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

Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal

A proposed time-out from mining

The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have applied to withdraw 98,500 acres on the Siskiyou National Forest and 5,200 acres on adjacent Bureau of Land Management lands from location and entry under the United States mining laws. The purpose of the proposed Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal is to preserve the status quo of two special areas of exceptional conservation value while Congress considers their permanent protection. They are:

  • The Hunter Creek and Pistol River Headwaters Mineral Withdrawal Area (approximately 23,800 acres) (click here for map); and
  • The Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks Mineral Withdrawal Area (approximately 72,500 acres) (click here for map).
Kalmiopsis Rivers
A pristine watershed delivering the purest of waters, even at flood stage. Pictured: The confluence of Baldface Creek and Taylor Creek, just below the northeast corner of Red Flat Nickel Corporation’s Cleopatra mining claims. J.R. Weir Photo.

Pristine and botanically rich National Forest lands, producing some of the cleanest drinking water in the nation, are no place for nickel mines

The Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks Withdrawal Area includes all of the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River’s watershed in Oregon that is not currently protected in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness (approximately 30,000 acres). It also includes botanically unique serpentine lands in the West Fork Illinois River Watershed and the highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon. The area is part of a larger area in southwest Oregon and northwest California with one of the highest concentrations of rare and endemic plants in North America. Together these watersheds produces some of the cleanest drinking water in the nation. The North Fork Smith River watershed is entirely protected in California but not in Oregon.

The botanically unique Hunter Creek and (North Fork) Pistol River Headwater’s Withdrawal Area is a few miles inland from Cape Sebastian State Park and the spectacular Wild Rivers Coast. The drinking water source of residents along these native salmon and steelhead streams are primarily wells along the Pistol River and Hunter Creek.

The metal mining industry is by far the largest emitter of toxic pollution the United States. The communities that would be most affected by the development of nickel strip mines in the two withdrawal areas all support the proposed temporary withdrawal and legislation to make it permanent.

Scroll down for the special land allocations and agency recommendations for Wild and Scenic River designations and Wilderness in the two withdrawal areas.

Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withrawal
Rick Bennett came to the Grants Pass public hearing to speak for friends, family and other homeowners in Gasquet California who get exceptionally clean drinking water from the North Fork Smith River downstream of the proposed Cleopatra Mine Project.

These lands and communities deserve the best protection possible

The proposed duration of the withdrawal is 5 years. The public has overwhelmingly asked the withdrawal be for the full 20 years allowed under under the Federal Land Management and Policy Act. 43 U.S.C. § 1714 (c). This was repeated speaker after speaker at the two local hearings.

Here’s what Rick Bennett, homeowner on the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River, had to say:


“We can’t have a strip mine that takes away our clean drinking water and it’s as simple as that.”


See the case for a 20 year mineral withdrawal below.

Mini-withdrawal | time for public comment, meetings & analysis

The Federal Register Notice announcing the proposed administrative withdrawal initiated a two-year mini-withdrawal. This is otherwise known as a segregation. The two-year segregation provides opportunity for public comment and meetings and gives the land managing agencies and BLM time to prepare the required reports and analysis. To date the public and political support for the withdrawal has been overwhelming—99.1%. Scroll down for details.

U.S. Forest Service Information

Click here for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest’s information webpage. The site includes the Final Environmental Assessment for the  proposed withdrawal, official maps and other information.

Southwestern Oregon Mineral Witherdrawal
Wild azalea on the West Fork Illinois River in the proposed Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal Area. Barbara Ullian photo.

Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell

The decision whether to withdraw the lands subject to the proposed Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal is pending and will be made by the Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell or her designee.

What the withdrawal will do

The proposed administrative withdrawal, if approved, will have two effects:

  • It will prevent the location of new mining claims for the duration of the withdrawal.[1}
  • It will require holders of existing federal mining claims to show their claims are valid and comply with the laws of the United States before they’re allowed to mine—as long as the withdrawal is in effect.

Because the withdrawal will be subject to “valid existing rights,” it will fully protect the constitutional and due process rights of the existing claim holders, if such rights are found to exist through the process prescribed by law.

