We look back to September 11, 2015 on the Wild Rivers Coast. It was one of those days that verged on perfect. The evening before, the Gold Beach hearing for the proposed Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal wowed everyone with the sheer size of the crowd and the overwhelming local support. BLM, Forest Service and congressional staff were there to hear what the public had to say. What they heard was overwhelming local support for closing the Hunter Creek and Pistol River headwaters and the North Fork Smith River, Rough and Ready Creek and Baldface Creek watersheds to mining and doing it for 20 years.
To get to the second hearing in Grants Pass, where they were met with an equally enthusiastic crowd, their route would cross four of the rivers that flow from the two areas subject to the proposed withdrawal and through some of the most affected communities.
Here’s a little of what they saw as they traveled through this remote rugged corner of Southwest Oregon and Northwest California—a region famed for its beautiful Wild and Scenic Rivers, the great clarity of their waters and the wild salmon and steelhead they produce.
From Gold Beach, at the mouth of the world famous Rogue River, their way took them down the beautiful Wild Rivers Coast and through the Samuel Boardman State Park to Brookings at the mouth of the Chetco River. This is one of the most beautiful stretches of the Pacific Coast in the contiguous U.S..
First they crossed Hunter Creek and then the Pistol River, where these native salmon streams flow into the Pacific Ocean. It’s in the headwaters of these cherished coastal rivers that Red Flat Nickel Corporation wants to develop the Red Flat Project. This is the first of the two proposed withdrawal areas. It’s a complex of unique serpentine plant communities, springs and rare plant wetlands. Many homes downstream get their drinking water from wells along Hunter Creek and the Pistol River. Residents in the area oppose the mine and support the withdrawal.
Next, immediately south of Brookings, they crossed the Chetco River. In 2013, the Scenic and Recreation Sections of the Wild and Scenic Chetco were temporarily withdrawn from the 1872 Mining Law for five years. This action also enjoyed overwhelming public support. Seventeen miles of this beautiful world-class salmon and steelhead river would be permanently protected from mining in the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act (H.R. 682 and S. 346).
After crossing into California, their way turned away from the coast and into the Redwood National and State Parks. Then through the communities Hiouchi and Gasquet and up the Wild and Scenic Smith River canyon in the Smith River National Recreation Area. All 305,000 acres of National Forest lands in the Smith River’s watershed in California were withdrawn from the mining laws in 1990. Unfortunately—because half of the North Fork Smith River’s watershed lies in Oregon and 30,000 acres of it is open to mining—the National Recreation Area Act did not entirely result in protecting the Smith River.
Crescent City, the National and State Parks and Hiouchi all get their drinking water from the Smith River downstream of the Cleopatra Project. It’s the second nickel laterite mine project owned by the foreign owned Red Flat Nickel Corporation.
While the Cleopatra Project claims group (2,800 acres) is in Oregon’s half of the North Fork Smith River watershed, little Gasquet, California—about 11 miles as the crow flies to the south—would be on the front lines. The Cleopatra Project claims are entirely within the pristine watersheds of the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River and Baldface Creek and the Inventoried South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area. The North Fork Smith is Gasquet’s drinking source.
The list of official support for the proposed withdrawal in Northwest California and Del Norte County is impressive. Go to our Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal page and scroll down.
Finally, the hearing officials’ route took them back to Oregon and into the watershed of the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River, the largest tributary of the lower Rogue River, and through the Illinois River Valley. The week before, the Cave Junction City Council voted to support both the proposed Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal and the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act (H. R. 682 and S. 346). See Cave Junction;s letter of support.
The Redwood Highway takes you across the West Fork Illinois River twice. In between is the otherworldly, bouldery floodplain of Rough and Ready Creek. The West Fork Illinois River and Rough and Ready Creek watershed is host to the greatest concentrations of rare plants in Oregon. For more than two decades citizen’s have been fighting to protect Rough and Ready Creek from two nickel laterite mine proposals—the Nicore and RNR Projects— and the largest-known mineral patent application for a metal mine in the nation.
The Rough and Ready Creek watershed, the botanically rich serpentine terrain of the West Fork Illinois River and the North Fork Smith watershed makes up the second of the two proposed Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal areas. The two withdrawal areas encompass a little over 101,000 acres of the Siskiyou National Forest and Medford and Coos Bay Districts BLM. The conservation value of these lands is exceptional and they produce some of the cleanest drinking water in the nation.
From the headwaters to the coast the message was the same — “no to nickel mines, yes to protecting clean water, our beautiful National Wild and Scenic Rivers and wild salmon and steelhead. Approximately 250 people attended each hearing. of those who spoke there were only three who opposed the withdrawal.
At the Grants Pass hearing, giant tree puppets with, “No Nickel Mine,” signs, huge peace doves and smiling, cheering folk of all ages and walks of life greeted those that had traveled from Del Norte and Curry counties to join their voices with those in Josephine County. The positive energy and sense of community was palpable and continued through the hearing.
There were a few grumbling nay sayers. They were heard with the same respect and courtesy accorded those testifying in favor of the withdrawal. The count was about 250 in attendance, three spoke in opposition to the mineral withdrawal.