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

Mineral withdrawal legislation

Update February 2017

On January 5, 2017, shortly after the 115th Congress convened, Representatives Peter DeFazio and Jared Huffman reintroduced the Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act – H.R. 310.

Shortly after this on January 23, 2017, Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley reintroduced companion legislation in the Senate – S. 192. The text of the legislation and area covered by it are essentially the same as that from the 114th. Congress.

In the last congress, the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act received a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee but the House Natural Resource Committee failed to schedule a hearing, despite requests.

See below for more information about the area of the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Projection Act.

Please thank the Senators and Congressmen

In 2017 and beyond, Senators Wyden and Merkley and Reps. DeFazio and Huffman, will be the first line of defense for preventing the nickel strip mines proposed for the North Fork Smith and Baldface Creek watershed, the Hunter Creek and Pistol River Headwaters and the Rough and Ready Creek watershed.

We need to thank them now and often. The best way to do this is to make a phone call to one of their offices or to send a fax or to do it at town halls. Or even better send them a card or letter of appreciation.  They need to hear that the public appreciates their work and wants these areas permanently protected.

Quick summary of the legislation

Mineral withdrawal legislation for a little over 106,000 acres in Southwestern Oregon has been introduced in both the House and Senate  (H.R. 682 and S. 346). It would permanently close three separate areas of the Siskiyou National Forest and adjacent Coos Bay and Medford District BLM-managed lands to location and entry under the United States mining laws, subject to valid existing rights. This is known as a land or mineral withdrawal. The current title of the bill is the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act.

The National Forest and BLM lands subject to the legislation belong to all Americans. They have exceptional conservation values and are headwaters to the National Wild and Scenic Smith, North Fork SmithIllinois and Rogue rivers and to Hunter Creek and the Pistol River.  Equally important in the legislation is the withdrawal from mining of seventeen miles of the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River and 6.5 miles of the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River. These priceless rivers and their wild watersheds provide some of the cleanest drinking water in the nation to downstream communities and are world-class salmon and steelhead streams. Plus, the proposed withdrawal includes the highest concentration of rare and endemic plants in Oregon.

Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Area

The 106,000 acres subject to the mineral withdrawal legislation includes three separate areas in the heart of the greater Kalmiopsis – Wild Rivers Coast regions:

  • the Hunter Creek and Pistol River Headwaters Proposed Withdrawal Area,
  • the North Fork Smith River, Baldface Creek and Rough and Ready Creek Watersheds Proposed Withdrawal Area and
  • 17 miles of the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River.

Scroll down for maps and for a list of the special land allocations, U.S. Forest Service recommendations for Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers, and congressional designations that would be protected from mining by the legislation. The exception would be claims that have been found to be valid through a formal examination process.

Kalmiopsis Rivers
Wildflower walk at the Rough and Ready Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern draws a crowd. The botanical reserve, in the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Area, is also the proposed location of a nickel smelter and ore drying facility.

Sponsors

Senators Ron Wyden (D OR) and Jeff Merkley (D OR) and Representatives Peter Defazio (D OR)  and Jared Huffman (D CA) introduced the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Projection Act in February of 2015. Rep. Earl Blumenauer  (D OR) is a co-sponsor.

Overwhelming public support for mineral withdrawal and protection from mining

The Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Project Act is a non-controversial bill. It’s 4 pages long. The text is straightforward. Public support for protecting these rivers, watersheds and headwater areas from mining has been overwhelming—including in the local affected communities.

For example, of the 45,000 comments recently submitted on the Obama Administration’s proposed interim withdrawal, there were only 23 opponents. So out of all comments submitted, beginning on June 29, 2015 and going through May 29, 2016, greater than 99.9 percent of the interested public supported the proposed temporary withdrawal and opposed the nickel mines.[1]

Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act
Supporters of the USFS & BLM;s proposed temporary mineral withdrawal for the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Area packed Gold Beach Oregon public hearing. Kyle Ashby photo

Letters of support for mineral withdrawal

The Confederated Tribes of the Siletz and the Elk Valley Rancheria support the withdrawal as well as many many local business, including the Wild Rivers, Wild Brews Coalition. Read their letter of support here and their guest opinion in the Medford Mail Tribune here.

Kalmiopsis Rivers
Arch Rock Brewing founded the Wild Rivers, Wild Brews Coalition of craft breweries. They know that producing the finest of craft beers requires the cleanest of waters and they want to keep the rivers of the Kalmiopsis and Wild Rivers Coast that way.

What will the legislation do?

The Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act would have two primary effects;

  1. It would close the three subject areas to the location of new mining claims; and
  2. it would require existing claim holders to demonstrate their federal mining claims comply with the laws of the United States—including the 1872 Mining Law—before mining activities can begin.[2]

The legislation also incorporates provisions of the Chetco River Protection Act that implement recommendations made by the U.S. Forest Service in 1993. The provisions would upgrade the river area classification for two segments of the congressionally designated National Wild and Scenic Chetco River.

North Fork Smith River
The Smith River in California is famed for its beautiful winter steelhead. The withdrawal legislation would close 30,000 acres of the North Fork Smith River Watershed in Oregon to mining, subject to valid existing rights. Cal Trout photo.

Constitutional rights protected

The Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act is “subject to valid existing rights.” This savings clause fully protects the constitutional rights of existing claim holders to mine the area. However, before these rights can be asserted against the United States and before mining can begin on existing claims, the mining companies must demonstrate their claims are indeed “valid” and comply fully with the laws of the United States through a mineral examination.[3]

Recreation and access protected

The legislation will not affect public access or recreational activities. In fact, it indirectly protects access and recreational use.  Without withdrawal—under current government policy—mining is treated as the dominant use of all federal public lands that are open to the purview of the 1872 Mining Law.

