A proposed time-out from mining
The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have applied to withdraw 98,500 acres on the Siskiyou National Forest and 5,200 acres on adjacent Bureau of Land Management lands from location and entry under the United States mining laws. The purpose of the proposed Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal is to preserve the status quo of two special areas of exceptional conservation value while Congress considers their permanent protection. They are:
- 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).
Pristine and botanically rich National Forest lands, producing some of the cleanest drinking water in the nation, are no place for nickel mines
The Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks Withdrawal Area includes all of the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River’s watershed in Oregon that is not currently protected in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness (approximately 30,000 acres). It also includes botanically unique serpentine lands in the West Fork Illinois River Watershed and the highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon. The area is part of a larger area in southwest Oregon and northwest California with one of the highest concentrations of rare and endemic plants in North America. Together these watersheds produces some of the cleanest drinking water in the nation. The North Fork Smith River watershed is entirely protected in California but not in Oregon.
The botanically unique Hunter Creek and (North Fork) Pistol River Headwater’s Withdrawal Area is a few miles inland from Cape Sebastian State Park and the spectacular Wild Rivers Coast. The drinking water source of residents along these native salmon and steelhead streams are primarily wells along the Pistol River and Hunter Creek.
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.
Scroll down for the special land allocations and agency recommendations for Wild and Scenic River designations and Wilderness in the two withdrawal areas.
These lands and communities deserve the best protection possible
The proposed duration of the withdrawal is 5 years. The public has overwhelmingly asked the withdrawal be for the full 20 years allowed under under the Federal Land Management and Policy Act. 43 U.S.C. § 1714 (c). This was repeated speaker after speaker at the two local hearings.
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.”
See the case for a 20 year mineral withdrawal below.
Mini-withdrawal | time for public comment, meetings & analysis
The Federal Register Notice announcing the proposed administrative withdrawal initiated a two-year mini-withdrawal. This is otherwise known as a segregation. The two-year segregation provides opportunity for public comment and meetings and gives the land managing agencies and BLM time to prepare the required reports and analysis. To date the public and political support for the withdrawal has been overwhelming—99.1%. Scroll down for details.
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.
Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell
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.
The Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal Area
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:
- Approximately 6.5 miles of the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River;
- Two U.S. Forest Service Eligible National Wild and Scenic Rivers (Rough and Ready Creek and Baldface Creek);
- A U.S. Forest Service proposed addition to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness (South Kalmiopsis Addition);
- Two Inventoried Roadless Areas (South Kalmiopsis and Packsaddle);
- Nine special botanical reserves:
- Woodcock Bog Research Natural Area (Meford District BLM),
- Rough and Ready Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern (Medford District BLM),
- Rough and Ready Creek Botanical Area (Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest),
- Oregon Mountain Botanical Area (Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest),
- West Fork Illinois River Area of Critical Environmental Concern (Medford District BLM),
- Lemingworth Gulch Research Natural Area (Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest)
- Hunter Creek Bog Area of Critical Environmental Concern (Coos Bay District BLM)
- North Fork Hunter Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern (Coos Bay District BLM), and
- Red Flat Botanical (Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest),
- The proposed Veva Stansell Botanical Area
- Habitat for sensitive, rare, threatened or endangered species, including coho salmon.
- 143 miles of streams including the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the North Fork Pistol River);
- Numerous rare plant wetlands known as serpentine Darlingtonia fens (one of the rarest vegetation types in North America).
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.  Read more here.
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.
“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.
- Senators Ron Wyden (D OR) and Jeff Merkley (D OR) and Representatives Peter DeFazio (D OR) and Jared Huffman (D CA)
- California State Senator Mike McGuire
- Cave Junction City Council
- Del Norte County Board of Supervisors
- Curry County Board of Commissioners
- Crescent City City Council
- Crescent City-Del Norte Co Chamber of Commerce + Visitor’s Bureau
- Redwoods State and National Parks
- Gasquet Community Services District
- Big Rock Community Services District
- California Department of Fish and Wildlife
- California North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board
- Gold Beach City Council
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.
Who holds existing mining claims in proposed withdrawal areas
According to the BLM’s LR 2000 online data base, two mining companies and an association of claimants hold all but five of the existing mining claims in the two proposed withdrawal areas. The claims are held in large groups covering approximately 8,160 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.
The VOR Claims Group consists of 14 placer claims, each 160 acres in size for a total of approximately 2,240 acres. The VOR mining claims are held by what’s called an “association.” While they’re filed as placer claims, like the RNR Resources/Nicore mining claims, they’re held for nickel laterites. Two of the VOR claims are in the Hunter Creek/Pistol River headwaters and the rest are in the Rough and Ready Creek/North Fork Smith River proposed withdrawal area.
There’s about 100 acres of additional claims that are located on streams. These are likely for placer gold.
Support for a 20 year withdrawal
Most of the 23,000 comments received during the 90 day public comment period asked that the Secretary withdraw the two areas for 20 years, in order to provide maximum protect for the area while congress considers legislation that will make the withdrawal permanent. Approximately 470 people attended the two local hearing. Of the many who testified, only 3 opposed the withdrawal and most requested a 20 year withdrawal.
The case for a 20 year withdrawal
While a withdrawal of 5 years has been proposed, the applicable part of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (43 U.S.C. § 1714 (c)) allows withdrawals to be for 20 years. A 20 year withdrawal will temporarily safeguard these exceptional public lands from the harm and speculation that can occur under the 1872 Mining Law and will provide Congress with adequate time to provide for permanent protection.
Filing mining claims under the antiquated mining law is easy. Getting rid of fraudulent and nuisance claims through contest proceedings is time consuming and difficult. The presence of such claims can complicate sensible land management and come at significant expense to the taxpayer.
While withdrawals can be extended for the same amount of time as the original withdrawal, such extensions are subject to a time consuming process that starts at least two years before the existing withdrawal is set to expire. If legislation is not passed within the five years and the withdrawal is not extended, the area will again be open to the location of new mining claims and if a mine is permitted there may be no way to stop it, even if Congress should act in 6 months or a year after the withdrawal expires. These two areas, with their exceptionally high conservation values, deserve the highest level of protection allowed under the law.
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.
Here’s a sample of recent media for the proposed Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal. Go to our media page for articles beginning in 2013.
- Federal Register Notice for the proposed withdrawal
- Forest Service and BLM’s press release.
- Del Norte Triplicate’s article on the proposed withdrawal
- Curry Coastal Pilot article on proposed withdrawal
- Guest Opinion in the Medford Mail Tribune by Jack Williams, Senior Scientist with Trout Unlimited
- Guest Opinion in the Eugene Register-Guard by Ken Morrish of Flywater Travel
- Citizens oppose river strip mining (Curry Coast Pilot 9/12/20150
- US Forest Service Press Release (5/29/2016)
- Forest Service Plan would thwart Kalmiopsis mine (Oregon Live 5/5/20160
- Plan to exclude mining near Kalmiopsis moves forward (Medford Mail Tribune 5/4/2016)
 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.
 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.