The river’s gin-clear waters teem with wild trout and salmon, including giant Chinook salmon tipping scales at more than 60 pounds. In 1988, Congress designated the Chetco a national wild and scenic river “to be protected for the benefit of present and future generations.
But the river is now threatened by proposals to mine gold along almost half of its approximately 55-mile length. Suction dredges would vacuum up the river bottom searching for gold, muddying water and disrupting clean gravel that salmon need to spawn. Despite the Chetco’s rich fishery and status as a wild and scenic river, the United States Forest Service is virtually powerless to stop the mining because of the 1872 law.
|Mikey Weir fishing for winter steelhead on Wild & Scenic Chetco River.|
Hughes and Woody say the need for a comprehensive overhaul of the 1872 mining law is demonstrated by stopgap measures like those of members of the Oregon Congressional delegation to provide additional protection for the Chetco River, despite it's status as a National Wild and Scenic River.Mike Dombeck, who testified to Congress in 2008 that:
... it is nearly impossible to prohibit mining under the current framework of the 1872 mining law, no matter how serious the impacts might be.
A former fishing guide, still avid hunter and fisherman and professor at the University of Wisconsin, Dombeck in his testimony, write:
Professional land managers that work for the Forest Service and BLM believe the 1872 Mining Law makes hard rock mining a dominant use of public lands. Mining reform legislation needs to reaffirm the doctrine of multiple-use and recognize the inherent value of public lands for other important uses and values, including hunting and fishing opportunities and fish and wildlife habitat. This is a major priority for sportsmen, land management agencies, and other users of public lands.
He urges Congress to:
Affirm the values of fish and wildlife habitat, water resources, and hunting and fishing, on public lands and make it clear that mining should not be the dominant use of our federal lands.And recommends that:
Agency managers should be given the discretion to make logical decisions based on land health about where to mine and where not to mine. Special places with important fish and wildlife and water values such as wilderness areas, National Parks, Fish and Wildlife Refuges, and inventoried roadless areas ought to be placed off-limits to mining entirely. Discretion ought to be afforded to managers on other lands to allow for balanced and reasoned decisions about ecological, social, and economic values.Robert Hughes is based in Corvallis, Oregon and Carol Ann Woody in Anchorage, Alaska.