Tuesday, July 31, 2018

New bill to protect Chetco from new threat

The Chetco's renowned, crystal-clear waters
On July 28, Congressman Peter DeFazio re-introduced a stand-alone version of the Chetco River Protection Act: H.R. 6546. The bill is based on recommendations made by the U. S. Forest Service in the Chetco Wild and Scenic River Management Plan. It would provide protection this world-class salmon and steelhead river from the renewed threat of mining. 

This bill complements the Oregon Wildlands Act legislation already introduced by Senators Wyden and Merkley that includes a provision to safeguard the Chetco from mining.  Protecting the Chetco has also been included in the Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act.

These bills are critically important because special protections temporarily accorded to the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River recently expired. 

Although the Chetco is renowned and beloved for its crystal-clear water, world-class fisheries and recreation that is focused on both clean water and fish, back in 2008, these qualities were threatened when a Washington real estate developer proposed to mine 20 miles of the Wild and Scenic Chetco riverbed —from claims he owned within the Kalmiopsis Wilderness all the way down to the Forest Service boundary, including at popular swimming areas. He'd planned to helicopter large dredges into the Chetco's remote canyon and then similarly drop in miners staying at Emily Camp, his private inholding, deep in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.

In response to this threat, in 2009, Rep. DeFazio introduced legislation, the Chetco River Protection Act, joined by our Senators, to provide permanent protection from mining for the river's corridor. That started an administrative process that ultimately lead to a 5-year mineral withdrawal in 2013 to protect the "status quo" and give Congress time to pass the bill. (Remarkably, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act does not protect against mining unless a river is specifically designated as "wild," which is why many of our  Wild Rivers Coast National Wild and Scenic rivers, including the Elk, Rogue, Illinois, and New rivers, need the additional protection of "mining withdrawals," which withdraw the lands from the purview of the Mining Law of 1872 and prevent staking new claims.)

However, owing to political gridlock, Congress has not been able to pass a Chetco protection bill in the past 5 years (though Congressman DeFazio and our Senators have introduced it several times).   Ordinarily, administrative mineral withdrawals such as this for the Chetco are routinely extended on request by the land managing agency to safeguard local values and give Congress time to act. The Forest Service began the process to extend the withdrawal two years ago, but the Department of the Interior, which is in charge of mining claims and withdrawals, has not done what is needed to extend the withdrawal.

Our Senators and Congressman DeFazio pressed for action, but Interior Secretary Zinke decided to let the withdrawal lapse putting the National Wild and Scenic Chetco back at risk.

Thus far, the Chetco withdrawal has very successfully protected the river from large-scale dredge mining. Due to failure to properly pay annual fees, the project proponent forfeited his claims so we went from having a major threat of instream mining to having zero mining claims on this Wild and Scenic River! This status is now in danger.

Fortunately, in the past five years, the state of Oregon has also stepped up to protect the Chetco. In 2015, Oregon designated the Chetco a State Scenic Waterway, which precludes suction dredging in the designated reach—from the Steel Bridge down to Loeb State Park. And in 2017, Oregon's legislature passed a law that prohibits suction dredge mining in Essential Fish Habitat, which covers the main stem up to the wilderness boundary and some tributaries. While these beneficial state designations will certainly help protect against suction dredge mining, it's uncertain if they will protect against other forms of mining.

And so citizens must remain vigilant, especially since the river is now recovering from the Chetco Bar Fire and post fire logging. The only way to make sure that the Wild and Scenic Chetco's river corridor is truly safe from the threat of all types of mining is for Secretary Zinke to make an "emergency withdrawal" or for Congress to act on the Oregon Wildlands Act or the Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Good news for the Chetco!

Summer fun on the Wild & Scenic Chetco River
There’s good news for the Wild and Scenic Chetco! There are now three bills in Congress that may provide a chance to make permanent the temporary ban on new mining claims that now protects the river.

The Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act was recently introduced by Representatives Peter DeFazio and Jared Huffman (who represents Del Norte in CA) and Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. The centerpiece of the bills (H.R. 682 and S. 346) is a withdrawal of about 100,000 acres of sensitive lands threatened by nickel strip mining at the headwaters of the Illinois (Rough and Ready Creek) and of the Smith (Baldface Creek) and also of Hunter Creek and Pistol River from new mining activities. The bill would also permanently withdraw the portion of the Chetco’s Wild and Scenic river corridor that flows through National Forest lands from new mining claims.