What it will not do

It will not affect other activities such recreation or public access. The withdrawal actually protects the public’s ability to use their lands. Without withdrawal—under current government policy—mining is treated as the dominant use of all National  Forest and Public Lands that are open to the purview of the 1872 Mining Law. So as long as areas are not withdrawn, the interests of mining companies (including foreign owned companies) take precedent over those of the American public.

Because the withdrawal is “subject to valid existing rights” it may not prevent mining on existing claims. However, before such rights can be asserted against the United States, the mining claimant has to demonstrate the mining claims are indeed valid. To have a valid existing right, the claimant must establish that “the mineral can be extracted, removed, and marketed at a profit”. United States v. Coleman, 390 U.S. 599, 600 (1968).

According to the U.S. Forest Service, none of the several hundred existing claims in the two proposed withdrawal areas, have been found to be valid and none of the mining claimants have requested a valid existing rights determination.

Rough and Ready Creek
The North Fork of Rough and Ready Creek below one of RNR Resources proposed mine sites. The US Forest Service has proposed the area as Wilderness and found the creek eligible to become a Wild and Scenic River. Northwest Rafting Co. photo

The Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal Area

The Hunter Creek and Pistol River headwaters and North Fork Smith River and Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks watersheds proposed withdrawal areas include the following special land allocations, U.S. Forest Service recommendations for future management and congressional designations:

Equally important, the areas 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. The two Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal areas are exceptional conservation lands within the nationally outstanding greater Kalmiopsis and Wild Rivers Coast regions.

Overwhelming public support

The public, tribes and local communities have shown overwhelming support for the proposed five year withdrawal and most have asked that the maximum protection be provided. During the two public comment periods and two public hearings, the BLM and Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest received approximately 45,000 comments on the proposed Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal. 99.9% of all respondents support the withdrawal of these lands from mining. [2] Read more here.

Kalmiopsis Rivers
An estimated 250 people attended the Gold Beach, Oregon hearing. Most all who spoke supported a 20-year mineral withdrawal. About the same number attended the Grants Pass hearing. Only three spoke in opposition to the withdrawal.

The public hearings were held in Gold Beach and Grants Pass, Oregon. According to the Forest Service approximately 250 people attended each of the hearing. Over 100 of those attending spoke, with only three opposing the the withdrawal.


Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal
Isadora Millay, speaking in support of the Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal at the Grants Pass hearing.

“Our watersheds are for everyone to enjoy not for a corporation to hog just to make more money. The mining industry is the the most polluting industry. That is not only bad for our precious rivers but also for the workers and people who live nearby.”

Isadora Millay, Illinois Valley


Letters | Support for withdrawal and/or opposition to mines

The following have sent letters supporting the withdrawal and/or opposing the Red Flat and Cleopatra Mine Projects.

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
Dave Lacy, Hunter Creek River Steward at the Gold Beach mineral withdrawal hearing on September 10, 2015 asked everyone who supported the mineral withdrawal to stand up. The audience stood and applauded. Click image or here to see the video (20 sec.). Native Fish Society.

Who holds existing mining claims in proposed withdrawal areas

According to the BLM’s LR 2000 online data base, two mining companies and an association of claimants hold all but five of the existing mining claims in the two proposed withdrawal areas. The claims are held in large groups covering approximately 8,160 acres. They are:

Red Flat Nickel Corporation holds 225 total claims. According to LR 2000, each is 20.66 acres in size. Red Flat Nickel’s claims are found in two separate locations. They are:

The Cleo or Cleopatra Claims Group in the North Fork Smith River watershed. The Cleo Claims Group consists of 139 contiguous lode claims covering approximately 2,870 acres. The claims group is located in Oregon along the California border. It’s southern extent is adjacent to the Smith River National Recreation Area. The Kalmiopsis Wilderness is 1 to 2 miles away along its western extent. The Cleopatra Claims Group is entirely in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area, Oregon’s second largest National Forest wild area. Most of the claims are in the pristine Baldface Creek watershed—above the creek and parallel to the length of Taylor Creek, a U.S. Forest Service Eligible Wild and Scenic River. as is Baldface Creek, which it’s tributary to.

The RF or Red Flat Claims Group consists of 86 lode claims. It’s approximately 1,770 acres in size and is located in the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Pistol River about seven miles inland from the Wild River Coast’s Cape Sebastian and Samuel Boardman State Parks.

