On the Oregon Legislature website, you’ll find the following:
The connection between citizens and their government is strengthened when the public has ample opportunity to have their concerns heard by the legislature.
Admittedly, my personal political background is very limited. I remember the 1970’s Saturday Morning Cartoon from Schoolhouse Rock titled “I’m just a Bill”, bits and pieces from High School Government Class and a weekend in Boise where “young politicians” from Idaho Schools take over the Capital and reenact the political process as elected and appointed officials.
Yesterday I took a step forward in my advocacy of wild fish here in Oregon. I engaged the political process. The Senator from my district, Fred Girod, agreed to meet with me to discuss some introduced legislation regarding use of suction dredge mining regulation in the State of Oregon. I have some serious concerns about the practice as I feel it is harmful to our water and to the fish that reside in it. I shared my concerns with the Senator and although he had some issues with the wording of the legislation and would be following party lines when and if it reaches the floor of the Senate, I felt the conversation was useful. I learned that we have some things in common. We both own homes on the banks of a river in the same watershed. We both enjoy the sport of angling and even though we’re not on the “same page”, we’re at least somewhere in same book.
Following the meeting with the senator, I stuck around to attend the public hearing on the matter before the Environmental and Natural Resources Committee. As a newbie to the world of advocacy, I decided that discussing the issue with my elected representative was as far as I wanted to venture into the process for right now. I did not sign up to testify and chose to be an observer for the remainder of the day. You can follow the measure on your own and read the submitted testimony on the Oregon State Legislature website at :
Although the basic premise of the process is just like the Schoolhouse Rock cartoon portrayed it, the reality of it all is more like a weird circus – complete with tight rope walkers, side show barkers and clowns. The amount of gamesmanship and posturing is mind boggling. This particular committee is made up of three democrats and two republicans, and as you can imagine, the questioning of witnesses followed party lines. The republican senators grilled the witnesses in support of the bill, the democrat senators interrogated those in opposition. There were reasonable questions and answers throughout, but there were also times when the questions (and answers) were asked (or answered) for the purpose of intimidation, embarrassment or to outright bully the witness (or committee member). There were a lot of facts presented, with scientific and/or economic backup to support it. There was also a whole lot of fiction and personal opinion presented as well.
I was doing pretty good at being impartial until one of the miners made the claim that suction dredges are good for the fish and the river because it loosens the gravel and is no different than a natural flood event. I fail to see how vacuuming up spawning beds and disbursing a flume of fine sediment downstream is beneficial to fish and water quality.
The flume contains the remnants of our history of resource extraction – pesticide, herbicide and petroleum residue from logging and agriculture practices – arsenic, mercury, sulfuric acid and other toxic materials from mining practices – asbestos, solvents and salts from road runoff. How in the “@#*&%” is that good for water and fish? This is the same water my kids swim in during the summer months! This is the same water that is provided to my home for drinking, cooking and washing by the local water district! There’s a high profile story in the news right now regarding something very similar. Google the words “Flint + Michigan” to learn more.
Overall, it comes down to extraction of public resources vs. protecting and conserving the environment. Those in support of the measure are on the side of clean water, endangered species and don’t want to see the hundreds of hours of work and millions of dollars spent on habitat improvement destroyed for the sake of a few flecks of gold. Those in opposition to the measure want to pursue their hobby based on a historical right to extract resources and not be subjected to any new rules or regulations. They want what is “theirs”, they want it right now and they want to be able to do it under rules that were established nearly 150 years ago in the 1872 mining act.
I’d like to think that as a society we’ve learned a few things in the past century and a half. Maybe some of the ways we used to do things weren’t such a good idea and we can adjust and evolve. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If the hobby mining community can figure out a way to extract gold from my backyard without poisoning me, my family and the fish I enjoy catching, then I’m OK with it. But until then, I’m going to keep supporting efforts to stop it.