Monday, August 9, 2010

Eight plans submitted to mine the Chetco River

On June 2, 2010, Chetco River Mining and Exploration's (CRME) owner called in to KBOO Radio. He said:
"[We] assure Oregonians that after mining this area we intend to follow up with an aggressive thorough clean up of the area and bring this entire 15-20 mile stretch ecosystem back to its original state, after we strip mine it of its gold.” (Emphasis added) KBOO - 6/02/2010.
The blue-green waters of the Chetco River. Photo Barbara Ullian
What CRME means by strip mining the Chetco of its gold is anyone's guess. These are their words not ours. The amount of mining they propose at each of their claims is described in the eight mining plans the company submitted to the Forest Service to mine approximately 20 miles of this Wild and Scenic River.
There's currently no evidence that CRME has a right to mine the river under the 1872 Mining Law—with one exception, the claim known as Gold #11 (and that's inquestion). If CRME can demonstrate that their mining claims are valid and meet all the requirements of the law, under the Chetco River Protection Act, their rights will be fully preserved.

If CRME does have a right to mine the Chetco, then the Forest Service has authority to regulate the mining, even if that regulation affects the validity of the mining claims. The mining proposal has to comply with all state and federal laws, including the National Wild and Scenic River's Act.

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed overwhelmingly by a bi-partisan Congress in 1968. It requires that the land managing agency "protect and enhance" a designated river's outstanding values. In other words, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is an anti-degradation policy.

For the area outside the Kalmiopsis Wilderness CRME has submitted six separate but similar plans to mine the Chetco. Read one of the plans.  Each is for a period of 10 years, using dredges weighing up to one ton. The company proposes to mine about 470 cubic yards of streambed annually on each of the six claims.

The equivalent of 300 dump truck loads of streambed could be torn up  annually in the search for gold along almost 20 miles of this Wild and Scenic River.
This would be the equivalent of 47 - large dump truck loads of the river's bed, torn up at each of six claims outside the Wilderness (about 282 dump truck load equivalents along about 14.5 miles, in addition to the proposed mining on Gold #11 and 10 in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.

The use dump truck load equivalent to measure the amount of disturbance the mining would result in should be taken to imply that the streambed is a load of lifeless rock and gravel. On the contrary, a streambed is a complex ecosystem and the nursery for much of the river's aquatic life, including its prized wild salmon and steelhead.

The total annual mining CRME is proposing for the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River is up to 3,290 cubic yards. The equivalent of over 300 dump truck loads of Chetco's streambed ecosystem destroyed annually, for ten years.

Read a summary of the mining proposals on The Threats.

These are complex issues but isn't this beautiful river and its world-class salmon and steelhead fishery worth at least requiring the mining company to demonstrate their right to mine? We think so. If you do too, please write your congressional representatives and thank them for introducing the Chetco River Protection Act.

If you want to be involved in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest's analysis of CRME's mining proposals on the Wild and Scenic Chetco River, write to:

District Ranger,
Gold Beach Ranger District,
29279 Ellensburg Avenue,
Gold Beach, Oregon 97444

Ask to be put on the mailing list for all updates, public notices and environmental impact statements or assessments.