Legislature considers protection for trout and salmon from gold dredging

Like a quiet western Maine stream that harbors one of the state’s most precious resources, a bill to protect the habitat of those trout by banning gold dredging is quietly working its way downstream through the legislature. But like the soon-to-be-stunning spring runoff of snow, LD 1671 is about to make a big splash in Augusta. Or maybe not.

gold dredging in the rainHere’s the situation. A battle between brook trout advocates, led by Trout Unlimited and Maine Audubon, and gold diggers, led by the Maine Gold Prospectors, has been staged over the last couple of years. But unlike some legislative standoffs lately, this one has come to a great collaborative conclusion, and a compromise amended version of the bill has emerged from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee with a favorable 11 to 2 vote.

Jeff Reardon of Trout Unlimited thanked Senators Tom Saviello and Jim Boyle and the Maine Gold Prospectors for working hard on this compromise approach. He also thanked Representatives Roger Reed, “for pushing hard for a compromise that both sides was comfortable with,” and Representative Russell Black who sponsored the original bill last session and has stayed heavily involved throughout this session.

Finally, Reardon said that Bobby Van Riper, a Regional Fisheries Biologist for Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, “did a tremendous job” of briefing the ENR Committee on the waters proposed for protection and answering all of their questions. The original list of waters was adjusted based on Van Riper’s testimony. That’s where the compromise comes in.

gold-dredge-istockAn Act to Prohibit Motorized Gold Prospecting in Class AA Waters and Certain Atlantic Salmon and Brook Trout Habitats sounds like a no-brainer, but nothing comes easy at the Maine legislature. One gold digger said that even though the trout go right through his machine, they are unharmed. I wanted to suggest that we put him through the machine and see how he liked the experience. Without doubt, the motorized dredging disturbs trout and salmon habitat.

While we can all applaud the good work of the ENR Committee and those on both sides of the issue, I never take anything for granted in Augusta. It would be helpful, I’m sure, if you contacted your own legislators to make sure they are voting yes on this one.

Here’s a description of the amended bill, provided by the legislative staff:

This amendment, which is the majority report of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, changes the title and replaces the bill. This amendment prohibits motorized recreational gold prospecting in water classified as Class AA waters and certain stream segments that contain important brook trout and Atlantic salmon habitats. This amendment directs that by December 1, 2015, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Department of Marine Resources shall review data, conduct site visits and collect any additional information necessary to determine whether these statutorily specified stream segments continue to represent critical or high value brook trout or Atlantic salmon habitat, and whether there are areas not listed that represent additional critical or high value brook trout or Atlantic salmon habitat that should be closed to motorized recreational gold prospecting. By January 15, 2016, each department is further directed to submit any recommendations for the addition or removal of areas of critical or high value brook trout or Atlantic salmon habitat on the list of areas closed to motorized recreational gold prospecting under 38 MRSA §480-Q, sub-§5-A, §G, sub-¶4 to the joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over environmental and natural resources matters, and the committee is authorized to report out a bill relating to the recommendations to the Second Regular Session of the 127th Legislature.

DSCN4010The bill’s restrictions on gold dredging apply to the following areas of critical or high value brook trout or Atlantic salmon habitat:

(a) Bemis Stream and tributaries in Township D and Rangeley Plantation;

(b) Bond Brook in the City of Augusta and the Town of Manchester;

(c) Bull Branch of Sunday River and tributaries in Grafton Township and Riley Township;

(d) Carrabassett River and tributaries in the Town of Carrabassett Valley, Freeman Township, the Town of Kingfield, Mount Abram Township and Salem Township;

(e) Cold Stream tributaries, including Tomhegan Stream, in Chase Stream Township, Johnson Mountain Township and West Forks Plantation;

(f) Enchanted Stream in Upper Enchanted Township and Lower Enchanted Township;

(g) Magalloway River and its tributaries, including Little Magalloway River, in Bowmantown Township, Lincoln Plantation, Lynchtown Township, Magalloway Plantation, Oxbow Township, Parkertown

Township and Parmachenee Township;

(h) Rapid River in the Town of Upton and Township C;

(i) Sheepscot River and tributaries, including the West Branch, in the Town of Alna, the Town of China, the Town of Freedom, the Town of Liberty, the Town of Montville, the Town of Palermo, the Town of

Somerville, the Town of Whitefield and the Town of Windsor;

(j) South Bog Stream in Rangeley Plantation.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.