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June 07, 2017
Contact: Pat Chapman, (360) 902-2571

WDFW reduces season for gold prospecting
above Sultan River diversion dam to protect fish

OLYMPIA – Starting this year, the annual work window for gold prospecting in a section of the Sultan River will be reduced to protect salmon, steelhead, and other fish passing upriver from Sultan Diversion Dam in Snohomish County.

Under a new emergency rule adopted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), gold prospecting between the Sultan Diversion Dam and 0.7 river miles below Culmback Dam while using the department's Gold and Fish pamphlet as a permit will be limited to Aug. 1-31.

In past years, prospecting was limited to Aug. 1-15 below the diversion dam, but allowed from July 16 to Feb. 28 above the dam.

WDFW may grant exceptions to those who apply for an individual state permit, known as a hydraulic project approval (HPA). Permits issued by WDFW prior to May 15 will be modified to require the permit holders to follow the new timing. A WDFW biologist must evaluate each work site to grant exceptions to the annual work window.

State habitat managers have scheduled a public meeting June 13 in Sultan to discuss the disposition of existing HPAs on the river and answer other questions people have about the new emergency rule. That meeting is set to run 6-8 p.m. at the Sultan Community Hall meeting room.

Margen Carlson, deputy director of WDFW's Habitat Program, said the shorter work window is now necessary because Snohomish County PUD modified the facility in 2016 to allow salmon, steelhead and other fish to swim past the dam and spawn above it for the first time in 90 years.

Carlson noted that Snohomish County PUD biologists documented coho salmon spawning above the dam in the fall of 2016, and steelhead spawning in that area in the spring of 2017.

"Because some prospecting methods disturb the spawning gravels these fish lay eggs in, we need to protect these areas above the diversion dam that are again accessible to fish," she said. "The department will still allow prospecting in that section of the river, but within a similar time frame as in the lower river. We know this is a big change, so we're trying to work closely with the folks affected."

WDFW anticipates rule making within the next year to adopt a permanent modification to the work window and encourages anyone with information about fish presence or absence to participate in the public process.