Bill to permanently ban mining in Southwest Oregon passes US HousePublished by MAC on 2021-03-30
Source: OPB, Earthworks.org
Campaign to protect headwaters from strip mining gains momentum.
Introduced by Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio and California Representative Jared Huffman, the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protect Act will now go to the Senate, where Oregon and California Senators have already signaled their support.
Nickel mining can destroy landscapes and pollute waterways. Local communities and their elected leaders have made it clear: the headwaters of extraordinary streams are no place for destructive nickel strip mining.
Conservationists have been resisting a proposed nickel mine in Southern Oregon for many years. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a permanent mining ban in the area as part of a new public lands bill.
Sydney Dauphinais (Jefferson Public Radio)
March 2, 2021
Just before he left office, former president Barack Obama ordered a temporary ban on mining near the headwaters of several rivers that flow through Southwest Oregon and Northern California. Now, the House has approved a bill to make that ban permanent.
Ann Vileisis is president of the Kalmiopsis Audubon Society, an environmental group in Curry County. She says these protections are important for the communities surrounding the rivers.
“Several communities rely on the rivers for drinking water, but also for recreation like fishing and the recreation economy and tourism economy that we all care about,” says Vileisis. “And just our way of life. So the idea of allowing strip mining to get a toehold in our region just makes no sense to me.”
Nickel mining can destroy landscapes and pollute waterways. Vileisis says conservationists hope make this ban permanent.
“We want to make it so that these places will forever be protected,” says Veleisis. “So that’s what this legislation is about. It kind of extends what’s in place now and makes it permanent. We’re hoping that now that it’s moved along in part of this big house bill, our senators will take it up and make it happen finally.”
The bill would protect headwaters of the Wild and Scenic Smith, Rogue and Illinois Rivers and Hunter Creek and North Fork Pistol rivers. The measure is an amendment to a national public lands bill. It was introduced by Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio and California Representative Jared Huffman. The Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protect Act will now go to the Senate, where Oregon and California Senators have already signaled their support.
The campaign to protect Southwest Oregon headwaters from strip mining gains momentum!
February 23, 2021
The headwaters to some of our nation’s most unique and beautiful National Wild and Scenic Rivers are in Southwest Oregon. These emerald-hued waters flow through the botanical wonderland of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness to Redwood National Park and spectacular beaches of the Pacific Coast—and host some of the last best native salmon and steelhead runs in the lower 48. Local communities depend on these rivers for drinking water, outdoor-recreation, a fishing- and tourism-based economy, and rural way of life.
In 2012, the Red Flat Nickel Corporation, a subsidiary of St. Peter Port Capital—a foreign investment company (registered “offshore” in the Guernsey Islands)—proposed plans for mineral exploration on public lands in the headwaters of these rivers, citizens in southern Oregon and northern California mounted a series of successful conservation initiatives to protect these resources from harmful nickel mining. Nickel laterite ores are close to the surface and low grade, resulting in strip mining operations that disturb large areas and generate large volumes of mine waste.
A broad coalition of tribes, local governments, local businesses, conservation groups, sportsmen and commercial fishermen came together in opposition. They garnered the support of U.S. Congressmen Peter DeFazio and Jared Huffman, and U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, who introduced legislation—the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act—to permanently “withdraw” these vulnerable areas from mineral entry, including the headwaters of the renowned National Wild and Scenic Smith, Illinois and Rogue rivers, as well as Hunter Creek and Pistol River. The Senators and Congressmen in turn requested that the U.S. Secretary of the Interior provide interim protection to give Congress time to pass the law.
In response, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management conducted an extensive public outreach process, with hearings in three communities that drew hundreds of local people, dressed in blue, to support conservation of clean water, wild rivers and salmon. In 2016, the Obama Administration approved a 20-year Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal to provide protection for 101,000 acres of river-rich lands of the Kalmiopsis and Wild Rivers Coast.
“Straddling the Oregon/California border, the K-S bioregion contains some of the largest concentration of intact watersheds on the west coast and world-renowned biodiversity… The mineral withdrawal is needed because the Service believes that mining activities are incompatible with the high resource values of this bioregion ...” – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service letter to BLM, September 2015.
“As the largest trade association of commercial fishing families on the west coast, we at PCFFA (together with IFR) urge you to protect the headwaters of the Wild and Scenic Illinois and Smith Rivers and the Wild Rivers Coast from proposed nickel and other strip mines. We respectfully ask you to protect these waterways, which (as key salmon producing rivers) are crucially important to our livelihoods and those of our members, many of whom harvest salmon for all or part of their living.” – Letter to BLM re mineral withdrawal from Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association.
In addition, the coalition successfully petitioned the State of Oregon to designate the pristine North Fork Smith River and all its tributaries and associated wetlands as “Outstanding Resource Waters,” under the U.S. Clean Water Act—a designation reserved only for the finest waters in the United States that imposes stringent requirements to preserve superb water quality.
Just recently, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley introduced the River Democracy Act. The visionary conservation bill would designate many more miles of exceptional rivers in Southwestern Oregon as “Wild and Scenic,” requiring public lands agencies to manage these streams to protect their outstanding values, including clear water, recreation, and fisheries.
And the latest chapter in this effort came just last week, when Representatives Peter DeFazio and Jared Huffman re-introduced the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act, with aims of advancing it into the new Congress. It was amended to House Bill 803 today, with a vote in the House of Representatives likely on Friday.
Red Flat Nickel Corporation continues to assert that it has “valid rights” in one area, but local communities and their elected leaders have made it clear, the headwaters of the extraordinary streams of the Kalmiopsis-Wild Rivers Coast are no place for destructive nickel strip mining.
Earthworks is proud to partner with the coalition of local activists in this important multi-pronged campaign to protect the wild rivers of southwest Oregon. We will be extending our support, once again, for passage of these important conservation bills.
Areas in the Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal include:
- The headwaters of the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith and Smith rivers—renowned for crystal clear water, wild steelhead and salmon runs, rare plants, recreation, fishing, towering redwoods, Redwood National Park, drinking water supply
- The headwaters of the National Wild and Scenic Illinois and Rogue rivers—renowned for crystal clear water, the highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon, wild steelhead and salmon runs, recreation, drinking water supply
The headwaters of Hunter Creek and North Fork Pistol River—beloved for unique botanical areas, rugged backcountry, proposed Wild and Scenic rivers, biking, hiking, fishing and swimming.
For more information:
- Kalmiopsis Wilderness
- Redwoods National Parks
- Wild Rivers Coast
- National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River
- National Wild and Scenic Rogue and Smith Rivers
- National Wild and Scenic Illinois River
- Hunter Creek Headwaters