Secure Mining Ban


A 20-year mining ban is now in place for North Fork Smith and other Kalmiopsis wild rivers.

The Obama Administration took administrative action to protect an area in southwest Oregon’s Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest with the highest concentration of designated Wild Rivers in the contiguous U.S. The action safeguards the area’s wild salmon and steelhead habitat, and preserves recreation for paddlers, and fishermen, for 20 years.

The Secretary of Interior – supported by the Secretary of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management – published a public land order on in January 2017 withdrawing the lands from mineral entry for the next 20 years. Spurred by the area’s natural beauty and threats from mineral development, a broad coalition of conservationists and recreational users worked together for more than two decades to protect the area.

Area Remains Threatened by Existing Mineral Rights Claims

An international mining company is actively pursuing 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 pursuing 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.

Hardrock Mining: Potential Impacts to Water, Wildlife, Air and Land by Bonnie Gestring, Earthworks


JULY 27, 2023


Rep. Hoyle Introduces Bill to Protect Southwestern Oregon Rivers from Mining Pollution

The ‘Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act’ would permanently protect Southwestern Oregon’s rivers, drinking water, wild salmon habitats, and outdoor recreation from mining pollution.

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Representative Val Hoyle (OR-04) introduced the “Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act” (SOWSPA), legislation to enact a mining withdrawal that would ensure certain federal lands are permanently “withdrawn” from eligibility for mining claims, protecting them from toxic mining pollution. U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (CA-02) is an original cosponsor of the bill. 

SOWSPA would permanently prevent new mining projects in the Hunter Creek, Pistol River, Rough and Ready Creek, and Baldface Creek watersheds in Southwestern Oregon, extending the current 20-year ban that began in 2016.

“I have heard from conservationists, business owners and elected officials from Curry County and Northern California who depend on the Southwestern Oregon watershed for clean drinking water, outdoor recreation, tourism jobs and the protection of salmon, wildlife, and rare plants. Congress must act to make the current protections against mining pollution permanent,” said Rep. Hoyle. “I’m proud to stand with the people of Southwestern Oregon in defending our world-class rivers and streams from foreign mining corporations who don’t have the commitment to our community and our environment.”

“It’s hard to overstate the ecological, cultural, and economic importance of salmon and their habitat in this Southwestern Oregon watershed – they support thousands of jobs, sustain communities, and generate billions of dollars in economic activity. They also hold immense cultural significance for Tribes, like the many in the northern reaches of my district that depend on this watershed. But mining can lead to toxic pollution that damages critical ecosystems, killing off valuable and treasured species,” said Rep. Huffman. “This legislation will protect this cornerstone species, and so much more: clean drinking water, wild rivers, and the outdoor recreation industry on which our region relies. This is an incredibly consequential bill with far-reaching implications that I am glad to be leading on with Rep. Val Hoyle.”  

“The wild and scenic rivers of our “Wild Rivers Coast” provide for clean drinking water, salmon runs, and outstanding recreation. Their headwaters are no place for strip mining and the risks of its pollution,”said Ann Vileisis, President of Kalmiopsis Audubon Society. “We’re deeply grateful for Representative Hoyle’s leadership to protect Southwest Oregon’s beloved rivers.”

“SOWSPA provides important protections to the headwaters of the North Fork of the Smith River and the Illinois River, both of which are world famous among whitewater kayakers and rafters. Its protections for Rough and Ready Creek from mining will maintain the Illinois River’s famous water quality and fish habitat which draw people to our outfitted trips there,” said Zachary Collier, Owner/Outfitter at Northwest Rafting Company. “Beyond the recreational benefit of SOWSPA, these creeks are uniquely special and worth of protecting for their fish, rare flowers, and unique remote scenery.”

“On behalf of the thousands of anglers who fish each year for salmon and steelhead in rivers like the Illinois and North Fork Smith, we thank Congresswoman Val Hoyle for her leadership in conserving Oregon’s best remaining salmon and steelhead strongholds,” said Dean Finnerty, a longtime fishing and hunting guide in Southwest Oregon and now manager of Trout Unlimited’s Wild Steelhead Initiative. “This important legislation will permanently protect these waters, and the fishing opportunities that many local economies depend on, from proposed hard-rock mining, among other threats, and reflects feedback gained from many years of community outreach.”  

SOWSPA would protect high-quality salmon and steelhead strongholds, clean drinking water in Curry, Josephine, and Del Norte Counties, an active outdoor recreation and tourism economy, a high concentration of rare plants including the cobra lily, and a one-of-a-kind collection of National Wild and Scenic Rivers—the Rogue, Smith, Illinois, and Chetco. 

Here is LINK to the Legislation.


Washington D.C., Feb 26 — By a 227 to 200 vote, today the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act, (SOWSPA) amended to  House Bill 803, the Protect America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act. SOWSPA, introduced by Representatives DeFazio (D-OR) and Huffman (D-CA), calls for a temporary mineral withdrawal in the area to be made permanent. It now goes to the Senate, where Oregon Senators Wyden and Merkley will push for its passage.

A broad coalition of tribes, local governments, local businesses, conservation groups, sportsmen and commercial fishermen came together to protect the area’s Wild and Scenic Rivers, world class fisheries, and exceptional recreational opportunities from the threat of mining in the headwaters of the Wild and Scenic Smith, Rogue and Illinois rivers and Hunter Creek and North Fork Pistol rivers. In 2016, the Obama Administration approved the  20-year Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal to provide interim protection for 101,000 acres of river-rich National Forest and BLM lands. Communities in this remote corner of Northwest California and Southwest Oregon depend on these rivers for drinking water, outdoor-recreation, a fishing and tourism-based economy, and rural way of life.



Take Action

Sign a petition to protect the North Fork Smith River – April 2018

Click here to sign a petition sponsored by American Rivers and Smith River Alliance and join with thousands of citizens who oppose strip mining for nickel in the headwaters of the North Fork Smith River. Scroll down for updates on the status of the protection effort.

U.S. Ag Secretary says 20-year mining ban is secure for now – February 2018

Sonny Perdue, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture has stated in letters to U.S. Senators and Congressmen that the Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal is secure for now. Click here for a copy of his letters to Senators Wyden and Merkley and Congressman DeFazio — and for related press. Click here for a December 2017 letter from Trout Unlimited (TU) leadership to Secretary Perdue and Secretary of the Interior Zinke underscoring the significant fisheries values of the Oregon rivers protected through the 20-year mineral withdrawal. The TU letter also highlights the extensive public involvement and engagement supporting the mineral withdrawal process —– and encourages the Secretaries to maintain the completed Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal.

Read More

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

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 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.

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. ~ Del Norte Triplicate Article ~ Public Radio Interview 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.


Hunter Creek and Pistol River Headwaters Withdrawal Proposal (Download PDF)

Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks Mineral Withdrawal Proposal (Download PDF)

Press Coverage
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.

Other Press

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

Water in redwood country is worth more than nickel Sacramento Bee, October 13, 2013, Op-Ed by Tim Palmer