Thursday, April 7, 2011

Chetco River Protection Act and Oregon Caves Revitalization Act of 2011 Introduced in Congress

Wild and Scenic Chetco River that would be reclassified
as "Wild" under CRP Act.  Photo USDA Forest Service.
Senator Ron Wyden, Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Peter DeFazio re-introduced the Chetco River Protection Act (CRP Act) on April 7th. The Act is in good company—part of a package of three bills that includes the Devil's Staircase Wilderness Act and the Oregon Caves Revitalization Act. The latter would establish a 4,000 acre Natural Preserve in the Lake and Cave Creek watersheds on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest east of Cave Junction, Oregon.

Lake Creek provides the drinking water for the National Park Service's facilities at the Oregon Caves National Monument.  Cave Creek originates as the River Styx deep within the Oregon Caves.  It exits at the main entrance of the caves and then flows under the historic Chateau to emerge below. The Preserve will be managed by the Park Service.
It includes a scenic and botanically rich gem known as the Bigelow Lakes Botanical Area.  The lakes and a series of wet meadows form the headwaters of Lake Creek.  The area includes excellent hiking trails and spectacular 360 degree views from Mt. Elijah. 

A snow covered Bigelow Lake from Mt. Elijah
The Chetco River Protection Act of 2011 amends the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that added 44.5 miles of the Chetco to the National Wild and Scenic River System in 1988. It reclassifies the 2 miles of the river between Boulder and Mislatnah Creek—from Scenic to Wild—and extends the Scenic segment 1.5 miles downstream to Eagle Creek. The Act is based on recommendations the Siskiyou National Forest made in 1994.  In 2010, American Rivers named the Chetco one of America's Most Endangered Rivers.

The 2 mile Wild segment between Boulder and Mislatnah Creek will be withdrawn from the 1872 Mining Law under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.  The 2011 Chetco River Protection Act will also withdraw the Scenic and Recreational segments of the river from the Mining Law. The withdrawals will prevent the filing of new mining claims and will require that existing mining claims be valid and meet all requirements of the law before they can be mined.

Requiring proof of Mining Law rights is only sensible given what's at risk—the Chetco River's nationally outstanding water quality, its world class salmon and steelhead populations and the priceless recreation opportunities it provides families.

The Chetco lived up to its reputation as a world class salmon and steelhead stream this fall and winter by providing some of the world's best salmon fishing and excellent steelhead fishing. In the first week of the season, one guide reported catching limits every day.  The salmon averaged 30 pounds with three 40 pounders as a bonus.

While the salmon and steelhead of the Chetco and its sister river to the south, the Smith, are major contributors to the economy of the southwest Oregon coast (aka America's Wild Rivers Coast), the contribution of hardrock mining (the only mining that comes under the 1872 Mining Law) is not even measurable—this according the USGS Mineral Reports for Oregon.

If the Chetco is mined, the federal government would derive no income from any hardrock minerals that might be extracted from the river. The the public, however, would be forced to subsidize the proposed mining operations, initially to the tune of $800,000 or more and through the overall impacts of the mining on the river and those who use and enjoy it.

Claimants often wrongly insist mining claims are their private property and that they contribute to the tax base.  However unless a mining claim is patented, title to the land remains with the United States and in Oregon mining claims are not taxable property.

Please send a thank you email to  Senator Wyden, Senator Merkley and Representative DeFazio for re-introducing the Chetco River Protection Act. Write to Representative Greg Walden and urge him to become a co-sponor.

The headwaters of Lake Creek and the Bigelow Lake Botanical Area
within the Natural Preserve that would be established by the
Oregon Caves Revitalization Act of 2011- Photo Barbara Ullian
See also this press release from 2010 about the Chetco River Protection Act and this post about how the legislation will affect the proposed mining.