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Endangered rivers and top conservation priorities

Rough and Ready Creek and Baldface Creek are nationally outstanding and “eligible” to be added to the National Wild and Scenic River System. The US Department of Agriculture recommended Congress designate 34,000 acres of their watersheds as Wilderness in 2004. They remain unprotected today. 

The threat—nickel strip mines

The primary threat to these beautiful streams and their pure waters is the development of nickel laterite strip mines, networks of ore haul roads and nickel processing facilities. Nickel laterite ores are close to the surface and low grade, resulting in strip mining operations that generate large volumes of mine waste.  

“Allowing mining claims in these areas threatens some of Southern Oregon’s most unique natural treasures,” letter to the Secretary of Interior and Agriculture from Oregon’s Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Peter DeFazio., July 2011.  

“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. These exceptionally high resource values, including several federal candidate and listed species, makes mining incompatible with the resource values and conservation investments in the bioregion.” – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, September 2015.  

The solution—Immediate mineral withdrawal

The 1872 Mining Law, an archaic law that was enacted over 140 years ago, prioritizes mining over all other land uses.  Thus, the only way to permanently protect these rivers and streams from mining is to withdraw their watersheds from the 1872 Mining Law and to permanently protect them. To achieve this Congress must enact legislation. However, in the interim, the Department of the Interior can expeditiously put in place a temporary withdrawal. An administrative withdrawal “in aid of legislation” will provide interim protection, prevent the location of nuisance claims and give Congress time to enact permanent protection.  A mineral withdrawal will require mining companies  that are currently exploring for nickel in these areas to prove that their mining claims are valid, and invalidate those that are not.  The nickel deposits in this area are very low-grade deposits, and there are no nickel laterite processing facilities in the U.S. – raising questions about the economic validity of these projects.   

 “I, and many residents in the area put exponentially more value on our public health, the health of the environment, our recreational enjoyment and the solace that Red Flat area provides than we do on the opportunity for a foreign investment mining group to make money by devastating our public lands.” – Dave Lacey, Hunter Creek resident

Good News

In June, 2015, federal land managers started the mineral withdrawal process, asking the Interior Department to protect roughly 100,000 acres of public lands in the region by putting it off-limits to new mining claims for five years to give Congress the opportunity Congress to pass the Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act for permanent protection.  

In 2016, over 10,000 Earthworks members added their voices in support of a 20 year mineral withdrawal. And in early 2017, the ban on new mining for 20 years was offically submitted to the Federal Register

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