7. Rogue and Smith Rivers

Nickel strip mining is proposed near the Rogue and Smith River watersheds. They need to be protected from mining through a federal mineral withdrawal.

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Photo credit: Tim Palmer

Location: Oregon, California

The Wild and Scenic Illinois Rogue (OR) and Smith (OR and CA) rivers are known for their healthy salmon runs, world-renowned plant biodiversity, and outstanding recreation. However, proposed nickel mining in these rivers’ headwaters threatens their unique values. Immediate closure of the area to mining is the most effective way to help prevent the development of nickel strip mines from turning the pristine headwaters of the highest concentration of wild rivers in the country into an industrial mining zone. The U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Department of Interior must withdraw this area from mining immediately to protect this wild treasure.

The Rivers

Oregon’s Wild and Scenic Rogue River is one of the most productive salmon and steelhead producers on the West Coast with an average of 100,000 fish returning each year. Its largest tributary, the Illinois River, is the wild salmon and steelhead refuge for the Rogue Basin and home to globally significant concentrations of rare plants.

The emerald-green Smith River is the only major undammed free-flowing river in California. In contrast to the proposed mining activity in the Oregon headwaters, the California portion of the river is protected, including from mining, as a part of the Smith River National Recreation Area that preserves 450 square miles of forested mountains, pristine botanical areas, remote wilderness landscapes, high-mountain lakes, and steep, rocky canyons. The river is a world-class steelhead river and provides drinking water for the majority of Del Norte County, California. The Rogue, Illinois, and Smith support an outstanding recreational economy, including hiking, rafting, and sportfishing.

Nickel strip mining is also proposed in the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Pistol River, along the Wild Rivers Coast between the Rogue and Smith river watersheds. Hunter Creek and North Fork Pistol River are known for their strong native salmon and steelhead runs, plus designated and proposed Botanical Areas, and two BLM Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. As a result, flyfishers, boaters, and local communities prize this collection of rivers in southern Oregon and Northern California.

The Threat

In the Illinois watershed at Rough and Ready Creek, a mining company has submitted a mining plan to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The plan includes mining lands recommended as Wilderness or Roadless Areas, constructing miles of roads through a pristine watershed and Botanical Areas, and construction of a smelter facility in an Area of Critical Environmental Concern.

Just over the ridge in the Smith River watershed, a foreign-owned mining company has submitted a plan to conduct exploratory drilling at 59 sites along important tributaries, across approximately 3,000 acres of the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area. The Bush Administration recommended a portion of this watershed as Wilderness.

The Environmental Protection Agency has identified metal mining as the largest toxic polluter in the U.S. Strip mining, road construction, and metal processing would devastate this fragile, precious wild area. If one mine starts operating, thousands of acres of wild watersheds could be developed on nearby federal public lands— impacting designated and eligible Wild and Scenic Rivers and turning a rare oasis of clean water, wild salmon, and rare plants into an industrial wasteland. USFS has already concluded that this type of mining would have drastic and irreversible impacts in Rough and Ready Creek, one of the tributary streams threatened by mining in the Rogue River watershed.

What Must Be Done

The only way to prevent these priceless headwaters areas and the rivers they feed from being polluted and destroyed is to protect them from mining through a federal mineral withdrawal. Fortunately, Senators Ron Wyden (OR) and Jeff Merkley (OR) and Rep. Peter DeFazio and Rep. Jared Huffman have called on the Administration to place a temporary ban or withdrawal on mining. We need the agencies to immediately act on this long standing request to withdraw the headwaters of the Smith, Illinois, and Rogue rivers, as well as Pistol River and Hunter Creek, from mining. Delay only increases the likelihood of irreversible harm.

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