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

The Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal | Protecting Two Special Areas from Mine Development

A 20-year time-out from mining for the North Fork Smith River and Rough and Ready Creek Watersheds and the Hunter Creek Headwaters

On December 30, 2016, the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management of the Department of Interior signed Public Land Order 7859. The administrative action, known as a mineral withdrawal, formally closes 5,216.18 acres of federal public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and 95,895.53 acres of National Forest lands in Southwestern Oregon from location and entry under the mining laws of the United States for a period of 20 years. Like all withdrawals (legislative or administrative) it’s subject to valid existing rights..

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.

The public lands within the withdrawal area have exceptional scientific, social and ecological values. They’re watershed to the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith, Smith and Illinois rivers and two important native salmon and steelhead streams that flow directly to the Pacific Ocean along the Wild Rivers Coast—Hunter Creek and the Pistol River.

The North Fork Smith and Smith rivers provides exceptionally clean drinking water to a high percentage of the population of California’s Del Norte County. The Illinois River, downstream of Rough and Ready Creek is a drinking water source for the communities of Cave Junction and Kerby.

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.

Rough and Ready Creek hosts the highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon and is beloved by the local community for its clean clear water and the open space it’s public lands provide. The headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Pistol River is rich with springs and rare plants, a little southeast of Gold Beach, Oregon and about 10 miles inland from Cape Sebastian State Park.

No place for nickel mines | Pristine and botanically rich National Forest lands that produce some of the cleanest drinking water in the nation.

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.

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.”

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.

.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

About the Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal Area

The 101,000 acre Southwestern Oregon Withdrawal Area is in two separate areas: One on the west side of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and the larger area on the east side of the Kalmiopsis. It’s southern boundary is the Oregon/California border and the Smith River National Recreation Area.

  • 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)

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 hold all but 1 of the existing mining claims in the two proposed withdrawal areas. The claims are held in large groups covering approximately 5,920 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.

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.

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.