The Idaho Conservation League praised Thursday's announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which has tightened restriction on suction dredge mining along Idaho waterways.
"I think this is an important step forward," ICL's Brad Smith told the Lewiston Tribune. "Much like fishing and hunting, there needs to be some kind of mechanism in place to ensure these operations are managed wisely and the resources are protected for everybody."
The EPA permit—first of its kind in Idaho—instructs miners to follow the letter of the law in the Clean Water Act, protecting water quality and habitats for salmon, steelhead, bull trout and other species. Beginning this year, miners who dredge river bottoms will have to secure a permit if they're using intake nozzles 5-inches in diameter or less and powered by engines.
But the biggest change in Thursday's ruling was telling miners that they could do their recreational gold mining along hundreds of miles of streams that have been declared critical habitat. And that includes much of the Clearwater and Salmon river drainages.
"It's a balancing act," Jim Werntz, director of the Idaho EPA office, told the Associated Press. "The challenge is that dredgers want to dredge where the gold is, and sometimes where the gold is happens to be in," areas sensitive to fish and other wildlife.
The EPA rules also tell would-be dredgers to stay away from rivers and streams which are part of the National Wild and Scenic River System.
Idaho issued 912 permits last year to recreational miners. That's up from 600 permits in 2008.