Victory for the North Fork Smith River – December 2017
On December 7, the state of Oregon decided to reserve the surface waters of the North Fork Smith for the instream fish, wildlife, recreation, and domestic human consumption purposes. The Commission also limited groundwater development in the basin.
In plain language, this action will protect our fish, wildlife, recreation, and the drinking water that comes from the spectacular, remote, and unique headwaters of the North Fork of the Smith River in Oregon. The Oregon portion of the Smith River watershed is located in Curry County and at just under 60,000 acres, includes the North Fork Smith River and its tributaries, as well as the headwaters of Rowdy Creek. The North Fork flows across the state line into California’s Smith River to flow past the majestic redwoods of Redwood National and State Parks.
A coalition of local, statewide, and national groups and businesses – worked since 2015 to help pave the way for today’s decision. Here is a copy of the original petition.
“The Commission’s decision says that the best uses of the water in the North Fork Smith are for instream public uses, which means uses that benefit the public may continue, “ said Grant Werschkull, Executive Director, Smith River Alliance. “Cold water inputs from groundwater, seeps, springs and bogs, are essential to maintaining water quality for downstream communities and for fisheries. These and other water sources will remain part of the Wild and Scenic Smith River for generations to come.”
“Today’s decision is important, as it will help safeguard the pristine waters of the North Fork Smith River into the future,” said Lisa Brown, staff attorney for WaterWatch of Oregon. “We’d like to thank the Commission for taking this needed step to protect the spectacular North Fork Smith.”
The waters of the Smith River are among the purest on the planet. They sustain threatened fish, such as coho salmon, and rare plants while providing clean drinking water to downstream communities and offering world-class whitewater boating opportunities. The North Fork Smith is also home to strong populations of winter steelhead, fall Chinook salmon, resident rainbow trout, and both resident and sea-run Coastal cutthroat trout.
The wild salmon and steelhead found in the North Fork support the region’s local tourism economy, attracting anglers from around the world.
Utah Rep. asks Trump administration to review mineral withdrawal in North Fork Smith headwaters – September 2017
Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources Rob Bishop has asked the Trump administration to initiate a process that could reverse existing federal protections for portions of the Illinois, Rogue and Smith River watersheds and Hunter Creek in Southwest Oregon despite overwhelming local and bipartisan support. In a letter filled with inaccuracies, the representative from Utah called on the Trump administration to review all mineral withdrawals—temporary bans on new mining claims—adopted over the past eight years.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, who represents the Oregon lands in question, responded with his own statement panning the effort to reopen this area for strip mining.
“This is an egregious overstep by Washington, driven by special interests,” DeFazio said. “Reopening this area to allow a foreign company to strip mine our public lands without paying American taxpayers hardly any royalties would devastate surrounding economies and threaten critical drinking water sources.”
At issue is a 20-year mining ban for over 101,000 acres of public lands managed by Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management adopted after a multi-year public process that concluded with 45,000 comments—99 percent of which were in favor of protecting the area. The withdrawal area is home to ecosystems with plants found nowhere else on the planet and crystal clear wild rivers that teem with native salmon and provide clean drinking water for tens of thousands of Oregonians and Californians. Read the full press release.
Oregon Environmental Quality Commission designates North Fork Smith in Oregon as Outstanding Resource Waters – July 2017
The North Fork Smith River in Oregon has just become the first river in the Pacific Northwest to be designated as an Outstanding Resource Waters (ORW).
Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission unanimously approved the ORW designation, a part of the Clean Water Act that allows states to protect waterbodies deemed the highest quality in the nation.
It’s the first time the state has used the designation, and the latest victory for environmental groups that have used multiple federal and state rules to halt a mining proposal they say could foul one of the West’s most pristine river systems.
“Thousands of people and a number of agencies supported this designation — and for good reason,” said Grant Werschkull, executive director of the Smith River Alliance. “It provides critically important protection for downstream communities and our salmon and steelhead populations.”
A petition was submitted in February 2016 to designate the North Fork Smith and its tributaries as an ORW. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality took public comment and put together a report that supported a special designation for the river.
“DEQ finds that the waters described in the petition qualify due to their exceptional clarity … and the valuable habitat for endangered populations of Coho salmon, several rare plant species, and other fish and wildlife,” the report said.
The designation is significant because it deals a potentially fatal blow to an international corporation’s efforts to mine nickel and other minerals from the North Fork’s watershed.
According to the report by DEQ, “the Outstanding Resource Waters designation would likely preclude any surface mining in the watershed.”
Listen to a radio interview with Grant Werschkull about the designation here. Please see “More Info” for the petition to OWRC and additional materials.
