A homegrown movement to protect the pure waters & famed rivers of Southwest Oregon's Kalmiopsis - Wild Rivers Coast Region

A 20-year Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal is Proposed

In a welcome move, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management announced they will consider extending the duration of the proposed Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal from 5 to 20-years. The announcement was made in the September 30th Federal Register.  To comply with regulations, the notice of the amended withdrawal kicked off a third comment period and requires a third public hearing.

The two withdrawal areas—totaling about 101,000 acres of National Forest and BLM lands—remain the same. The purpose of the withdrawal is to prevent mining activities from harming this exceptional area, with its beautiful clear Wild and Scenic Rivers, while legislation to make the withdrawal permanent is under consideration by Congress.

Take action for clean water and wild rivers | Support the proposed 20-year Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal

With the recent election, protecting this special area, and the clean drinking water it provides from nickel strip mines just got a whole lot harder. It will take strong public support to complete the proposed Southwest Oregon Mineral withdrawal and for it to be for 20 years instead of five.

These are the most trying of times but the antidote for despair is action and these rivers and their wild watersheds need you to take action by attending the upcoming public hearing and by going to Earthworks special petition page to support the proposed 20-year Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal. Click here to sign  petition.

The exceptionally clear waters of Rough and Ready Creek
Flowing through the proposed Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal Areas are some of the cleanest, clearest waters in the nation. Pictured – Rough and Ready Creek. Photo – Barbara Ullian.

Why is a 20 year withdrawal so important?

The proposed withdrawal is temporary. It’s purpose is to be sure that harm doesn’t come to the land from mining, or protection doesn’t become more expensive, while Congress is considering legislation to make the withdrawal permanent.

Even in the best of times passing legislation is a torturous and slow process and these are not the best of times.

While there are over 7,000 acres of existing claims in the area that could be mined, if the area is withdrawn it at least requires the mining companies to show they have a valid right to mine, in compliance with the law, before mining can begin. This is only fair on such valuable conservation lands that are held in trust for the public.

Without the withdrawal, the position of the land managing agencies is that they don’t have the authority to say no to a mine if it’s developed in a logical sequence.  The withdrawal is quite simply the best that can be done until Congress reforms the 1872 Mining Law.

Sludge from a tailings pond burst many miles upstream on the Rio Doce River in Brazil reaches the Atlantic Ocean.
The failure of a dam at the torturous Iron Mine in Brazil spilled sludge and mine waste in a disaster that killed 17 people and polluted almost 310 miles of the Rio Doce before it reached the Atlantic Ocean to pollute miles of coastline.

 Protecting some of the cleanest drinking water in the nation

The proposed 20-year Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal is also critically important because it’s key to protecting the beautiful clear rivers of the Kalmiopsis and Wild Rivers Coast regions,  These rivers provide some of the cleanest drinking water in the nation to thousands of residents in Northwest California and Southwest Oregon.

The rivers also provide pristine habitat for prized native salmon and steelhead. The quality experience of fishing these beautiful rivers draw visitors from across the country and around the world. The clean environment, clear rivers, native fish and gorgeous scenery are essential to the economies of this remote region of Southwest Oregon and Northwest California.

This is no place for the most polluting industry in the nation—metal mining. 

The clear waters of the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River
The National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River, where the community of Gasquet, California gets it drinking water, is just 18 river miles downstream of one of the potential nickel strip mines. Photo – Wikimedia Commons.

The mining companies have not gone away

While support is overwhelming, don’t underestimate the power and influence of the mining companies. Red Flat Nickel Corporation, the principle existing claim holders in the two proposed withdrawal areas, has hired one of the largest international law and lobbying firms in Washington, D.C. to represent them.  

American Exploration and Mining, a large mining trade association, which is suing the USFS, BLM and Department of Interior over the withdrawal of public lands surrounding Grand Canyon National Park, has also opposed the withdrawal. They both are watching the election and the huge Senate energy bill that is currently in conference and contains provisions that will give mining companies even greater control over our National Forest and Public Lands.

Representatives Jared Huffman and Peter DeFazio floating the Smith River
Representatives Jared Huffman and Peter DeFazio recently held a press event to urge the adoption of the proposed 20-year Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal. Pictured – the Congressman floating the Smith River 30 miles below the proposed Cleopatra Mine.

An opportunity 20 years in the making

The proposed 20-year Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal has been on both the publics’ and members of Oregon’s congressional delegation’s wish list since the 1990s. Back then, as now, protecting this word-class region and its hauntingly beautiful wild rivers from mining garnered overwhelming public support. 

The fight began in 1992 when the proponent of the Nicore Mine applied to acquire full ownership of over 4,300 acres of National Forest and BLM land for $2.50 per acre and mine part of the area. That struggle continues today but has morphed into the RNR Mine Project. 

The Sskiyou National Forest received over 5,000 comments on the proposed Nicore Nickel Mine at Rough and Ready Creek. Only 10 favored any form of mining.
The Siskiyou National Forest received over 5,000 comments on the proposed Nicore Nickel Mine at Rough and Ready Creek. Only 10 favored any form of mining.

The expanding mining threats

Those seeking to protect the beloved, botanically rich Rough and Ready Creek have been joined by neighboring communities. Remembering the fight over California Nickel Corporation’s proposed Gasquet Mountain Mine, communities downstream of the now threatened North Fork Smith River and those the Wild Rivers Coast—along with members of the public from all over who love and value these rivers and wild creeks—have sprung to action.

Once thought to be of no interest to mining companies, the Smith River watershed and the Hunter Creek and Pistol River headwaters came under threat in 2007. With nickel in a record high price spike, the foreign-owned Red Flat Nickel Corporation saw large areas of public lands open to mining and laid claim to over 4,600 acres of it. Next, without public notice, they began the preliminary processes of mine development. Their ultimate goal—the development of nickel strip mines at the scale of the Nickel Mountain Mine near Riddle, Oregon.

Here’s how you can make your voice heard

Please don’t let this long, hard-fought-for opportunity slip by. Support the USFS and BLM’s proposed 20-year Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal on 101,000 acres of some of the most important publicly owned conservation lands on the West Coast. Go to Earthworks special petition page for the 20-year Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal.

Earthworks is a nonprofit organization that works with grassroots groups to protect their communities and the environment from the adverse impacts of mineral and energy development while promoting sustainable solutions.

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