SALEM (AP) — Suction dredge mining could be permanently banned from western Oregon's wild salmon habitat under a bill that has passed the Oregon House.
The bill creating stream protection passed Wednesday and is awaiting Gov. Kate Brown's pledged signature, The Mail Tribune reported.
Suction dredging uses floating vacuums to suck gravel from a stream bottoms.
Material vacuumed by the dredges then go through sluices so miners can strain out gold and other heavy metals.
Sand, silt and other fine material are discharged into the water.
Wild salmon advocates say the process damages spawning grounds and rearing habitat.
Miners have argued current laws already protect salmon habitat and that no peer-reviewed study on suction dredging proves it ruins salmon habitats exists.
The bill would make permanent 2016's temporary ban on suction dredging within creeks and rivers deemed "essential salmon habitat."
The bill also bans dredging in habitat of Pacific lamprey, which are also present in the Rogue Basin.
In 2013, the Legislature passed a bill detailing new dredging restrictions, capping the number of dredging permits offered annually in Oregon and limiting some of the times, locations and manner for how dredgers operate.
It was designed to expire at the end of 2015 to give the Legislature time to grapple with permanent rules, which are now on the horizon.
Salmon and stream advocates see the measure as a good way of protecting wild salmon while still allowing dredging in places such as eastern Oregon.
"We think it really is a compromise that protects rivers but not at the total expense of suction-dredge mining, which can still occur in rivers in the rest of the state," said Stacey Detwiler, conservation director for the Ashland-based Rogue Riverkeeper.
Rick Barclay, of the Galice Mining District and a dredging supporter, could not be reached for comment.