I am posting, for you, my last installment of the Gold Summit. It was presented by
Dave Winters, U.S. Forest Service Stream Biologist on responsible stream prospecting for gold and preserving stream integrity.
Most gold prospectors are aware that we share the rivers with fishermen as well as many others. Most of us are, also, fishermen and women. My Grandmother fished all her life, as did my Dad and other family members, so I grew up with a healthy respect for fishing and the out of doors. As such, I was most interested in what Dave Winters, U.S. Forest Service Stream Biologist, had to tell us.
According to Dr. Winters, (No one ever did say he was a Dr., but I would think that he has that degree) streams are classified as to gradients of fall. Those that are in 4%-2% (or above) pass sediments easily and quickly. Gradients of 2% and below are multi use and shared by prospectors, cattle ranchers, fishermen, have few boulders and meander from bank to bank. These parts of the rivers are much slower and pass sediments much slower, depending on the gradient percentage of fall. These are the areas that are of the most concern and happen regularly along the Front Range and east in Colorado. Because of this lessening of gradient fall, all must be watchful of the damage we can do to the banks of the rivers. A cut into the bank will cause the rivers, at flood or in run off, to erode the banks even further, degrading the slope and changing the course of the river as a consequence. (I know, you think only you are digging in the bank and it should be OK, but you aren’t and it isn’t)
This erosion in especially harmful to multi users. The preservation of the river bank integrity is most important in slower parts of the streams and rivers. Bank degradation widens the stream and/or river making the flow of water even slower, inhibiting the waterway’s ability to pass sediments, as well as harms fish habitat and can make for dangerous situations when getting down the bank for animals and humans. How this pertains to gold prospectors is simple. Don’t dig in the banks. Stay in the streambed.
Anybody know what a Virtual River is? There is a book written about it called ‘Virtual Rivers’ that has some interesting thing s to say about pristine versus Virtual Rivers. (Sorry, he went through this too fast for me to catch the author). We probably have no rivers in Colorado that anyone can call ‘pristine’. They have pretty much been disturbed, moved, crowded, dammed up, and diverted.
Some, like Clear Creek, are no longer able to meander across their valleys. I-70 and the railroad bed up highway 6 pretty much makes that impossible, trapping it in a narrow strip that grinds the bedrock all the time. The South Platte has some 5 reservoirs on it as well as numerous rail road beds and the debris from their construction. The North Fork has a massive water diversion ditch that scours it most of the year. Historic mining, cattle ranching, dredging and hydraulicking all took their toll on the rivers, as one would assume.
As such, why are we even talking about restrictions on small scale mining, if the rivers have been already been so beaten up? First, let's remember we share these public areas with so many other users. Our concerns for gold prospecting cannot be the only ones considered. Second, let’s call it personal responsibility by a public that is better educated and can see the damage that can still be done by these activities, if not conducted responsibly. There are a lot of us out there during the season, after all, and our places to dig are not that numerous. So we get concentrated in areas and we need to be careful we don’t overuse them. We need to educate others and police ourselves, be respectful of the environment, clean up and restore our public use sites. An interesting thing that was suggested is for all of you to cut willow sticks and plunge them into the river banks, where they are lacking, down to water level so that they will root and help stabilize the banks. Also, be an advocate for invasive species. Remove them or tell authorities where they can find them.
OK, so we do these things already, or should, what about officials we have to deal with that have preconceived perceptions about these activities. You have probably run into them or talked with them. Mr. Winters says that they should take a step back and not be controlled by their perceptions, and remember these are Virtual Rivers, not pristine. They should be used by everyone who wants to use them in a responsible manner. Work with prospectors to identify appropriate areas and regulations for these activities. Get prospectors involved with the process and use the volunteer help they have with them to resolve problems or clean up areas to keep them open. However, prospectors need to be respectful of all officials and calmly educate them or ask them to research responsible information of our activities with responsible groups who are in the know.
In closing, Dr. Winters charged us to think like a stream, while we are working in and around them, and work together to make the situation better. Oh, and Plant Willows!
I hope this series has brought to light some of the expectations of officials, defined some confusing terms we all use while we are prospecting for gold in Colorado. I will close this series in the next few days with some information about Gold Unlimited. I did not begin with them as I felt their place should be last so you will go back and look them up. As Always,
Good Prospecting to You,