmental economy and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger. It’s huge and they are feeding off of each other. It’s a feeding frenzy, A lot of these environmental groups’ CEOs make $250,000 to $1.5 million [a year]. Why wouldn’t you find another issue?” she said.
“You have to question whether it is politically driven; they are looking at politics more than science.”
Then, there are other so-called conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited, which have smaller groups affiliated with them, like Oregon Trout. They are taking a stance against suction dredge miners out of good-intentioned ignorance, Wise said.
While Oregon Trout has a vested interest in fishing, its members are throwing miners under the bus and siding with the environmentalists in an effort to appease them, not realizing that they could be targeted next, she explained.
Wise pointed out the irony of the fishermen going out to catch — and not always release — fish and then blaming suction dredgers for killing fish. Even more hypocritical is the fact that suction dredging is not permitted during spawning season, but fishing is allowed.
“Salmon fishermen fish when the salmon are spawning so there are redds present. When the fishermen walk out into the water to cast, they are stepping on redds. They catch salmon on their way upstream to spawn. They are there at their most critical time. They do so much more damage — not just fishing and killing fish, which is their whole reason for being there.”
“If they [fishermen] weren’t siding with the environmental activists, the environmental activists would be trying to shut down fishing, so they are saving their own butts. That’s what they’re doing,” she said. “Fishermen are off limits, because a lot of the environmentalists are also fishermen.”
Wise is convinced that if the environmental activists succeed in banning small-scale mining, fishermen will be the next logical target.
Environmental groups have to justify their own existence and will invent targets so they can keep getting grants and collect membership fees, she said.
“Fishermen are next,” Wise said. adding that Sierra Fund’s Carrie Monohan has already targeted anglers.
“There are a lot of fishermen who just listen to what the environmentalists say — how bad mining is — and spread the same misinformation. And, they believe mining is bad,” Wise said.
More proof that miners are getting the shaft is that boats and personal watercraft cause far more damage than dredging, but are allowed and are not under attack by the green lobby.
“Jet boats do way more damage than a dredge. A suction dredge is all in one area, whereas a jet boat runs up and down the river and the waves are rushing up against the banks eroding the riverbanks and they scare the fish. They do way more damage and there are studies that show that,” she said.
The green extreme
Because it seems as though the entire Western world has bowed down to a new religion of environmental extremism, even the scientific community has been reluctant to challenge the green faithful.
Not only does the scientific community have blinders on, but it has attracted activists with an agenda, Wise said.
“Joe and I get really frustrated at times, because we’ve researched this whole area. Between us, we know so much about suction dredging and its effect on the environment and will give them pages and pages of reference that supports what we say, but [they say] we’re cherry picking,” she said.
“And they’re not? Spouting off stuff that they don’t even have a reference for? They ignore the science. We have references and peer review journal articles. We could not find a single paper that showed any harm — or significant harm — to the environment.”
Change in EPA doctrine
Wise, who is a gold prospector and member of the GPAA, was a scientist first.
“When I was young, I went panning, but I didn’t have anyone to show me how. I just went up in the hills around the Blue River area in Oregon,” she said.
Her father was a scientist for the U.S. Forest Service, which she says has taken on a left-wing agenda over the years.
“Now, they don’t even want to see best management practices. They want to have this pristine area that is better than is was naturally, probably. In a lot of cases, I‘ve seen that,” she said.
“I think it’s just been an infiltration of a lot of these activists that must benefit somehow from it. The scientists benefit from grant money. They can spend their whole career on a subject as long as they give the right answer.”
Wise said she first began noticing a shift in EPA philosophy about the same time the media hype over what was known then as global warming.
“The 1990s was when I really started noticing it ... If we didn’t get the right answer, we weren’t allowed to publish it,” said Wise, who conducted studies and research for the EPA for 32 years, before retiring in 2006.
Global warming theory
Wise cited an example of one study that involved studying the effects of UVB rays on plants. Essentially, the EPA was trying to prove that the hole in the atmosphere and thinning ozone layer was producing more UVB rays and that ultimately the effect was harmful to plants, Wise explained.
“You can’t start science with a answer already,” she said.
Much to the surprise of the EPA, the rice plants that were exposed to more intense UVB not only grew larger, but they produced more rice than plants not exposed to UVB rays, Wise said.
“Not only did the biomass of the plants increase, the plants grew larger and the production of rice was higher,” she said.
“The plants liked it. Well, that didn’t produce the answer that they wanted to hear. They wanted us to tell them it was harmful. On this UVB study, we were told to stop work and not publish anything ... None of that information has been published to my knowledge,” she said.
Wise accused the government of pushing the EPA for predetermined results to help sway other countries to sign the Kyoto Protocol which set the stage for all the hype over global warming, which has since been downgraded to climate change and is even called climategate by skeptics.
“So we were asked to design a study and look at different levels of UVB and what the effects on the environment would be. And, when they didn’t get the answer they wanted, they cancelled our project,” she said.
According to Wise, the study lasted for about three years.
When asked why she didn’t go to the media and expose the truth about what was happening, Wise said she not only feared for her job, but didn’t realize what was happening at the EPA until much later.
“At the time, I was pretty naïve,” she said. “That last program we worked in was global warming.”
Part of the problem with battling the extreme environmental activism is that the younger generations have been raised on the global warming theory and have been indoctrinated into the Al Gore school of thought.
“They don’t question it. That stuff is so deeply ingrained,” she said.
“These instructors have been told what they need to teach. It’s alright to put them on the spot. It’s alright not to believe what they say,” Wise said.
“I was in global warming for eight years and we never found anything that pointed to global warming being manmade, excluding the model the United Nations put out.
“The EPA came out last year and said CO2 causes global warming. We never proved that and we never even did a study that proved that,” she said.