Harvey Young of Fishhawk River Company knows his livelihood and a big part of the growing recreation/clean water economy of the Wild Rivers Coast depend on its beautiful rivers and the bounty of clean water and wild salmon and steelhead they provide.
Harvey Young of Fishhawk River Company knows his livelihood and a big part of the growing recreation/clean water economy of the Wild Rivers Coast depend on its beautiful rivers and the priceless bounty of clean water and wild salmon and steelhead they provide.

Why the legislation is in the public interest?

Under the 1872 Mining Law, all federal public lands, including National Forests, are open to exploration and mining unless explicitly withdrawn from the purview of this antiquated law. It’s further the position of the federal government that absent withdrawal, what’s called a “reasonable” mining plan cannot be denied.. What’s “reasonable” is dictated by whether mine development occurs in a logical sequence. Pollution, irreparable damage to the land, or the will of the people are not taken into consideration. See our special mineral withdrawal page to understand the effect of the 1872 Mining Law on the public land open to it.

Kalmiopsis Rivers
Just some of the long lasting scars of mineral exploration activities on Gasquet Mountain in the watershed of the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River and the Smith River National Recreation Area. Google Earth image.

In the adjacent Smith River National Recreation Area, Congress withdrew over 300,000 acres of National Forest lands in the watershed of the National Wild and Scenic Smith River and required the development of special surface mining regulations. Most, if not all, of the of the 5,000 existing claims in the NRA were speculative. Not one of the existing claims have been found to have a valuable mineral deposit. However, the scars of mineral exploration proceeding the Act are visible today. They give the public a glimpse of what could happen if a nickel strip mining proposal even got a toe hold on the fragile serpentine soils found in the Kalmiopsis and Wild Rivers Coast regions.

Kalmiopsis Rivers
The confluence of Baldface Creek and the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River in the Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks proposed withdrawal area of the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Area. Barbara Ullian

Wild places, rivers and botanical reserves | too special to mine

The three areas covered by the Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act total about 106,000 acres and include:

In addition the area provides pure drinking water for thousands of  downstream residents and its river systems provide many miles of pristine habitat for wild coho and chinook salmon and steelhead and cutthroat trout.

Hunter Creek and the Pistol River headwaters
Hunter Creek, with the headwaters of the Hunter Creek and the Pistol River in the background. It’s the fragile serpentine soils in the headwaters of the two native salmon and steelhead streams that a foreign owned company wants to mine for nickel. Ken Morris photo.

 Maps

Kalmiopsis Rivers
The Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Projection Act would closes this part of the Scenic River Area of the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River to new mining claims. Ann Vileisis photo.

Learn more about mineral withdrawals

The withdrawal will prevent the location of new mining claims and require that existing claims are valid, and comply fully with the law, before mining is allowed. Our special Mineral Withdrawal and 1872 Mining Law page provides a more detailed explanation of the effects of a land/mineral withdrawal and why, despite its imperfections, it’s the best available way to protect National Forest and BLM-managed lands from mining.

Kalmiopsis Rivers
South Coast River Tours is one of the growing number of local recreation/clean water dependent businesses.

Top photo

The top photo is of the North Fork of Rough and Ready Creek in the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed South Kalmiopsis Wilderness Addition. The creek is a USFS eligible Wild and Scenic River.  The photo is by Nate Wilson river guide, photographer, writer and film maker. Learn more about Nate’s trip into the wild country of the South Kalmiopsis and the North Fork of Rough and Ready Creek here.

Notes

[1] See U.S. Forest Service, 2015 Environmental Assessment for the Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal (EA) on pages 5 & 6. Click here for the U.S. Forest Service’s website with the EA and accompanying information.

[2] A mining claim that complies with the laws of the United States, including the 1872 Mining Law, is known as a “valid” mining claim. It’s one that’s gone through a comprehensive test to determine whether all the requirements of law have been met, including whether there’s a discovery of a valuable mineral deposit on the claims.  See BLM’s definition of a valid existing rights determination in withdrawn areas here. Scroll down to number 5.

[3] See note number 1 (above) and our special mineral withdrawal page.

[4] The proposed withdrawal of seventeen miles of the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River on August 1, 2011 and its temporary segregation (a mini withdrawal) lead to the eventual elimination of 15 miles of mining claims and the six mining plans of operation submitted to the U.S. Forest Service. On July 26, 2013, the Secretary of Interior withdrew the seventeen miles of the river for a period of five years. As long as this stretch of river remains withdrawn no new mining claims can be located along it and no mining can occur, thus protecting the Chetco’s exceptional water clarity and it’s world class salmon and steelhead runs. Legislation to make the withdrawal of the Wild and Scenic Chetco River permanent was introduced in the House and Senate in 2010 and in subsequent years. It is part of the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act and the Oregon Wildlands Act.

[5] USDI Bureau of Land Management, Mineral Report for the Nicore Claims Group in Josephine and Curry Counties, January 31, 2005,  Note: This report is the only comprehensive mineral evaluation that’s been done for the southwest Oregon area. It was prepared by a  team of mineral examiners and specialists from BLM, the Forest Service, and private industry. The purpose was to evaluate the geology, mining, mineral processing, and economics of developing the the 5,000 acre Nicore Claims Group in the Rough and Ready Creek Area. The team’s initial leader, Dr. Terry Maley—had over 40 years’ experience in the field conducting valid existing rights determinations. According to court records in Walter Freeman v. USDI, et al,, he deemed the team for the Rough and Ready Creek claims to be “the most qualified, the most experienced, the most educated team to ever take on a mineral exam.”

[6] Id at page 5-24.

[7] Id. at page 6-19.

[8] Id. at page 5-16.