The Oregon Wildlands Act was also recently introduced by Senators Wyden and Merkley and includes a number of high priority conservation initiatives that enjoy broad support but that have not advanced through Congress. It includes additions to the Wild Rogue Wilderness plus a Devil's Staircase Wilderness, wild and scenic river designations for Elk tributaries and for Wassen Creek, and a National Recreation Area for the Rogue canyon that would provide additional protections. The bill would also permanently withdraw the portion of the Chetco’s Wild and Scenic river corridor that flows through National Forest lands from new mining claims.

Finally, the O&C Lands Act of 2015 (S.132) was re-introduced by Senators Wyden and Merkley back in January and includes measures that would both significantly increase protections for Oregon's most treasured places --including the Wild and Scenic Chetco--and also increase timber harvests with the intent of providing increased revenues for Oregon's rural O&C counties.

So at this point, we have three horses in the race for the Chetco!!! Let's hope that one of these bills is able to gain traction and advance. The temporary withdrawal on the Chetco must be made permanent before it lapses.

Unfortunately, prospects in this Congress are not particularly promising given the anti-conservation tenor of the majority, but that doesn’t mean that our elected officials can stop pushing. We need to thank them for their persistent efforts to protect the Chetco and keep them inspired to keep working to protect all the extraordinary rivers of our Wild Rivers Coast. Please help by sending THANK YOU note so they know that people care about and appreciate their efforts for the Chetco. Go to the How to Help page for contact links and a sample note you can cut and paste.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Chetco River mineral withdrawal | Saving a river and saving money for the taxpayer

Fishing the Chetco. Mickey Weir photo.
On August 1, 2011, a notice published in the Federal Register segregated 17 miles (5,610 acres) of the Wild and Scenic Chetco River from the 1872 Mining Law.

Less than four years later, the temporary Secretarial mineral withdrawal has saved a river, as well as saving the American taxpayer money. However, the job of protecting the cherished Chetco from mining is far from done.

While still dependent on the passage of legislation to become permanent, the Secretary of Interior's action on behalf of the Chetco River nonetheless demonstrates why mineral withdrawals are so important in protecting the public's interest in high value conservation lands (and rivers).

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Happy Birthday Kalmiopsis Wilderness | Home of the Wild Chetco River!

Kalmiopsis Wilderness - Tim Palmer
Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness!

Congress passed the landmark Wilderness Act on September 3, 1964 to protect areas of America’s unique natural heritage for future generations. The stark and rugged upper watershed of the Chetco River in southwest Oregon was one of the original Wilderness Areas designated in the Act.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wild and Scenic Chetco protection update | Summer 2014

For those of us keeping tabs on the effort to protect seventeen miles of the National Wild & Scenic Chetco River from being mined, the clock is now ticking.

July 30, 2014, was the one-year mark for the 5-year temporary mineral withdrawal, put in place by the Secretary of Interior at the request of the U.S. Forest Service.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Wild and Scenic Chetco River protection update | Fall 2013

Fishing on the Chetco
Now that the Chinook have begun to return to the Chetco, it’s a good time to to see where we’re at with the Chetco River Protection Act. The legislation will permanently protect our Wild and Scenic River from the threat of instream mining.

In July, Secretary of Interior Jewell signed a  mineral withdrawal, protecting the Chetco  from mining for 5 years. This will give Congress time to pass the legislation.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Wild and Scenic Chetco River | Protected from mining for 5 years!

On July 26, the Interior Department announced its approval of a mineral withdrawal for 17 miles of the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River in the Federal Register, Authorized by Public Land Order #7819, the mineral withdrawal protects 5,610 acres of National Forest land along the Wild and Scenic Chetco River from mining for five years.