20-year Mineral Withdrawal Approved, Additional Protections Being Considered – June 2017
A proposal to strip mine in the headwaters of the North Fork Smith mobilized diverse stakeholders from local and State government agencies, water districts, Chambers of Commerce, Tribes, environmental groups and Congressional and State elected representatives. Their message was clear — mining will not be allowed to poison downstream water supplies and the communities, fish, and resources that depend on clean water. An estimated 70,000 individuals commented in support for a 20-year ban on new mining. And in January the hard work from these stakeholders was rewarded when the 20-year ban became official. Read the press release from Congressmen DeFazio and Huffman and Senators Wyden and Merkley.
Additional protection is on the way. These diverse stakeholders also worked with the Oregon Water Resources Commission (OWRC) and the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission to impose additional protection for the North Fork Smith River.
OWRC was petitioned to withdraw all unappropriated waters of the Smith River watershed in OR from further appropriations. There was strong and diverse support for the petition and this was followed by a unanimous vote by OWRC to develop supporting rules. Public review and hearings followed in 2016 and a decision is due later this year. Please see “More Info” for the petition to OWRC and additional materials.
Thanks to the many agencies and individuals and friends who provided comments and testified at multiple hearings to advance the above protections. It takes a team!
Department of Interior Responds to Public Demand for Twenty-year Temporary Withdrawal – September 2016
For years, Smith River Alliance and coalition partners have been pushing hard to get the maximum protection possible—a 20-year mineral withdrawal—in place before mining companies advance plans to strip mine the wild headwaters of the iconic Smith, Illinois and Rogue Rivers. The Department of the Interior initially proposed a 5-year withdrawal. Although this would be a worthy safeguard, with the prospect of Congressional gridlock, the public has pressed for the maximum interim protection for these remarkable rivers and their precious headwaters, with over 99% of comments favoring a 20-year withdrawal.
In September, the U.S. Forest Service and BLM amended their original proposal for the Southwestern Oregon Mineral withdrawal to extend its duration to 20 years. A new public comment period amending is now open through December 1, 2016.
A second comment period demands more work — but when that work is standing up for the Smith River – and we can do it together – we relish the opportunity.
With your help we can secure a 20-year withdrawal before the end of the Obama Administration.
Over 45,000 Favorable Comments Received on the Environmental Assessment – May 2016 See Coalition technical comments here.
Agencies Release Environmental Assessment for Proposed Mineral Withdrawal – April 2016
The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, with the Medford and Coos Bay Districts of the Bureau of Land Management, has prepared an environmental assessment (EA) for the 2015 Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal.
The release of this EA on April 28, 2016 initiated the public comment period; written comments will be accepted for 30 calendar days.
The proposed withdrawal, which is in aid of legislation proposed by multiple members of Congress, encompasses more than 100,000 acres of Forest Service and BLM-administered lands in the Rough and Ready-Baldface Creek and the Hunter Creek-North Fork Pistol River subwatersheds of southwestern Oregon.
The agencies have provided multiple opportunities for public involvement and comment regarding this proposed withdrawal.
Public meetings were held in September 2015 in Gold Beach and Grants Pass, drawing approximately 250 attendees to each meeting, with more than 100 members of the public speaking. Roughly 23,000 comments have been received to date, the majority of which have been in support of the proposed withdrawal.
The Environmental Assessment is available online http://1.usa.gov/1TAFAZz.
Foreign Mining Company Pays $120,000 to Washington D.C. Lobbyists
In 2015, Red Flat Nickel Corporation, the foreign owned mining company, retained Squire Patton and Boggs, a Washington D.C. Lobbying firm, to help further the company’s two Southwestern Oregon mining projects—the Red Flat Project, in the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Pistol River and the Cleopatra Project, in the pristine watershed of the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River. According to Open Secrets.org Red Flat Nickel Corp. paid Squire Patton and Boggshe $120,000 for lobbying members of the U.S. Congress and officials at the U. S. Forest Service.
Squire Patton and Boggs has the third largest lobbying practice in nation. Former U.S. Senators Trent Lott and John Breaux represented Red Flat Nickel Corporation.
Squire Patton Boggs to acquire Calif.-based law firm Carroll Burdick
Community Standing Strong Against Strip Mining! September 2015
Pro-mining interests have been outnumbered 200 to 1 at the recent Grants Pass and Gold Beach public meetings re the proposed 5-year ban on new mining claims. Hundreds of citizens as well as representatives from key public agencies have spoken in support for clean water, wild rivers, and salmon.
