Described as a little biological gem, the proposed Illinois Valley Salmon and Botanical Area is comprised of about 15,000 acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management on the west side of the Illinois Valley. The special management area is one of the conservation measures in Senator Ron Wyden’s O&C Land Grant Act of 2014 (S. 1784).
The bill is currently scheduled for markup on Thursday, November 13th before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, along with 19 other bills. Click here for the Committee page. The meeting begins at 3:00 p.m. eastern time and can be watch live.
While small in size, the Illinois Valley Salmon and Botanical Area is big on rare plants and wildlife rich woodlands. It includes important low gradient reaches of rivers and streams that provide critical spawning and rearing habitat for Illinois Basin wild coho and chinook salmon.
The Illinois Valley Salmon and Botanical Area is adjacent to a much larger—approximately 40 mile long—band of National Forest land on the west side of southwest Oregon’s Illinois River Valley. Together the National Forest and BLM lands are host to one of the highest concentrations of rare and endemic plants in North America and the highest in Oregon.
The Illinois Valley Salmon and Botanical Area follows the boundaries of the Medford District Bureau of Land Management’s Illinois Valley Botanical Emphasis Area. See map below. The Illinois Valley Salmon and Botanical Special Management Area consists of existing, potential and proposed Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs) and other botanically important BLM lands.
In keeping with the area’s high scientific values and globally rare plant populations, the purpose language of the Illinois Valley Salmon and Botanical Area in the 2013 version of the bill was:
“to provide for the protection, preservation, and enhancement of botanical, nonmotorized recreational, ecological, scenic, cultural, watershed, and fish and wildlife values.”
The new purpose language in the 2014 Act applies to all special management areas in the bill and is not as specific to the unique values and sensitive nature of the botanical area.
Under BLM’s current management regime these biologically rich federal public lands are open to mining. Off road vehicles are destroying sensitive rare plant habitat unless it’s fenced. Section 113 of S. 1784 would withdraw the BLM lands in the Illinois Valley Salmon and Botanical Area from mining and close them to destructive off road travel.
The Illinois Valley Salmon and Botanical Area would be withdrawn from mining like the Nickel Mountain Mine above Riddle, Oregon. Google earth image.
Withdrawal of the area from the 1872 Mining Law, is subject to valid existing rights. This means if existing mining claims are valid under the law, the right to mine will be preserved. While imperfect, currently withdrawal is the best available way to protect the public’s interest in the special places of the Illinois Valley Salmon and Botanical Area. These include the French Flat ACEC, where there’s a proposal under analysis to mine part of the area.
Another is the Rough and Ready Creek ACEC. It’s subject to a proposal (submitted to the Forest Service in 2011) to construct a nickel smelter. The smelter facility is part of the RNR Project, a proposed nickel mine on National Forest and BLM lands.
With a population of only around 10,000 the Illinois Valley’s future lies in preserving the river rich, biologically diverse federal public lands that are such an important part of its beauty and natural heritage. The Illinois Valley Salmon and Botanical Area Senator Wyden is proposing will help protect some of the area’s treasured federal public lands.
The Valley is the gateway to the Oregon Caves National Monument (with its proposed expansion), the beautiful National Wild and Scenic Illinois River and three nearby Wilderness Areas (the Kalmiopsis, Red Buttes and Siskiyou). Its proximity to the Smith River National Recreation, Redwoods National Park and the Wild Rivers Coast of Oregon and California are other pluses.