 The Wild and Scenic Chetco River. Northwest Rafting Co. photo

Friday, July 19, 2013

Our Senators and Congressman come through again

"Scenic" reach of Chetco River
The Chetco is one of South Coast's extraordinary "Wild Rivers." It was protected as a National Wild and Scenic River in 1988 in recognition of it's outstanding fishery, crystal clear waters and high quality recreation values. The Oregon Omnibus Wild and Scenic Act owed it's success to the bi-partisan leadership of former Senator Mark Hatfield and Congressman Peter DeFazio.

Since then, Oregon's congressional delegation has always stood firm and supported the protection of our extraordinary Wild and Scenic Rivers.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Wild and Scenic Chetco River | An Oregon Treasure

The clear waters of the Chetco River.
In late June, the Oregon Treasures Act, co-sponsored by Senator Wyden and Senator Merkely, was marked up in the Senate Natural Resources committee.

The Oregon Treasures Act includes the Chetco bill that will safeguard the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River from future mining threats.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Stunning waters of Chetco win National Geographic contest

Northwest Rafting Company 2013 Chetco expedition
We all know that the clear blue-green waters of the National Wild and Chetco River are extraordinarily beautiful. Therefore, it's no surprise that a photo of "Magic Canyon" in the river's wild reaches, recently won a National Geographic travel photo contest. It was submitted by Zach Collier, a river outfitter, who has been supportive of Chetco River conservation efforts. For more photos from trip click here.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Chetco River in April 25th Oregon Treasures Act hearing

The Public Lands Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held hearings on an assortment of public lands bills on April 25 including the Oregon Treasures Act (S. 353), which includes language that would give the Wild and Scenic Chetco River additional protection from mining threats. As of 2013, the Chetco River Protection Act has been incorporated into S. 353.

A cool late summer fun run of the Chetco's wild Scenic River Area (© Northwest Rafting Company)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Chetco River Protection Act reintroduced in House!

Kayaking the Chetco's "scenic" reach

In mid March, Congressman DeFazio reintroduced the Chetco River Protection Act, H.R. 1215, into the 113th Congress. The bill was co-sponsored by Oregon Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Susanne Bonamici. The language of H.R. 1215 matches up with the bill introduced in the Senate as part of the Oregon Treasures Act S.B. 363. It is exactly the same as what has been proposed in years past.

The Chetco River Protection Act and the Chetco portion of the Oregon Treasures Act would withdraw the "wild" and "scenic" reaches of the Chetco River (on Forest Service lands from the Kalmiopsis Wilderness boundary down to the Forest Service boundary) from new mineral claims.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Our Wild and Scenic Chetco River makes USA Today

Kayaking in Kalmiopsis (NW Rafting Co.)
The National Wild and Scenic Chetco River made USA Today last week in an article about the top new adventure travel trips of 2013.

“Think crystal-clear pools for swimming, scenic canyon hikes, and the absolute tranquility of a remote and virtually unvisited river,” reporter Josh Roberts wrote about the Chetco when describing a new adventure trip that will be offered this year by Northwest Rafting Company.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Senators Wyden and Merkley re-introduce Chetco River bill

Steelhead fishing on the Chetco (Tim Palmer photo)
On February 14, Senators Wyden and Merkley re-introduced the Chetco River protection bill into the new Congress as part of their new Oregon Treasures Act.

Please send a note to Senators Wyden and Merkley to thank them and to encourage them to press forward with this important conservation legislation.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Forest Service recommends mineral withdrawal for Chetco

No motorized dredge mining on the Wild and Scenic Chetco!
In January, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest released its Environmental Assessment (EA) of a 5-year mineral withdrawal for the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River.  In its EA, the Forest indicated that “full protection of the river’s Outstandingly Remarkable Values —recreation, water quality, and fish— can only occur through a mineral withdrawal” and recommended that the Secretary of the Interior take action.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Chetco River featured at Wild Rivers Night in Portland

Beautiful photographs of the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River, by Tim Palmer and Ann Vileisis, President of Kalmiopsis Audubon, were one of the keynote features at a wildly successful 3rd Annual Wild River Night in Portland on January 9th. Begun three years ago by Northwest Rafting Company, the event (to raise funds for river conservation) was bigger and better than ever.

Tim Palmer talking to packed crowd at Wild Rivers Night in Portland (Northwest Rafting Co. photo)