From the April/May 2016 Pick & Shovel Gazette
By SARAH REIJONEN
For the GPAA
Washington state escaped another attempt by extreme environmentalists to get small-scale suction dredgers out of the water.
With the backing of the group Fish Not Gold, House Bill 2467 was introduced to the state Legislature on Jan. 13 and referred to the Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources. But, because of the quick reaction and years of legwork by Washington prospectors, that’s as far as it has gotten.
“Washington is really a great role model, because those guys actually react. Up there, they really get out and just make the calls and they go straight to the capitol,” said American Mining Rights Association President Shannon Poe. “I’m not trying to disparage California miners, but Washington is just doing an exceptional job.”
The bill piggybacked off of last year’s attempt to oust small-scale suction dredging with House Bill 1162, also proposed by Fish Not Gold. While HB 1162 sought a moratorium on suction dredging, HB 2467 would have required a license for motorized mineral prospecting.
It was only a matter of time before the bull’s-eye on Washington’s back came into sight. With its neighbors to the south — California and Oregon — waging war on small-scale suction dredgers, Washington’s extreme environmentalists have increased pressure on the state legislature to ban the so-called “hobby.”
It’s language, such as “hobbyists” and “recreationalists” that is posing a threat to suction dredging and mining, in general, Poe said.
“The legislature finds that unlike other recreational uses of Washington’s streams and rivers, recreational motorized mineral prospecting is not subject to a licensing system. The legislature further finds that because other states have either prohibited or limited recreational motorized mineral prospecting to prevent adverse impacts to fish, aquatic life, and water quality, Washington’s streams and rivers have become attractive to mineral prospectors from around the country,” HB 2467 stated. “The legislature therefore intends to enact a recreational licensing system equivalent to the licensing of recreational fishing, to enable our state to understand the origin, location, and extent of recreational motorized mineral prospecting activities in our state.”
Poe is quick to point out that gold is not a catch-and-release sport, but instead a way of life and source of income for many prospectors.
In his Jan. 23 letter to the bill draftees — Reps. Gael Tarleton, Kristine Lytton, Gerry Pollet, Joan McBride, Jeff Morris, Chris Reykdal, Steve Bergquist, Brady Walkinshaw, and Strom Peterson — and the Washington State Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, Poe stated: “The term ‘recreational’ is not applicable as mining and prospecting are not recreational. No miner ever tosses back gold because it is too small. We understand why this term is being promoted and why the sponsors of this bill are trying desperately to label this activity as recreational, to regulate it to death. Over regulation is causing people serious harm. Families are suffering greatly from regulatory agencies and predominately the middle class is feeling the severe impacts from proposals just like this one.”
While there are many outdoor activities that can be defined as “recreational,” gold mining is not one of those, Poe said.
“Fishing is recreational, hiking is recreational, camping is recreational and mining is not. Many people make their living, or supplement their income by mining their federal mining claims. Many states in the West were founded and built from mining,” Poe stated in the letter posted on the AMRA website. “Mining provides the needed minerals for most aspects of everyday life such as gold and silver for electronics. The cell phone you use ... computers for medical facilities, even the Space Shuttle uses gold for protection from solar radiation. If it is not mined or grown, it likely doesn’t exist.”
While Resources Coalition and Washington Prospectors Association President Bill Thomas said these patronizing terms make his blood boil, he said labels have no real weight and will not define him as a prospector.
“We in the prospecting community, we don’t like the word ‘recreational.’ What they’re shoving down our throats now is the term ‘hobby miner,’” Thomas said. “We jump up and down and say, ‘We’re not recreational,’ but now it’s been used so much, in my opinion, that it means nothing. I don’t care if you want to call me a hobby guy, or you want to call me a recreationalist, or a miner or a prospector — I’m still going to go out and look for valuable, locatable minerals. Until that word affects your laws, your rights, then it has no bearing on anything.”
Still, the extreme environmentalists groups like Fish Not Gold, Trout Unlimited and Yakima Headwaters, which have spearheaded anti-mining legislation attempts in Washington, try to take “little jabs” at miners with their verbiage, Thomas said. In fact, one of the amendments to the latest bill was to add “recreation” to a sentence, “as if that meant anything,” Thomas said.
“The laws don’t differentiate between recreational or work,” Thomas said. “Until such time that the word recreation does that, I’m not that paranoid about it.”
Another tactic used by anti-mining groups is fear mongering over the threat of an influx of miners coming from states with small-scale suction dredging moratoriums, such as Oregon and California.
“We’ve been very much able to show the legislators that they’ve only issued one out-of-state permit in the last two years,” Thomas said.
Washington miners have shown a cohesive effort and continue to stay in constant contact with their legislators which has been the key to keeping small-scale suction dredging alive in the state. While there are still some regulations that Thomas finds excessive in the Gold and Fish pamphlet — which is put out by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and regulates gold prospecting — Thomas said he still feels like he is on the winning side thus far.
“What we do is we stay in contact with our legislators all the time, every day if we can,” Thomas said. “We invite them to our rallies, and we’ve taken them on outings in the offseason. We set up our stuff for a day at the capitol and let them run our equipment. Better than half of our legislators are supportive of us, which is terrific. It’s taken years to do.”
Support Washington miners
• WHO: Washington state miners
• WHAT: Pacific Northwest Miners Rally
• WHERE: Liberty, Wash.
• WHEN: Aug. 26-28
• WHY: Support Washington miners
• HOW: www.resourcescoalition.org
Sarah Reijonen is a freelance writer based in California. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org