A homegrown movement to protect the clear waters and wild rivers of Oregon's Kalmiopsis & Wild Rivers Coast

The proposed mining withdrawal | decades in the making

What just happened may have seemed out of the blue to some but the recently proposed mining withdrawal has been decades in the making. It’s purpose is to provide interim protection for two very special areas in Southwest Oregon’s Kalmiopsis Region and Wild Rivers Coast where two mining companies want to develop nickel strip mines.

The most recent chapter in a long-standing congressional commitment to protect these National Forest and BLM lands began in February, when Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Representatives Peter DeFazio and Jared Huffman introduced the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act — H. R. 682  and S. 346.  The legislation would withdraw about 106,000 acres of public lands, with exceptional conservation values, from location and entry under the 1872 Mining Law, subject to valid existing rights.

But the story doesn’t begin there. Senator Wyden and Representative DeFazio have been working to protect Rough and Ready Creek, one of the center pieces of the legislation, from nickel mining since 1998 and the Wild and Scenic Chetco River from proposals to mine almost half its length for gold since 2008.[1]

Will it ever be saved. Time after time, opportunities to protect Rough and Ready Creek have been allowed to slip away in favor of better known areas.
The overwhelming and local opposition to the Nicore Mine in the 1990s made the news across the nation.

In 2009, Senator Merkley joined his colleagues in a letter to the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior. The letter asked to have the areas and river corridor withdrawn after thousands of acres of new mining claims were located in the Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks watersheds. As the threat grew, the three repeated their requests almost yearly, to no avail.[2]

Then in 2013, the public first learned of Red Flat Nickel Corporation’s mineral exploration in the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Pistol River and the watershed of the North Fork Smith River in Oregon (including Baldface Creek). With no public notice, the company had hand drilled 736 auger holes across the almost 3,000 acre Cleopatra claims group,.[3] Exploratory drilling was also done across the Red Flat claims at Hunter Creek.[4]

Friends of Del Norte, marched in Crescent City's 4th of July parade.
Fourth of July parade in Crescent City. The City and much of Del Norte County gets its drinking water from the Smith River downstream of where Red Flat Nickel wants to develop a strip mine,

The initial drilling is detailed in two mining plans of operation Red Flat Nickel submitted to the Forest Service in October of 2012. The plans were described as phase 2 in a continuing operation. They were for deeper test drilling across the two claims blocks.

The mining plans were the first the public learned of Red Flat Nickel’s intent to develop nickel laterite strip mines in the Hunter Creek/Pistol River headwaters and North Fork Smith River watershed. Soon after Congressman Jared Huffman (D CA), who represents Northwestern California and Del Norte County got involved.

Residents of Del Norte County had been through this before and they were alarmedIn the 1980s, the scare over a proposed nickel mine at Gasquet Mountain—just south of the Oregon/California border and the Cleopatra claims—had been the impetus for passage of the Smith River National Recreation Area Act in 1990. The Act withdrew about 300,000 acres of National Forest in the river’s watershed in California, permanently protecting it from mining.

But about 30,000 acres of the North Fork Smith River’s watershed lies unprotected in Oregon and open to mining. This is where RFN chose to locate their largest of block of mining claims. This despite the fact that much of the area had been recommended as Wilderness in 2004 and Baldface Creek and all its perennial tributaries were eligible Wild and Scenic Rivers.

The National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River in Oregon and California would be impacted a a nickel strip mine in the rivers near pristine watershed in Oregon.
The National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River in Oregon and California would be impacted by a nickel strip mine in the river’s near pristine watershed in Oregon. Nate Wilson photo.

The public overwhelmingly opposed the two proposed test drilling plans every chance there was for public input.[5] Del Norte County, Crescent City, the local tribes, Curry County, California State agencies all opposed the mining. California State Senator McGuire introduced, and the State’s Senate and Assembly passed, a resolution asking for federal action to protect the Smith River in Oregon.

In the 1990’s, the public had overwhelmingly opposed the Nicore Nickel Mine at Rough and Ready Creek. According to Forest Service Nicore Record of Decision, of 4,500 written comments on the mine proposal only 10 supported any form mining at all. [6] The Creek is an eligible Wild and Scenic River, favorite community open space and host to the highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon. 

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.
Click here for larger image. In 1999, the US Forest Service had received over 4,500 comments on the proposed Nicore Nickel Mine at Rough and Ready Creek. Only 10 favored any form of mining.

History shows us that opposition to mines in this incredibly special, river-rich corner of the planet has been overwhelming and growing. Equally important, the opposition is local and regional—driven by people who are deeply connected to these places, who drink the water, fish the rivers, swim and boat them and hike the wild lands.[6]

So on June 29th—after the Forest Service and BLM finally applied to withdraw the areas and the Secretary of Interior accepted their application and proposed the temporary withdrawal to give congress time to consider the legislation—it should have come as no surprise.

Click here to read the Federal Register Notice describing the proposed withdrawal, announcing public meetings and inviting the public to comment.

Representative’s DeFazio and Huffman and Senators Wyden and Merkley praised the action in this press release. It’s one of the measures they needed to help protect the public’s interest in these high value conservation lands and prevent fraudulent claims while they work to pass the legislation. To be continued.


[1] See the letter Senator Wyden sent to President Clinton in 1999, asking for the President’s help in protecting five extraordinary areas in Oregon – one of which was Rough and Ready Creek and the Kalmiopsis – and explaining his and Congressman DeFazio’s efforts to protect the area.

[2] See especially the letter Representative DeFazio and Senators Wyden and Merkley sent to the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture in 2010.

[3] Click here to go to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest’s web page for the Cleopatra Test Drilling Project. The page includes links to various project records including Red Flat Nickel Corporation’s mining plan of operation for the Cleopatra test drilling.

[4] Click here to go to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest’s web page for the RF-38 Test Drilling Project. The page includes links to project records including Red Flat Nickel Corporation’s mining plan of operation, the USFS Preliminary Decision Memo and record of the public comment.

[5] See for example Oregon Public Broadcasting – “Oregon nickel mine proposal runs into stiff opposition,”Del Norte Triplicate – “Mining foes speak” and the Curry Coastal Pilot – ” Hunter Creek mining proposed.”

[5] See page 22 of the US Forest Service’s Nicore Mine Record of Decision online with OSU’s library system – https://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/xmlui/handle/1957/12297

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