Portland OR – Today over 15,000 petition signatures were delivered to the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to support a mineral withdrawal for public lands in critical watersheds in southwest Oregon, including the North Fork Smith River, Baldface Creek, Rough & Ready Creek, and Hunter Creek.
These signatures build upon the request of a broad coalition of local and national conservation groups to withdraw these public lands from mining in response to proposals for nickel strip mining in the area.
“There’s tremendous support for protecting these valuable public lands from strip mining,” said Michael Dotson of KS Wild. “The Smith and Illinois Rivers support some of the best salmon runs, highest concentration of rare plants, and purest water in the nation.”
Red Flat Nickel Corporation has staked claims on roughly 3,000 acres in the north Fork Smith River watershed adjacent to the Smith River National Recreation Area. All federal public lands in the Smith River watershed in California were withdrawn from the Mining Law in 1990. However in Oregon, some of the most productive salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout habitat in the Smith River system is still open to mining.
Red Flat Nickel has also staked claims on 2,000 acres of land in the headwaters of Hunter Creek and Pistol River, which also provide vital salmon and steelhead streams, and drinking water for local communities. Mine development there has been opposed by the Curry County Board of Commissioners.
“My neighbors and many other residents in Curry County are very concerned about how strip mining would affect our water quality, recreational use and overall quality of life in our watersheds,” said local resident Dave Lacy who collected hundreds of signatures. “Many of the homes here have very shallow wells that could easily be affected by industrial mining pollution,” he continued. “A lot of residents also fish, bird watch, hike and hunt these areas so keeping them accessible and intact is important to us.”
Currently, these lands are governed by the federal 1872 Mining Law, which prioritizes mining over all other land uses – including habitat protection. Mineral withdrawals from the 1872 Mining Law of up to 20 years can be issued by the Secretary of Interior under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). An administrative withdrawal would prohibit both new mining claims and continued mining on invalid claims.
“Without a mineral withdrawal, these vital watersheds are at the mercy of 19th century mining policy written before women even had the vote, said Earthworks’ Northwest Circuit Rider Bonnie Gestring. She continued, “When President Ulysses S. Grant signed the 1872 Mining Law over 140 years ago, he made mining trump all other uses of federally managed land.”
Senator Wyden, Senator Merkley, and Rep. Defazio have repeatedly urged the Obama Administration to withdraw much of this area from mining due to their exceptional qualities, and the inadequacy of the 1872 Mining Law.