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

Ask Secretary of Interior to protect the Wild & Scenic Illinois River from mining

Correction 6/24/2013: We’ve just learned the withdrawal order for the Scenic Illinois River is on the desk of the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget at the Department of Interior and not Secretary Jewell’s.

Nonetheless, an email to Secretary Jewell asking her to support the continued protection of the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River from mining is still important (see below). Over 4,000 citizens expressed support for extending the existing closure of 14 miles of this spectacular free-flowing Oregon river to mining  Only one commenter opposed the closure.

The proposal is to continue an existing mineral withdrawal for part of the Illinois Scenic River Area (Deer Creek to Briggs Creek). This stretch of river has been withdrawn from operation of the 1872 Mining Law since 1968. The existing withdrawal expires at the end of June. The Secretary must sign the order extending it before then.

Mining on the Wild and Scenic Illinois River also violates the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. and the River's Management Plan.
In 1991, the Forest Service opened the upper 4 miles of the Wild & Scenic Illinois River to mining. As a result during summer months, the few recreation sites (where there’s safe river access for families) are often taken over by suction dredge miners (Rich Nawa/KS Wild photo).

Many who wrote shared heartwarming accounts of why they cared deeply care about the river. Senator Wyden, Senator Merkley and Rep. DeFazio wrote to the Oregon State Director of the BLM expressing their support for the withdrawal extension. American Whitewater, speaking for their 5,500 members and 100 local based affiliate clubs, wrote to encourage the withdrawal. Friends of the Kalmiopsis submitted detailed comments with photos and references documenting the Illinois River’s nationally outstanding values.  Thank you all for speaking out in support of this beautiful river and to KS Wild and Earthworks for helping spread the word.

Please now send this quick message to Secretary Jewell using the Department of Interior’s contact form. Click here to go directly to DOI’s contact page. Put “Wild and Scenic Illinois River mineral withdrawal” in the “subject” window and paste the below message in the “feedback” window.

Dear Secretary Jewell: Please extend the existing mineral withdrawal for the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River (Briggs Creek to Deer Creek) before it expires at the end of June. The Illinois is one of this nation’s premier whitewater rivers. It has outstanding recreation values and water quality and supports a world class wild salmon and steelhead fishery. If the existing withdrawal is not extended, mining will dominate this popular recreation river. Please act now.

Read more about mineral withdrawals and why they’re so important for protecting the National Forest and BLM lands held in trust for all Americans.

If the proposed extension of the withdrawal for the Scenic River Area of the Wild and Scenic Illinois River is not approved in time, popular recreation sites like this will be taken over by mining (© Barbara Ullian).
If the proposed extension of the withdrawal for the Scenic River Area of the Wild and Scenic Illinois River is not approved in time, popular recreation sites like this will be taken over by mining (© Barbara Ullian).

Extending the existing withrawal for the 14 miles of the Wild and Scenic Illinois River has been a long process.  The notification from the BLM—that the existing withdrawal would expire in two years—sat for months on someone’s desk at a Forest Service office until rescued by a conscientious employee. There were fits and start after that, but finally some good people at the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, the Medford District Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the National BLM  Office pulled together and got the preliminary work done.

The National Withdrawals Coordinator pulled the completed paperwork together and compiled it in a package. This was sent to the Oregon State Director of BLM for his recommendation.  He signed the recommendation on April 11, 2013. The final decision now rests with Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell. The public land order needs to be signed and notice of the withdrawal extension published in the Federal Register before the end of June. It not approved before the existing withdrawal expires, the area will be open to mining and the location of new claims under the 1872 Mining Law. This would be devastating for the Wild and Scenic Illinois River and the people who care deeply about it. So please send a note to the Secretary and remind her what’s at stake.

The falls on the Illinois River. The Takelma called them Ti-wi-kh.
The Illinois River Falls is the larger of two falls on the Scenic Segment of the Wild and Scenic Illinois River. The indigenous Takelma people called the falls Ti-wi-kh (© Barbara Ullian photo)

The only opposition to keeping the 14 mile segment of the Wild and Scenic Illinois River closed to mining was from the Southern Oregon Resource Alliance (SORA).  The local organization complained the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest failed to consider the local economy and the demand and value of rare earth minerals (aka rare earth elements). However, the facts go against them.

USGS Map showing principle rare earth element concentrations in the United States. There are none in Oregon. See full sized map here.

According the USGS there are no commercially mineable rare earth element deposits in Oregon let alone along the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River. While rare earth elements are not rare at all and are instead relatively common, they’re seldom found in concentrations that are mineable [1]  Read the full USGS report here.

Mountain Pass rare earth element mine in California.

SORA’s tagline is protecting public lands for the public. However, mining is the biggest single-use lock-up of the public lands there is and it’s also one of the biggest federal government giveaways. SORA failed to consider this in their letter and the thousands of people who are drawn to the beautiful Wild and Scenic Illinois River Corridor to recreate and enjoy its beauty.

Sign on gate at mine site on Josephine Creek when the mine was in operaton. Mining is the biggest single lock up of public lands in the nation and the biggest single giveaway of public resources.

Part of SORA’s mission is to preserve the quality of life by making resources available but their letter makes no mention of the increasing demand of the public for places like the Scenic River Area of the Illinois.


[1] Mining proponents often make broad claims about the presence of rare minerals in Southwest Oregon at public forums, town halls and to reporters where there’s no challenge, but the U. S. Geological Survey, in their 2010 report on the Principle Rare Earth Element Deposits in the United States shows no rare earth elements (REE) in mineable concentrations in Oregon. It turns out rare earth minerals are relatively abundant in the Earth’s crust but are rarely concentrated into mineable ore deposits.

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