Forty-five thousand individuals, organizations, tribes, agencies, water districts, counties and city councils commented or signed petitions during two formal comment periods and two local hearings for the Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal. Of the 45,000 respondents, an overwhelming 99.9% supported the temporary time-out from mining.
If implemented, the withdrawal would close two very special areas in Southwest Oregon’s Kalmiopsis and Wild Rivers Coast regions to the location of new mining claims for five years. It would also require existing claim holders to demonstrate—before mining could begin—that they have a valid right to mine under the 1872 Mining Law. Learn more about mineral withdrawals here.
According to the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the support has come from almost every state in the U.S. and it’s equally strong at the local level. Each of the communities that would be most affected by the potential nickel strip mines support the temporary measure and the legislation that would make it permanent. Click here for a list of communities supporting the Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal.
Finding of No Significant Impact
The Forest Service and BLM’s Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) also notes that most of the respondents asked for the maximum possible protection. Under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) mineral withdrawals can be for up to 20 years in duration.
The proposed five-year withdrawal is supposed to give Congress time to consider legislation to provide permanent protection from mining. Senators Wyden and Merkley and Representative DeFazio and Huffman introduced the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act (HR 682 and S 346) in February of 2015. However, the committees of jurisdiction have yet to even schedule a hearing for the bill.
Given the exceptional conservation values of the headwater areas threatened by potential nickel mining, it makes sense to secure the maximum protection possible.
A longer duration withdrawal would also provide more certainty for the two mining companies holding existing claims. They’d know whether or not to begin the process of determining if they, in fact, have a valid existing right to mine in the Rough and Ready Creek, Baldface Creek and the North Fork of the Smith River watersheds and in the Hunter Creek and Pistol River headwaters.
The public’s request for a withdrawal longer in duration than the five years proposed was a consistent theme through out the public comment periods and hearings. In fact, significant public concern compelled the agencies to analyze the option of a longer withdrawal in their environmental assessment.
In the FONSI, the land managers note that it’s their recommendation to send the completed withdrawal application to the State Director of the BLM and the Regional Forester for the purposes of withdrawing the area from location and entry under the United States mining laws for a period of 5 years. However, this is not a decision on whether or not to withdraw the areas.
Only the Secretary of Interior or her designee has the authority of withdraw federal public lands under FLPMA. Additionally, BLM manages the minerals under all federal lands, including our National Forests. So while the majority of the Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal is on the Siskiyou National Forest, it’s the BLM that makes the recommendation whether or not to withdraw the areas to the Secretary of Interior. The next point in the withdrawal process will be for the Oregon BLM’s State Director’s recommendation to the National Director of BLM. The National Director will then send his recommendation on to the Secretary of Interior’s office. Stay tuned.
 Click here for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and Medford and Coos Bay Districts of the Bureau of Land Management web page for the proposed mineral withdrawal. You can download the final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), plus maps of the two proposed withdrawal areas. The FONSI includes the final comment count.