Washington Implements Stricter Regulations On Suction Dredging To Protect Fish, Reduce Invasive Species

Mineral prospectors will now need to get a Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) to suction dredge in Washington. The new HPA requirement, effective Nov. 1, will help protect fish and reduce the risk of spreading invasive species.

Suction dredge mining is a type of recreational gold mining that uses a motorized or non-motorized vacuum to suck up the bottom of rivers and streams to look for gold. This type of mining can kill young fish and eggs, and disturb spawning gravel for salmon.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife manages HPAs in the state and has up to 45 days to approve or deny complete applications. Application instructions are available online.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for WDFW, approved the HPA suction dredging rule change last Friday. The new rule no longer allows suction dredging under the Gold and Fish pamphlet HPA https://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01992. However, the Gold and Fish pamphlet HPA will still authorize all other small-scale placer mining methods.

Washington is not the first western state to implement stricter regulations on suction dredging, as Oregon banned suction dredging in some state waters last year. As a result, WDFW anticipates an increase in the number of out-of-state dredgers, which also increases the risk of aquatic invasive species coming into the state.

“Gold mining occurs across Washington, with popular areas along the Cascade Range near Yakima, Ellensburg, and Wenatchee,” said Randi Thurston, protection division manager at WDFW. “And with the number of mineral prospectors in Washington expected to increase, it is important for us to be able to more accurately assess potential risks to fish and the spread of aquatic invasive species.”

The new HPA requirement will also allow WDFW to target inspections to ensure dredgers are complying with HPA provisions designed to protect fish and habitat. If a dredger is found to be noncompliant, WDFW is authorized by the state Legislature to take enforcement actions and conduct criminal or civil investigations.


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