Rivers, streams, and other waterways within Washington’s south Cascades provide essential habitat for federally-protected fish species, fantastic recreational opportunities, and water to local communities. The Cascade Forest Conservancy’s current work to improve stream and watershed health includes:
The rivers of Washington are valued for their scenic beauty, pristine water quality, exceptional recreational opportunities, and as important fish habitat. Some of these rivers are critical habitat for fish species listed under the Endangered Species Act, including steelhead, salmon, and bull trout. Every year, Washington invests hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on salmon and steelhead recovery. These recovery efforts can be destroyed by suction dredge mining, a type of recreational mining that uses a suction dredge pump and hose to vacuum up the sediments on the river bottom to search for gold. The sediment is released in a plume, along with the toxic metals that were once settled in the sediment. The release of toxic metals from the sediment increases the risk of exposure to fish. Suction dredge mining also impacts fish habitat by releasing sediment into the water, and destroying redds (spawning nests) and refugia.
The laws governing suction dredge mining leave the practice relatively unregulated in Washington, especially when compared to neighboring states. The current laws allow suction dredge mining on rivers throughout the state, including on rivers that are closed to fishing to protect endangered and
threatened fish populations. To mine with a suction dredge, an operator only needs a copy of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Gold and Fish pamphlet, which acts as a general permit. The Gold and Fish pamphlet outlines time frames for rivers throughout Washington when suction dredge mining is allowed. However, suction dredge mining may occur outside these time frames if the miner receives a separate permit from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Also, the time frames for suction dredge mining established in the Gold and Fish pamphlet allows suction dredge mining in some river sections during spawning, risking the survival of federally-listed fish.
Continuing to allow suction dredge mining under the current regulations poses a serious risk to fish populations and water quality throughout Washington. In 2014, the Cascade Forest Conservancy began working with the Fish Not Gold coalition to address the harmful impacts of suction dredge mining in Washington. In 2017, HB 1106 and HB 1077 were introduced by Rep. Gael Tarleton and Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon. In January we testified in support of these bills that would require individual permits and move Washington toward compliance with the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. We continue to advocate for suction dredge mining reform in Washington that requires individual permits, licensing fees, and enhanced protections for endangered and threatened fish populations.
In 1968, the Wild and Scenic River Preservation System was created to protect rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition. Rivers may be designated by Congress or the Secretary of the Interior. Designation establishes a corridor of a quarter-mile on either side of the river, although changes may be made to this corridor to protect river values. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act prohibits federal support for dam construction or other activities that would interfere with the free-flowing condition, the water quality, or the outstanding resource values of the river.
Within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, only the Upper and Lower White Salmon are designated as Wild and Scenic Rivers. In 2005, Congress designated the Upper White Salmon River as a Wild and Scenic River. As part of that designation, the Forest Service is preparing a Comprehensive Resource Management Plan to provide for the protection of the river and to establish a final Wild and Scenic River boundary. The CFC continues to be engaged with CRMP development process.
The CFC, along with our partners, identified rivers eligible for Wild and Scenic designation within Washington’s South Cascades. These “Volcano Country” rivers have outstanding recreation, fisheries, wildlife, and historic values. Despite their outstanding values, these rivers have no permanent protection from harmful projects. Through Wild and Scenic designations, these rivers will receive the permanent protection their outstanding values deserve.
After 20 years of work by conservation organizations and their supporters, including the Cascade Forest Conservancy, Yakama Indian Nation, and PacifiCorp; the 95-year old, 125-foot Condit Dam was breached on October 26, 2011. Watch a video of the dam removal here.
In 2009, after ten years of advocacy, the Conservancy was excited to announce that Hemlock Dam was removed. Amazingly, steelhead returned to the creek the day after water was returned to the stream channel!