Monday, October 24, 2011

The economics of fishing and mining in Curry County

There are may reasons why the Wild and Scenic Chetco River should be protected from gold mining and withdrawn from mineral entry and location under the 1872 Mining Law. One particularly relevant for small businesses in Curry County is that protecting the river also protects a major economic engine for the area.

Brookings/Harbor at the mouth of the Chetco River during the 2009 Salmon Derby (Barbara Ullian Photo).
The travel expenditures associated with freshwater fishing in the county were estimated at $5.1 million for the year 2008. Local recreation expenditures associated with freshwater fishing were an estimated $673,000. Saltwater fishing provides additional significant economic benefits in Curry County. Hardrock mining, on the other hand, contributes little or nothing to the local economy and is unlikely to ever do so.

Curry County is home to three National Wild and Scenic Rivers—the Chetco, Elk and the Oregon half of the North Fork Smith. These rivers were all added to the National Wild and Scenic River system in recognition of their world class salmon and steelhead fisheries and outstanding water quality. It's also in Curry County that the great National Wild and Scenic Rogue and Illinois Rivers meet and flow to the Pacific Ocean at Gold Beach. Both are world class fisheries too. The economic benefits the county's National Wild and Scenic River provide are significant.  Kalmiopsis Audubon Society writes:
Salmon and steelhead fishing attract tens of thousands of tourists and provide an essential economic boost to our towns through the winter. Freshwater fishing accounted for over $4.5 million dollars of expenditures in Curry County in 2009 and over 400,000 fishing licenses are sold in Oregon each year.
Some of these numbers are detailed in a 2009 report by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Travel Oregon. For Curry County they include:
  • Travel generated expenditures for freshwater fishing - $4,452,000. 
  • Local recreation expenditures for freshwater fishing - $673,000. 
  • Travel generated expenditures for saltwater fishing - $4,921,000. 
  • Local recreation expenditures for saltwater fishing - $262,000. 
The full report is available here. The county specific analysis begins on page 17.

Other recreational pursuits, dependent on the quality of the rivers and the public lands they flow though, also contribute both directly to the economy of the area and to the quality of life that's drawn so many to the southwest Oregon coast and in recent years.

Another protected area important to the economy of Curry County is the spectacular Samuel Boardman State Park between Brookings and Gold Beach.  The park preserves the public's access and enjoyment of a 12 mile stretch of the Wild Rivers Coast (Barbara Ullian).
Miners often claim vaste economic benefits from hardrock mining but in Oregon there's no evidence of that. The U.S. Geological Survey reports there's no measurable hardrock mineral production in the State of Oregon, including Curry County. Hardrock minerals include gold, silver, nickel, chromite, but not sand and gravel. There's a discussion about hardrock mineral production with references to government reports at Southwest Oregon Mining Facts.

Smelter waste ponds at Glenbrook Nickel (Riddle, Oregon) in 1997, the same year the smelter permanently closed.  Glenbrook's operation provided the last measurable hardrock mineral production in Oregon.  It was also the third largest producer of toxic waste in the State.

Federal mining claims are a unique type of property but in Oregon they're not taxable property. So even though claims owners often assert a right to the land over all other users, they pay no property taxes. Some even live on federal mining claims for free, paying only the $125.00 annual recording fee or claiming an exemption.

Under the 1872 Mining Law, the hardrock minerals found on public lands, including gold are simply given away. The federal government receives no royalties—nothing—and the public is often left holding the bag for remediation and clean-up. The largest toxic superfund sites in the nation are abandoned mines.

Miners camp along the 4 miles of the Wild and Scenic Illinois River that's open to the 1872 Mining Law  (Rich Nawa Photo). Note—Miners have been exempted from prohibitions that other users of the Wild and Scenic Illinois River are asked to follow.
In the case of the Washington company's proposed mining on the Wild and Scenic Chetco River, taxpayers would actually be subsidizing it to the tune of at least $800,000.00 for the required environmental analysis. The mining plans submitted all include living on the mining claims during operations, so there's no revenue generated to motels or private campgrounds from the mining proposed for the Chetco River.

While county specific numbers are not available, the general importance of fishing to Oregonians can be seen in the number of licenses issued. For example in 2010 Oregon Department of Fish and Game issued over 500,000 fishing licenses. When added to Sportspac and combination licenses the number grows to ~ 626,000. Over 14,500 out of state licenses were issued in 2010, bringing in over $1,500,000 in license fees alone. See ODFW's annual report on license sales:

Withdrawing 17 miles of the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River from operation of the 1872 Mining Law to provide greater protection for its outstanding water quality, world class salmon and steelhead populations and recreational opportunity is good for business and good for Curry County.