Protecting the beautiful rivers, wild lands and legendary botanical diversity of Oregon's Kalmiopsis Country

Wild and Scenic Illinois River protected from mining

It’s official. On June 27th, the Department of Interior approved continued protection for 14 miles of Oregon’s Wild and Scenic Illinois River from mining. The previous mineral withdrawal was set to expire on June 30th. The action closes 14 miles of the popular river to mining for another 20 years. It was at the request of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

The epic swimming hole at the Store Gulch Recreation Site on the Scenic Illinois River.
This epic swimming hole on the Illinois River at the Store Gulch Recreation Site will be safe from mining for another 20 years under the Department of Interior’s withdrawal extension.  Barbara Ullian photo.

Mineral withdrawals prevent mining on a specific area of National Forest or BLM lands unless there’s a “valid existing right” under the 1872 Mining Law. If an area is open to mining, the Forest Service says it has no authority to deny a reasonable mining proposal, even if it irreversibly impacts treasured public lands like the Wild and Scenic Illinois River.

Out of the thousands who wrote in favor of the Illinois River withdrawal, there was just one opponent. Supporters included Senator Ron Wyden, Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Peter DeFazio who wrote this letter to the Bureau of Land Management. Congratulations to everyone who helped get this stretch of the Wild and Scenic Illinois River protected from mining for another 20 years.

Nickel strip mining threatens the watershed of the Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River. Northwest Rafting Co. photo.
The National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River in California and Oregon could be irreversibly impacted by proposed nickel strip mining in its watershed. Northwest Rafting Co. photo.

However, there’s more to do. Conservation and boating groups praised the Department of Interior for the Wild and Scenic Illinois River withdrawal. At the same time—as a symbol of commitment to America’s Great Outdoors—they urged the Obama Administration to also withdraw the watersheds of the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River, Baldface Creek and Rough and Ready Creek from mining. Read the press release at American Whitewater or Earthworks.

These three beautiful salmon and steelhead streams—with some of the purest water in the West—are threatened by nickel strip mining. Read Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley’s press release asking the Obama Administration to withdraw these pristine areas from mining.

In April, American Rivers listed Rough and Ready Creek, a tributary of the Wild and Scenic Illinois River, and Baldface Creek, a tributary of the Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River as the 8th Most Endangered River in America. Learn how you can help at RoughandReadyCreek.org.

Zach Collier talking about why Rough and Ready Creek should be withdrawn from mining at Wild Rivers Night in Portland. Northwest Rafting Co. photo

Then Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, explained why withdrawals are so important in a statement to the House of Representatives in 1999:

Withdrawals are often the best way to protect values of national interest that might be destroyed by inappropriate uses of public lands and national forests.

Absent meaningful reform of the 1872 Mining Law by Congress, the Obama Administration just needs to do more of them.

The National Wild and Scenic Illinois River at the Sixmile Creek Recreation site. Photo Barbara Ullian
Illinois River at Sixmile Creek Recreation Area—another popular swimming hole protected by Interior’s June 27th order to withdraw 14 miles of the river for 20 years more. Photo Barbara Ullian

A drive down the Illinois River Road to Sixmile, River Bench and Store Gulch on a day with temperatures in the 90s will demonstrate why this beautiful recreation area should not be subject to the 1872 Mining Law. The Illinois River’s clear waters and family friendly swimming holes provide recreation and relief for locals and visitors to the point of overcrowding.

Between 2004 and 2006, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest invested over $1 million in an effort to provide for public health and safety and to protect 19 miles of Wild and Scenic Illinois River from resource damage.  In a 2006 memo to the media, District Ranger Pam Bode wrote:

The Forest Service has invested over $1 million in recreation facility and road improvements in the Scenic Section of the Illinois Wild and Scenic River Corridor in the past two years. Facilities have been constructed along the Eight Dollar Road and the Illinois River Road to enhance recreation opportunities and protect the environment.

Read the memo here (754 MB).

Click here for readable size.

Ironically, the upper 5 miles of the Scenic IllinoisRiver remains open to mining despite its importance and the tax payers’ investment but that’s another story. The key point is—as long as an area is open to mining, a company (including large multinationals) can come in and say: “Sorry public. Sorry taxpayers.  We’ve discovered a valuable mineral and we want to start mining in X number of years.”

If the Department of Interior had not withdrawn the 14 miles of the Wild and Scenic Illinois River on June 27th, this scenario could have occured, could still on the 5 miles that’s open to mining  and is happening at Rough and Ready Creek, Baldface Creek and the North Fork Smith River.  The time to stop mining is before it starts. Mineral withdrawals are a good for treasured public lands and good for the American public and taxpayer.

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