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.

This temporary withdrawal is being considered "in-aid-of legislation," to give Congress time to act on the Chetco River Protection Act. This bill, introduced in the last Congress by Senator Wyden, Senator Merkley, and Congressman DeFazio, would permanently safeguard the Chetco from new instream mining proposals in its designated Wild and Scenic reaches.

The crucial importance of this bill became clear back in 2008 and in 2010 when a single, out-of-state miner first invited miners from California to "come mine for free" and then proposed to use large scale dredges to mine more than 20 miles of this Wild & Scenic river gem, putting the river's outstanding values at risk. (The Chetco was designated a National Wild and Scenic River in 1988 under the leadership of Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield to protect three “outstandingly remarkable values” — crystal clear water, robust fisheries, and extraordinary recreational opportunities.)

The Forest has recently forwarded its recommendation to the Bureau of Land Management (in charge of minerals), and after consideration by that agency, and many other steps within the federal agencies, it will ultimately be considered by the new Secretary of the Interior, who will make a final decision on the 5-year administrative withdrawal.

In order to protect the Wild & Scenic Chetco from new mining claims, the Secretary must officially withdraw the riverbed and lands along the river before the current, temporary segregation expires in July of 2013. Timing is crucial, here. Otherwise, the river will be opened again to new claims, and we could be back to square one—facing the same kind of large-scale, instream mining proposals that we had a few years back, with all the potential conflicts, costs, and risks.

Beyond the short-term, 5-year fix that this administrative mineral withdrawal will hopefully afford, our Senators and Congressman DeFazio need to re-introduce the Chetco River Protection Act and work towards its swift passage in the new Congress in order to safeguard the values of this National Wild and Scenic River for the future.  See the "how to help" page for tips on writing to Oregon's congressional delegation.