“We did studies that were already based on the premises that there was global climate change caused by man,” she said.
Wise rejects the notion that mankind is causing global warming.
“No , I don’t believe it’s true. I believe there is a variation in climate.”
Salmon and ocean conditions
Greene concurred with Wise that since the ’90s, scientists have been under pressure to support the global warming theory.
“I have a big study on the effects of ocean conditions on salmon. And, the reason the salmon populations are declining is only partially from the deteriorating conditions in the river. It’s caused by the warming of the ocean.
But what Greene found is that even though the ocean is warming in one area it is cooling or is cooler in other areas and the salmon are migrating to those areas.
“What you find is that before the ’80s the salmon populations started increasing off the coast of British Columbia and Alaska. A lot of them are dying and even starving from the conditions in the ocean. You have a huge die-off and salmon spend 76 percent of their lives in the ocean,” he said.
“The charts show the salmon take up north is going through the roof while it’s dropping back here (Oregon). It all coincides with all the temperature oscillations going on in the ocean. It’s not global warming; it’s just natural cycles.”
Theoretically, in five or 10 years from now, the trend could be reversed where there are more salmon in
Oregon and Washington and less in British Columbia and Alaska, he said.
“The environmentalists know this. They know it’s a fact. I mean, there is no secret to it at all, but they choose to ignore it because it doesn’t support their premise and they want us out of the water.,” he said.
“Scientists have become advocates for certain agendas. They have become believers and crusaders, forgetting that science moves forward and makes progress by skepticism rather than by the preservation of some status quo or some consensus position,” he said.
Both Wise and Greene concur that most, if not all, the media coverage of the suction dredging debate has been one-sided in favor of environmental extremist groups.
“It’s pure laziness in journalism. They are selling something and they are making money from this issue also. It’s part of the whole environmental economy. There are a lot of people who will read environmental hype and controversy. Sensationalism — that’s what they’re doing. They’re not even looking at the facts. They’re just taking what the environmentalists say and that’s their headline. It’s definitely unfair and unbalanced.”
Wise said she often gets irritated with the way some news reporters cover the issues.
“I don’t have the answer for everything, but they like to play the ‘gotcha’ game if you don’t have the right answer for them. They’re trying to sell papers.”
Like Wise, Greene believes the mainstream media has been irresponsible in its coverage of environmental issues with the faulty assumption that everything green must be good without questioning motives.
“In every single case, they do not do it. They just take the information and repeat it as if it’s gospel.”
“That’s very typical. That’s what we’re up against. We can’t find an honest or understanding journalist anywhere. There are very, very few of them. They are extremely rare. Even the ones who seem to try still get it half wrong.”
Greene is convinced it’s more than just shoddy journalism, but an indoctrination of young journalists that teaches them not to question environmental activism. It is the same kind of self-censorship that led to coining of the phrase political correctness, which also surfaced in the ’90s.
“I happen to believe that they have an agenda — especially the young ones, because they are coming out of the schools that way,” he said.
“We were actually seeing that at the EPA with the new hires and PhDs. They were just these avid environmentalists. Everything is wrong and they’re right!”
“So, as a research scientist, the first thing you do is build a comprehensive library. There was not a lot of material out there and all of it showed that the effects of suction dredge mining are minimal, quickly reversible and local. I’ve not found anything different from that,” Greene said.
Suction dredging debate
Greene has seen all three sides of the suction dredging debate — as a scientist, an environmentalist and a suction dredge miner.
“I was a scientist first,” Greene said.
As a young man, Greene began scuba diving back in the ’60s after reading diving magazines.
“I was so poor, my first scuba diving tanks were old fire extinguishers. I couldn’t even afford to buy my own scuba diving outfit,” he recalled.
Later, scuba diving led to suction dredging. He and his children started with an inner tube.
Greene was environmentally conscious back then and still is today. He remembers being especially concerned about high levels of phosphorous in laundry detergent that were causing large algae blooms and turning some affected rivers “pea soup green.” He even belonged to the Sierra Club.
“I was a good environmentalist,” he said.
When he first heard claims that suction dredging was harmful to fish, he was disappointed, realizing that to stay in good conscience he may be faced with giving up his gold prospecting hobby. To be sure, he began to study the facts about suction dredging’s effects on the environment and eventually found the activist’s claims to be unsubstantiated.
Even though he had bought into the environmentalist school of thought, he began to question the science. The more he learned about activists and their agenda, the more he began backing away from them.
“There are a lot of people who actually believe that mankind does not belong out in nature; that it’s only for the wildlife. There is some blend of all this weirdness. And, the worst part is we have millions of good-hearted, honest, concerned citizens who — I don’t want to call them lazy — but who are misinformed ... They are trusting these environmental organizations and they are being bamboozled by a bunch of thieves,” Greene said.
If the conclusion of his study had found that suction dredging was harmful, which it didn’t, he said he would not have continued dredging.
“In my own case, I wouldn’t be a miner,” he said. Since then, he has tried to convince others in the scientific community that much of the so-called science behind some of the activists’ claims is flawed or simply doesn’t exist. But, Greene said most scientists are apathetic to his concerns.
“I have all sorts of friends who are scientists and they don’t care; If you hired them as a consultant they would,” Greene said.
“Suction dredge mining in waters is the most environmentally safe, best method of mining. The most common myth is that suction dredging harms the environment. Even some miners don’t believe that suction dredging benefits fish. They are just as brainwashed. I’ve heard miners say it. It’s frustrating to me. The old saying about a lie told often enough becomes the truth is exactly what’s been happening to us in small-scale mining,” he said.
Like the salmon, Greene and Wise are swimming upstream against all odds, but they believe strongly in their convictions.
Brad Jones is the Editor / Content Director for the Gold Prospectors Association of America. He can be reached at bjones@