The City of Crescent City was represented at both meetings along with Board members for the Big Rock and Gasquet Community Service Districts. The City and these Districts are the major water purveyors in Del Norte. The CA Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) was also represented at the Grants Pass meeting —- and their comments were followed by a roar of applause.
In summary, it was a great couple of nights for the protection of clean water and wild rivers. Without question we have much work ahead to prevent strip mining in the headwaters of the Smith, Illinois and Pistol Rivers and Hunter Creek, but the TEAM scored big for the proposed mineral withdrawal. Watch the 8-minute Emerald Waters video for glimpses of the North Fork Smith and other threatened Kalmiopsis rivers.
Wild & Scenic Smith River Threatened by Proposed Nickel Strip Mine
An international mining company is actively pursing plans to develop a nickel strip mine in the headwaters of the Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River in Oregon. The Red Flat Nickel Corporation is proposing to locate their mine southeast of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness within the Baldface Creek drainage, which is a key tributary to the North Fork Smith.
The Smith River is one of the “crown jewels” of the National Wild and Scenic River System, and the Smith River National Recreation Area protects the river and its tributaries in California from numerous threats, including mining. Unfortunately, these protections do not extend across the border into Oregon, which is home to numerous important tributaries.
If developed, the proposed mine will pose a serious threat to public drinking water supplies. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the metal mining industry is the largest source of toxic pollution in the country. Test drilling alone has significant potential to contaminate and impair the public drinking water of downstream communities in Del Norte County, CA including Gasquet, Hiouchi and the City of Crescent City. These communities are on record opposing the mines.
Additionally, Baldface Creek is a significant spawning and rearing tributary for Chinook salmon and steelhead, and is a known hot spot for the endangered coho salmon. The emerald-green water of the Smith River and its tributaries are a stronghold for these critical species in part because it is the only major undammed river in California. A strip mine would have significant impacts to these values.
The region faces numerous threats from mining development. In addition to the mine proposed in the North Fork Smith watershed, Red Flat is also pursing a mine in the headwaters of Hunter Creek and Pistol River, which are found along the Oregon Coast. A second company (RNR Resources) is pursuing a proposal to mine in the headwaters of the Wild and Scenic Illinois River in the Rough and Ready Creek Basin.
Protect the Emerald Green Waters of the Smith!
The good news is Senators Wyden and Merkley of Oregon and Representatives DeFazio of Oregon and Huffman of California have introduced legislation to permanently protect these public lands from mining through the Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act of 2015. If enacted, the bill will put a “mineral withdrawal” in place, meaning that new mining activities would no longer take place at Baldface Creek and the North Fork Smith Watershed. The bill also protects Rough and Ready Creek, Hunter Creek, the headwaters of the Pistol River and the Chetco from mining activities.
In June of 2015, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management followed suit and initiated a mineral withdrawal in aid of legislation on public lands in southwest Oregon. The mineral withdrawal concerns 95,806 acres of National Forest System lands on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and 5,216 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands on the Medford District and Coos Bay Districts.
A five-year mineral withdrawal, if approved by the Department of Interior, would potentially begin before the end of a two-year segregation period which started with the publication of a Federal Register Notice on June 29, 2015. The segregation period is needed to process the withdrawal application, which includes environmental analysis.
Hunter Creek and Pistol River Headwaters Withdrawal Proposal
Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks Mineral Withdrawal Proposal
Press on the 20-year Mineral Withdrawal
Congressman calls for review of mining ban – Utah representative asks Trump administration to consider reversing action to protect Smith River
Del Norte Triplicate, October 5, 2017
View/download a PDF with select press from January 12 to January 15, 2017 on the 20-year mineral withdrawal.
View/download a PDF with select press from June 26 to September 23, 2015 on the proposed mineral withdrawal.
Protect SW Oregon from nickel strip mining
Register-Guard, August 3, 2015
Proposed mine by wild Smith River roils Del Norte County folks
San Francisco Chronicle, May 3, 2014
County, city: ‘No’ to mining
Del Norte Triplicate, July 10, 2014
Oregon Nickel Mine Proposal Runs Into Stiff Opposition
Jefferson Public Radio, July 15, 2014
Letters of Support
Letters of Support
Click on the PDF links below to read letters of support for the Proposed Mineral Withdrawl.
Hardrock Mining: Potential Impacts to Water, Wildlife, Air and Land
by Bonnie Gestring, Earthworks
Support Letters to the OR Water Resources Department
City of Crescent City
County of Del Norte
CA North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board
CA Department of Fish and Wildlife
CA Natural Resources Agency
Group letter from 17 organizations
Gordon Lyford (retired water rights engineer)