20 year mineral withdrawal approved by Interior
Photos by Ken Moorish
Washington D.C. — Oregon and California’s Smith River got welcome news as the Department of the Interior approved a 20-year mineral withdrawal, protecting the river from proposed strip mining.
In recent years, foreign mining companies have sought to strip mine for nickel in the area, putting at risk the fishing, recreation and clean water supply for area residents and communities. Recreationists seeking to explore the Kalmiopsis region bring in hundreds of millions of dollars to Curry and Josephine counties and account for 16 and four percent of the jobs in the area respectively according to a recent economic analysis.
“There was tremendous local and regional support for this action. The economic benefits for recreation, hunting and angling, fishing guides and commercial fisheries depend on healthy watersheds,” said Terry Turner, head of the Trout Unlimited Oregon Council. “Siting a nickel mine in this region is simply not consistent with the larger economic needs of the local communities that depend on this critical watershed for native fish habitat and clean drinking water for the community.”
The mineral withdrawal will protect more than 100,000 acres of public lands from new mining claims and also require existing claim holders to show they have valid claims before any mining activities can begin.
Members of Congress from Oregon and California have also been working to protect the area by introducing the “Southern Oregon Waters and Salmon Protection Act” which will permanently protect iconic salmon, trout and steelhead streams like Hunter Creek, Pistol River, Rough and Ready Creek, Baldface Creek and the North Fork of the Smith River from mining. However, legislation has stalled in recent years. The withdrawal is meant to provide protection for the area while the legislative process plays out.
“The immense local and bipartisan support to protect this area is unprecedented in Southwest Oregon,” said Dean Finnerty of Trout Unlimited. “Local governments and elected officials in Northern California and Southwestern Oregon, state agencies, sportsmen, outdoors enthusiasts, local businesses, tribes, commercial fishermen, school children — just about everyone in this part of the world — saw the potential harm that could come to this amazing place.”
Support for the protection was undeniable as thousands of comments poured in in favor of the mineral withdrawal and hundreds attended a series of public meetings.
“Our delegation has never wavered in their support to protect these areas and we owe a big tip of the sportsmen’s hat to Senators Wyden and Merkley and Representatives DeFazio and Huffman for helping us get this done,” said Finnerty. “Our local community asked for help in protecting this watershed and we are pleased that our representatives and public land managers listened to this call and took action to protect this watershed – and in turn our community and economy.