Neither the dark of night nor the rains of November deterred opponents of nickel strip mining in the Kalmiopsis and Wild Rivers Coast regions from making their voices heard at the recent public hearing in Brookings, Oregon. Residents of the communities that would be most affected by the development of industrial-scale mines turned out in record numbers to support the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) proposed 20-year Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal.
It was the third hearing and fifth opportunity for public comment in the administrative proposal to temporarily close 101,000 acres of river-rich National Forest and BLM lands in Southwest Oregon to mining. The purpose of the mineral withdrawal is to prevent harm to these exceptional public lands while their permanent protection is under consideration by congress. As before, public support for the measure was overwhelming.
Speakers left no doubt that protecting the area’s clean drinking water, native salmon and steelhead runs and National Wild and Scenic Rivers from metal mining—the most polluting industry in the nation—was an absolute priority.
Of the approximately 45,000 comments received by the BLM and USFS earlier, 99.9% supported the Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal. Most argued that the high conservation values of these public lands called for the maximum possible protection—a withdrawal of 20 years.
This resulted in the USFS and BLM’s amendment to the original 5-year withdrawal proposal. The agencies have now applied to withdraw the area for 20-years requiring the third public hearing, plus another opportunity for the public to submit written remarks.
So despite the cold, rain and narrow winding roads, over 350 people came from as far way as Port Orford in the north, Crescent City in the south, and inland from Grants Pass and the Illinois River Valley to speak out for protecting their clean drinking water and beautiful rivers and creeks from the industrial pollution of big mining.
The 20-year Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal is supported by the Gold Beach, Crescent City and Cave Junction city councils, plus the water districts for Gasquet, Hiouchi and the Redwoods State and National Parks. It also has the support of the Del Norte Board of Supervisors with good reason. The majority of Del Norte County residents get their drinking water—some of the cleanest in the nation—from the National Wild and Scenic Smith River downstream from where a foreign-owned mining company is trying to develop a nickel strip mine, known as the Cleopatra Project.
Residents of the Illinois River Valley made the long trip to Brookings, because since the 1990s they’ve been working to protect the Rough and Ready Creek area from nickel mining and the largest known attempt to privatize public lands under the 1872 Mining Law. In 2011, the threat of mining resurfaced at Rough and Ready Creek as the RNR Project.
The third area under threat is the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the North Fork Pistol River where the proposed Red Flat Project is located, just 10 miles inland from Cape Sebastian State Park and a little southeast of Gold Beach. The Red Flat Project is the 2nd of two nickel mine development proposals by the foreign-owned Red Flat Nickel Corporation. It’s been strongly opposed by Gold Beach and the small communities of private property owners along both streams.
The diversity of the citizens that have come together to oppose the mining and protect the clean drinking water and wild salmon of this unique rugged corner of Oregon and California is only rivaled by that of the land itself. The tie binding these far flung communities is the abundance of beautiful creeks and rivers that flow from the rugged, wild watersheds of the Kalmiopsis and Coast ranges and the need to protect the priceless resource of clean water and the wild salmon.
Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Representatives Peter DeFazio and Jared Huffman are working hard to make the withdrawal permanent. On Feb. 3, 2015, they introduced the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Projection Act (H.R. 682 and S. 346). Representative Earl Blumenauer has joined his colleagues.
The bill would not only make the 101,000-acre proposed Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal permanent but it would also permanently protect from mining 17 miles of the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River, where the municipality of Brookings, Oregon gets its drinking water.
Representatives from each of the congressional offices have attended all three hearings to listen to the views of the public. At Brookings they read strong statements of support for the U.S. Forest Service and BLM’s proposal for a 20-year and for protecting the area’s clean, clear drinking water and beautiful rivers.
After public input from the 5th comment period is in, the Director of the BLM will make a recommendation to the Secretary of Interior on whether to withdraw the National Forest and BLM lands and for how long, The Secretary makes the ultimate decision.
More information about the Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal
- Learn about the proposed Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal and support for it here, and
- About the proposed amendment to the withdrawal to make it for 20-years here.
- Learn about the Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Projection Act here,
- Click here for more about the Rough and Ready Creek and North Fork Smith River (including Baldface Creek) Proposed Withdrawal Area.
- And here to learn about the Hunter Creek and North Fork Pistol River Headwaters Withdrawal Area.
- This page explains mineral withdrawals in general
- Media and video.