IRU opposes bill to deregulate suction dredge mining

A bill introduced in the Idaho statehouse this session(RS23716C2) would open nearly all of Idaho’s rivers to unregulated suction dredge mining and roll back decades of state law that protect Idaho’s recreational fishing opportunities.

According to Idaho Rivers United, the bill, introduced by Rep. Paul Shepherd, would annul provisions of the Dredge Mining Act, which has been in place since 1955, as well as the Stream Channel Alteration Act, which has been in place since 1971. It would also roll back the State Comprehensive Water Planning Act, in place since 1988.

“Idahoans love their rivers and they love to fish. Recreational prospecting and small-scale dredge mining can tear up rivers and ruin our famous blue-ribbon fisheries," said IRU Boise River Campaign Coordinator Liz Paul. "There is no cause to eliminate these reasonable regulations that have been in place for decades.”

One of the ways this mining activity harms fish is by releasing mercury. Mercury, a powerful neurotoxin, is found deep in the sediment of many rivers and streams throughout Idaho. When disturbed by dredging, mercury can enter the water column and then sift upward through the food chain - ultimately arriving in the tissues of fish, humans and larger predators who feed on fish. Dredging also disturbs sensitive habitat and increases siltation during the time of year when rivers and streams normally run clear.

In a March 9 letter to Representative Perry, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said: “There is a significant risk that RS23714 may be construed to violate Article IV, Sec. 7 of the Idaho Constitution.”

The Attorney General also raises concerns that the legislation’s complete abdication of state authority to regulate and prevent adverse impacts on Idaho’s navigable rivers “may be interpreted as a violation of the state’s fiduciary responsibilities under the public trust doctrine.”

“Members of the Idaho House should vote No on this unwarranted attack on well-established Idaho regulations that have served the citizens of Idaho fine for decades,” Paul said.