Senator Saviello, Representative Tucker, and members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee:
My name is Nick Bennett, and I am the staff scientist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which is Maine’s largest environmental advocacy group with over 20,000 members and supporters. I am testifying in opposition to LD 1350.
Motorized gold dredging can be damaging to fish, other aquatic life, and habitat in rivers and streams. I have attached the executive summary from the January 2017 Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society report: “Suction Dredge Mining Impacts on Oregon Fishes, Aquatic Habitats and Human Health.” Committee members can access the full report at http://orafs.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/ORAFS-Suction-Dredge-Final-Package-020217-1.pdf.
Here is a quote from this report:
Suction dredge mining adversely alters channel morphology and aquatic habitat for native aquatic organisms in Oregon’s rivers. Aquatic organisms including anadromous and freshwater-resident fish, Bull Trout, lamprey, and mussels are adversely effected [sic] directly and indirectly by suction dredge operations. Entrainment through the dredge may result in mortality of eggs and larval fishes (direct effects); streambed destabilization reduces egg-to-fry survival. Fine sediment deposition on spawning and rearing habitats, and habitat simplification may reduce juvenile fish production.
Recent studies investigating mercury effects on stream environments are exposing the regional contamination caused by historical mining practices that relied on mercury to recover placer gold. Mercury contamination from placer mining and lode mining, in addition to contamination from mercury mines, has resulted in toxic stream corridors. Suction dredge mining practices expose and redistribute formerly sequestered mercury, increasing methylmercury production potential, and mercury bioaccumulation through the food web. The level of potential effects related to suction dredge mining, particularly in historically-mined systems, strongly suggests the need for state policy to further regulate suction dredge mining and grant comprehensive protection of rivers and stream.
The current system in Maine for regulating motorized gold dredging is the result of two bills that the Legislature passed in 2013 and 2014. Trout Unlimited, Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Department of Marine Resources and recreational gold dredgers all had extensive input into those two bills over the course of two years. LD 1350 would undue that good work and replace it with a very complex set of standards that would be virtually unenforceable. This would result in damage to brook trout, salmon, and other species, as well as aquatic habitat.
According the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, recreational fishing is worth about $370 million per year to the State of Maine. This is a very important resource to protect. NRCM believes that the existing regulatory and legal framework for recreational gold dredging is protective while still allowing opportunities for dredging. We urge the Committee not to change it and to vote “Ought-Not-to- Pass” on LD 1350.
I would be happy to take any questions.