RNR Resources, hold  approximately 1280 acres of mining claims in three areas within the Rough and Ready Creek watershed. Two groups of claims are for proposed mine sites. The mine sites are in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area. The third group of claims is where RNR Resources proposes to construct a smelter and ore drying facility in the Rough and Ready Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern. There are several other claims held by associates of RNR Resources in the Woodcock Bog Research Natural Area.

In addition, the owner of RNR Resources also holds what’s known as the Nicore Claims Group. In 2005, BLM found the 5,000 acre Nicore Claims Group at Rough an Ready Creek not to be valid. The RNR Resources claims are located in the same area for the same minerals (nickel). The claimant is currently challenging the BLM/Department of Interior’s invalid finding so these claims are in limbo.

The VOR Claims Group consists of 14 placer claims, each 160 acres in size for a total of approximately 2,240 acres. The VOR mining claims are held by what’s called an “association.” While they’re filed as placer claims, like the RNR Resources/Nicore mining claims, they’re held for nickel laterites. Two of the VOR claims are in the Hunter Creek/Pistol River headwaters and the rest are in the Rough and Ready Creek/North Fork Smith River proposed withdrawal area.

There’s about 100 acres of additional claims that are located on streams. These are likely for placer gold.

Support for a 20 year withdrawal

Most of the 23,000 comments received during the 90 day public comment period asked that the Secretary withdraw the two areas for 20 years, in order to provide maximum protect for the area while congress considers legislation that will make the withdrawal permanent. Approximately 470 people attended the two local hearing.  Of the many who testified, only 3 opposed the withdrawal and most requested a 20 year withdrawal.

The case for a 20 year withdrawal

While a withdrawal of 5 years has been proposed, the applicable part of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (43 U.S.C. § 1714 (c)) allows withdrawals to be for 20 years. A 20 year withdrawal will temporarily safeguard these exceptional public lands from the harm and speculation that can occur under the 1872 Mining Law and will provide Congress with adequate time to provide for permanent protection.

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

Filing mining claims under the antiquated mining law is easy. Getting rid of fraudulent and nuisance claims through contest proceedings is time consuming and difficult. The presence of such claims can complicate sensible land management and come at significant expense to the taxpayer.[2]

While withdrawals can be extended for the same amount of time as the original withdrawal, such extensions are subject to a time consuming process that starts at least two years before the existing withdrawal is set to expire. If legislation is not passed within the five years and the withdrawal is not extended, the area will again be open to the location of new mining claims and if a mine is permitted there may be no way to stop it, even if Congress should act in 6 months or a year after the withdrawal expires. These two areas, with their exceptionally high conservation values, deserve the highest level of protection allowed under the law.

Help in understanding the complex issue of mineral withdrawal

Our special Mineral Withdrawal and the 1872 Mining Law page provides relevant background information on administrative and legislative mineral withdrawals.

Media

Here’s a sample of recent media for the proposed Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal. Go to our media page for articles beginning in 2013.

Notes

[1] Thousands of acres of federal mining claims were located in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, on the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River, in 1963—a year before Congress protected the area in the 1964 Wilderness Act. In 1988, three of the mining claims were patented under the 1872 Mining Law. The claimant received title to the now Wilderness land for $2.50 per acre. See Developer lays claim to more than gold in Oregon Wilderness (Oregon Live 3/13/2010)

In 1998, it cost the federal government $3.8 million dollars to purchase one claim in the Kalmiopsis at Taggart’s Bar in order to prevent the area from being mined. Read “Old mining claim has big payoff” in the Medford Mail Tribune.

In addition, the miner bulldozed many miles of road into the proposed Wilderness Area in 1963 without notifying the Siskiyou National Forest. The agency then gave the miner a special use permit to regularly maintain the bulldozed mining tracks after the are became part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. The scars of the old mining road are still visible on Google Earth.

[2] See U.S. Forest Service, 2015 Environmental Assessment for the Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal (EA) on pages 5 & 6 and for a description of the public process and more recently the UFFS and BLM’s Finding of No Significant Impact which states:

Public comments submitted to the BLM and the Forest Service were overwhelmingly in favor of the withdrawal (>99.9%), with comments received form almost every state in the nation (EA page 5 and A-5).

Click here for the U.S. Forest Service’s website with the EA, FONSI and accompanying information.