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Groups Call for Action on Rough and Ready Creek and Baldface Creek

On June 27th, the Interior Department approved a 20-year extension for a mineral withdrawal along 14 miles of Oregon’s National Wild and Scenic Illinois River. The measure will protect one of the most popular stretches of river in the state from mining. The existing withdrawal expired on Sunday, June 30th.

Absent reform of the 1872 Mining Law, mineral withdrawals are essential to protect the public’s interest in their National Forest from mining. Under current policy, the Forest Service allows mining over all other land uses, unless an area is first withdrawn from operation of the 1872 Mining Law.

The Illinois River is well known as one of our nation’s most outstanding whitewater rivers,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director for America Whitewater a conservation-oriented paddling organization and one of the groups supporting the withdrawal. “Mining is not appropriate on any part of this National Wild and Scenic River.”

Joseph Vaile, Executive Director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, a local grassroots environmental organization, said “Hundreds of our members wrote in support of the withdrawal. Many shared moving personal experiences of time spent on the Illinois.” Out of over 4,000 comments, there was one letter submitted in opposition to the Illinois River withdrawal.

This 14-mile stretch of the Illinois River was first withdrawn in 1968. The wisdom of this action, which prioritized recreational and fishery values, has become increasingly apparent as use of this premier whitewater river has increased to beyond full capacity on some stretches. On a hot summer day, as many as 1,000 people can crowd onto five miles of the most popular part of the Scenic Illinois River canyon.

Local, state and national conservation organizations applaud the Interior’s actions for the Illinois River. At the same time they are calling on the Obama Administration to withdraw the watersheds of Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks and Oregon’s National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and Rep. Peter Defazio have repeatedly asked the Secretary of Interior and Secretary of Agriculture to withdraw these high quality salmon streams from mining. No action has been taken to date.

“While we are very pleased by the Interior Department’s action on the Illinois river, we believe now is also the time for the Administration to  also protect Rough and Ready Creek and Baldface Creek,” said Chad Woodward, Western Oregon Coordinator for American Rivers. “These pristine streams are also facing serious threats from mining, which is why American Rivers named them among America’s Most Endangered Rivers for 2013.”

“We applaud the renewal of the withdrawal for 14 miles of the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River,” said Barbara Ullian, Coordinator for Friends of the Kalmiopsis.  “But if the Obama Administration is serious in its commitment to America’s Great Outdoors, they need to act immediately to withdraw the watersheds of Rough and Ready Creek and Baldface Creek too.”

Mineral withdrawals have been sought for these rivers and the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River because hardrock mining on public lands is governed by the 1872 Mining Law, a 140-year old law that prioritizes mining over all other land uses and gives federal land managers little ability to deny a mine, regardless of competing land uses.  

“We’re thrilled about the Illinois withdrawal, but the withdrawal process is a lengthy piece-meal approach to protecting our nation’s last best places,” said Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks. “We really need Congress to modernize the 1872 Mining Law to balance mining with other important land uses.”

A bill to reform the mining law (H.R. 2467), which was introduced this month by Reps. Grijalva, Ed Markey and Rush Holt last month, would protect national treasures like Wild and Scenic Rivers from mining.