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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Sniffing out gold in local streams

Anyone seeking to strike it rich, or simply learn how much work mining can be, can grab a pan and head to most local streams in Washington.

While the simplest of mining requires no application or fees, folks heading out to begin the latest gold rush should first visit or read the “Gold and Fish pamphlet” issued by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

In Idaho, the state requires recreational miners to obtain a permit from the Idaho Department of Water Resources “before the miner alters any portion of the stream bed.”

Generally, recreational miners have not been a problem, said Frank Pemberton, spokesman for the Colville office of the U.S. Forest Service.

“We do allow for recreational gold panning. It’s a great thing to do with your wife and kids,” Pemberton said. “But we do caution people to be very careful.”

Pemberton said it’s best for recreational prospectors to ask first if they plan to pan in a creek anywhere within the boundaries of a national forest.

“It may be a fish restoration project,” he said. “Anytime you are causing resource damage, it’s not an appropriate use in the National Forest.”

Recreational mining made headlines in Idaho after state Rep. Paul Shepherd proposed a bill earlier this year that would have nullified the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory authority in the Gem State after it closed portions of the Salmon River to suction dredging, which requires a permit.

The agency, which previously shut down all suction-dredge mining in Oregon and California, closed the practice on portions of the Salmon River it determined to be critical habitat for salmon and steelhead.

The bill died this spring because state lawyers deemed it likely unconstitutional as written. In July, 40 miners staged a protest by mining on Island Bar east of Riggins, leading to about $30,000 in fines.

In Washington, no such problems have occurred for years, Pemberton said.

“When I first got here years ago, someone went on a creek with a suction dredge,” he said. “As the creek was dumping into the Columbia River, the creek looked like chocolate milk and someone called the Forest Service.”

The vast majority of prospecting in Washington streams is done with a pan, and most of that activity occurs near Wenatchee or Okanogan.

“If someone came out and found a fist-sized nugget in Sherman Creek, I’m sure there would be a different protocol established,” Pemberton said. “We are charged with maintaining clean air and water. If any action degrades that we have to look to seriously curb that or prohibit that.”

Madonna Luers, spokeswoman for WDFW, said the Gold and Fish pamphlet should be the guide for anyone seeking to dabble in recreational mining.

“No application or fees are required, although you must follow the rules outlined in the pamphlet,” she said.

Those rules include time frames for when in-stream activity is allowed. The pamphlet only covers the state’s requirements. Miners should also be aware of other federal, state, tribal and local government rules.

To make it easier, the pamphlet includes contact information for all of those agencies that may require permits.

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