Protecting the beautiful rivers, wild lands and legendary botanical diversity of Oregon's Kalmiopsis Country
Protect the Wild and Scenic Illinois River from mining

Protect the Wild and Scenic Illinois River from mining

Help prevent the mining of 14 miles of this beautiful National Wild and Scenic River. The existing mineral withdrawal—the primary roadblock to the river being mined—is set to expire. You can help by sending a letter in support of extending the current withdrawal for 20 years. Update November 15, 2012 — The BLM’s comment period has closed but the issue is still evolving. This post contains information about the Wild and Scenic Illinois River, the need to extend the existing mineral withdrawal and photographs of the Scenic River corridor.

The National Wild and Scenic Illinois River at Sixmile Creek Recreation Area.

A precious river—The Wild and Scenic Illinois River is a national treasure—the epitome of America’s Great Outdoors. It’s waters, wild fishery, scenery, botanical and recreation values are nationally outstanding. On a hot summer day, as many as 2,000 people crowd into a few miles of river.

The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest recently invested well over $1 million to develop recreation sites, provide for public safety, protect the river and to attempt to rein-in the over-use. If the existing withdrawal expires, 14 miles (4300) acres of the Scenic Illinois will be claimed and opened to mining, including popular developed sites like Sixmile Creek, River Bench and Store Gulch.[1]

Sixmile Creek Recreation Site on the Scenic Section of the Wild and Scenic Illinois River.

Why withdrawal is critical—Withdrawing areas from the 1872 Mining Law prevents the location of new mining claims and mining on invalid ones.[2]  Without a withdrawal, mining become the dominant use on all National Forests open to mineral entry—even on National Wild and Scenic Rivers like the Illinois. As we recently experienced on the Wild and Scenic Chetco River, the Forest Service’s position is that they simply don’t have the authority to deny mining unless an area is withdrawn.  Forest Service mining mining regulations say if the “mine operator reasonably conclues the impacts of their mining is notlikely to be significant” they don’t even have to contact the agency—a little like letting the proverbial fox guard the henhouse.{3]

November on the Illinois Scenic Corridor at the Store Gulch day-use area.

How you can helpPlease write a letter asking the Secretary of Interior to extend the existing mineral withdrawal for the Wild and Scenic Illinois River for 20 years and mail it by Thursday, October 25, 2012Mail your letter to: BLM Oregon/Washington State Director, BLM, P.O. Box 2965, Portland, Oregon 97208–2965. Here’s sample text that you can copy and paste and personalize with your experience of the Scenic Illinois River.

Dear Oregon/Washington State Director:

I support the 20 year extension of the existing mineral withdrawal on 14 miles (4300 acres) of the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River (from Deer Creek downstream to Briggs Creek) and ask the State Director to promptly recommend the extension to the Secretary of Interior.

The reasons for the withdrawal of this section of the Scenic River in 1993 remain the same. However, there is even greater need and urgency now to extend the withdrawal in order to protect the public’s investment in and their use and enjoyment of this beautiful and cherished river. As many as 2,000 people can visit it on a single summer day. The Forest Service recently invested over $1 million to develop recreation sites, provide for public safety, protect the river and rein-in the over-use,.

Mining is simply not appropriate on the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River, would waste taxpayer money and violate the law requiring that the river’s nationally outstanding values be “protected and enhanced.” Please act quickly to implement the extension and thank you for considering my comments and concerns.

Sincerely,

An individual comment letter from you about why you want this popular segment of the Illinois River protected from mining is the strongest message you can send.

BackgroundAll National Forest and BLM lands along Illinois River were withdrawn from the 1872 Mining Law because it was named as one of the original Study Rivers in the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.[4]  In 1984, Congress added 50.4 miles of the Illinois—from the Forest Boundary to it’s confluence with the National Wild and Scenic Rogue River—to the National Wild and Scenic River System. Under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, river areas classified as “Wild” are automatically withdrawn from the 1872 Mining Law.

The Swinging Bridge across the Scenic Illinois River provides year-round hiking to the Illinois River Falls , up Rancherie Creek to Pearsoll Peak , and to the rim of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and Daily Creek.

It’s been illogically left for individual actions to be taken to protect river areas classified as ‘Scenic” and “Recreational” from mining.[5] The Secretary of Interior, at the recommendation of the Forest Service, withdrew 13 of 17 miles of the Illinois classified as a “Scenic” River Area in 1993.[6] Unlike congressional withdrawals, which are essentially permanent, withdrawals by the Secretary of Interior expire in 20 years and have to be extended through an administrative process like the current one for the 13 miles of the Illinois River’s Scenic River Area.[7]

Enjoying a rainy Memorial Day at the River Bench Recreation Site on the Scenic Illinois River.

Learning from past mistakesIn 1991, the Forest Service allowed the upper 4 miles of the Scenic Illinois River to be opened to mineral entry by not seeking to renew the existing withdrawal on this part of the river but recommending the withdrawal of the 13 miles below it. The agency soon realized this was a mistake, resulting in a mini gold rush with the 4 miles of river claimed in a hour.

Today, with the increase in the price of gold and the advent of so-called recreational mining, the mistakes of the past are evident on the upper 4 miles of Scenic section (between the Forest Boundary and Deer Creek) where suction dredge mining is unregulated by the Forest Service and citizens have spent years fighting strip mining proposals that could be revived despite their significant impacts. Read more about the impacts of the mining on the upper Scenic River Area of the Illinois.

The epic swimming hole at the Store Gulch Recreation Site on the Scenic Illinois River.

Please take action by October 19th to prevent 13 miles and 4300 acres of the Wild and Scenic Illinois River from being blanketed with new mining claims and mined.

See also Save Our Chetco River for the story of the long and on-going struggle prevent large scale in-river mining of the Scenic and Recreational River Areas of the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River.

All photographs on this page © Barbara Ullian, with permission granted for the non-commerical use to protect the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River from mining.

Read more about the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River.

NOTES

[1] The Scenic Section of the Illinois, between Deer Creek and Briggs Creek, was designated an Oregon State Scenic Waterway in 1970 before it was added to the National Wild and Scenic River System in 1984. Currently, on Oregon State Scenic Waterways motorized recreational suction dredge mining is not allowed, but this was not always the case and could changed again and the state designation only addresses so-called motorized recreational mining.

[2] The effects of a mineral withdrawal are often misunderstood or misrepresented. Withdrawals from the 1872 Mining Law prevent the location of new mining claims and requires the holders of existing claims demonstrate they have discovered a valuable mineral deposit and thus have a right to mine under the Mining Laws. If they have a prior existing right, the withdrawal will not prevent mining. In other words, withdrawals will not affect a mining claim that is valid and complies with the laws of the United States.

One reason that continuing the existing withdrawal is so important for the 13 miles of the Scenic Illinois River, is that it’s been withdrawn for over 4 decades and there are few existing mining claims. Those that do exist have to have been valid in 1968 when gold prices were low.

Until there is meaningful reform of the 1872 Mining Law, mineral withdrawals provide the best avenue to provide greater protection for lands that are valuable for purposes other than mining. Without mineral withdrawal, it’s Forest Service policy to “assume” there’s a right to mine under the archaic Mining Law—even on a National Wild and Scenic River like the Illinois.

[3] See 36 CFR § 228.4(a) of the Forest Service’s surface mining regulations, which were significantly weakened under the Bush Administration.

[4] The intent of the original study river mineral withdrawal was to protect rivers under consideration for addition to the National Wild and Scenic River system.  Secretary Bruce Babbitt’s statement to the House Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands on March 23, 1999 explains mineral withdrawals and why they’re in the public interest. Click here to read the testimony.

[5] To address the proposal to mine almost 20 miles of the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River, Senator Ron Wyden, Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Peter DeFazio have introduced the Chetco River Protection Act, which among other things will withdraw the river’s “Scenic” and “Recreational” segment from the 1872 Mining Law.

[6] While the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act does not withdraw river areas classified as “Scenic” or “Recreational,” it includes a provision intended to regulate mining on designated rivers. Section 9 (a)(i) of the Act requires that  the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture write regulations that all mining on Wild and Scenic Rivers will be subject to in order to effectuate the purposes of the Act. The Act mandates that the managing agencies protect and enhance the outstandingly remarkable values which caused the river to be added to the Wild and Scenic River System. However, in the 44 years since almost unanimous passage of the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the regulations required by Sec. 9 (a)(i) have never been promulgated by the Secretaries.

[7] The Bureau of Land Management, who manages the minerals on all National Forest land, has received a request from the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, who manages the Wild and Scenic Illinois River to extend the existing mineral withdrawal for ~ 13 miles (4300 acres) of the Illinois’ Scenic River Area, between Deer Creek and Briggs Creek . However,  the BLM and Forest Service can only recommend continuation of the withdrawal. The ultimate decision for the extension lies with the Secretary of Interior.

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