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Siskiyou Mountain Range

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Protect Siskiyou Wild Rivers!

Taowhywee, Agness Baker Pilgrim, Takelma Indian Elder, Confederated Tribes of Siletz being a “voice for the voiceless,” speaking in support of wild rivers and clean water at the public meeting in Grants Pass, OR.

This week an estimated 500 people turned out for public meetings about proposed strip mines in Rough & Ready Creek, the North Fork of the Smith River, and the southern Oregon coast. Despite the large turnout and the enormous importance of this issue, the meetings have received very little local media attention. Two public meetings were held: one in Gold Beach and one in Grants Pass, Oregon. The overwhelming majority—an estimated 95%— of those who spoke at the meetings where in opposition to the proposed strip mines and in support of mineral withdrawal for these wild rivers.

Currently, the United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have implemented a two year “mineral segregation,” meaning no new mining claims can be filed in the region. The mineral segregation would also require all existing mine claims to undergo a validation process, where mine claims must prove they are valid and economically viable to proceed with mine operations. This process would apply to the mines owned by the London based, Red Flat Nickel Company, which has staked claim to the proposed strip mines on Baldface Creek and the south coast. The process would also apply to claims staked by RNR Resources who is proposing a nickel strip mine on Rough and Ready Creek.  

A bill proposed by Senators Wyden and Merkley from Oregon, as well as Representative DeFazio from Oregon and Representative Huffman from California, would extend the statutes of this two year “segregation” into a five year mineral withdrawal. Environmentalists and local residents are proposing a 20 year, or better yet, permanent mineral withdrawal. The idea is to put a moratorium on new claims in the area, allowing Congress time to permanently protect the region in question from industrial mining, just as the majority of the Smith River drainage already is.

The proposed strip mines would impact some of the region’s most intact watersheds, effecting thousands of acres in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area. These watersheds include undammed and pristine salmon streams at the headwaters of the Smith and Illinois Rivers. Currently these watersheds support some of the highest water quality on the face of the earth; they are not only a stronghold for native fisheries, but also some of the most botanically complex regions on the continent. 

The potential impacts associated with nickel strip mining in the area are large and permanent, and the benefits to local communities are small and temporary. No amount of short-term job creation would make up for the loss of high-quality drinking water for Crescent City, or the countless northern California and southern Oregon residents who source their water from these pristine watersheds. No amount of boom and bust economic development will compensate for the loss of sustainable outdoor recreational opportunities, commercial and recreational fishing, tourism, and quality of life in the region. No amount of nickel ore is worth the desecration of this wild, pristine wilderness.

Rough & Ready Creek in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area is one of the most pristine streams in the Siskiyou Mountains, and a stronghold for rare serpentine plant species. The area’s unique habitats and exceptional water quality will be devastated if strip mining was to occur.

The story is one of lost opportunities and short-sighted corporate mining schemes. In the 1980s mining companies threatened to strip mine Gasquet Mountain on the North Fork of the Smith River for cobalt, chromium, and nickel. The plans involved large strip mines, and a coal burning smelter, fed by proposed reservoirs in this important undammed river system. In 1990, in response to the proposal, the entire California portion of the Smith River was declared a National Recreation Area and withdrawn from mineral entry. 

At this time many thought the iconic Smith River, the gem of our nations Wild and Scenic River system, was adequately protected. Yet, the wildest portions of the Smith River’s famous North Fork extend over the California border into Oregon. The Oregon portion of the Smith River is now threatened by the very impact the Smith River National Recreation Area was designated to protect against: nickel strip mining that would devastate the area’s clear and pristine water quality, fisheries habitat and scenic recreational values.
In 2001, the Clinton Administration proposed to withdraw a large portion of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest from mineral entry, barring new claims and requiring validation of all existing mine claims. The George W. Bush administration responded by swiftly disregarding this proposal.

In 2002, as the Forest Service was pushing through the highly controversial Biscuit Fire Salvage Project, promises were made by both politicians and Forest Service officials that the unimpacted portions of the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area would be included as expansions to the current Kalmiopsis Wilderness. This included the entire area now proposed to be strip mined. The Forest Service and our elected officials proceeded to get the logs out, but refused to further explore wilderness expansion. Since this time, the Red Flat Nickel Company has staked thousands of acres of claims and is currently proposing exploratory drilling as an initial step towards mine development.

Today, we must push for mineral withdrawal, but the future remains uncertain until the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area is permanently protected as wilderness. A movement for wilderness protection is building and these threats could be the catalyst that galvanizes support for wilderness designation, much as proposed nickel mining generated the impetus for protection of the Smith River National Recreation Area.

The Forest Service is taking public comment until September 28, 2015 on the issue of mineral withdrawal and the potential for a five year extension in aid of legislation that will permanently protect these wild and amazing rivers. Please consider commenting, ask for a minimum 20 year mineral withdrawal and wilderness designation for the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area. This opportunity might be our only chance. Which do you prefer: An industrial wasteland spewing toxic waste into some of our nation’s most pristine salmon streams? Or a wilderness, wild, free, and forever preserved for future generations? The time to act is now. Join us!

Send comments to:
Bureau of Land Management, Oregon State Office, 
P.O. Box 2965, Portland, OR 97208-2965

To sign an online petition: 

The area proposed for mineral withdrawal on the south coast near Gold Beach, Oregon


The area proposed for mineral withdrawal in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area, including Baldface Creek and Rough & Ready Creek.

Below is the “Summary of Minerals Withdrawal in Aid of Legislation.” In other words, what’s going on with this bill:

“On February 3, 2015, the Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act of 2015was
introduced. Senators Wyden and Merkley introduced S. 346 and Representatives DeFazio and Huffman
introduced H.R. 682. The legislation proposed to withdraw from the mining laws of the United States
areas of National Forest System and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land with exceptionally high
conservation values.

On February 4th, 2015, the U.S. Forest Service Regional Office in Portland received a copy of a letter to
the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from Senators Wyden (OR) and Merkley (OR) and
Representatives DeFazio (OR) and Huffman (CA) requesting that the Forest Service begin to process an
application for a 5-year mineral withdrawal in aid of legislation.

The Forest Service is coordinating efforts with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM); the
congressional request for withdrawal encompasses approximately 95,684 acres of National Forest
System land on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in addition to 5,376 acres of Federal (BLM)
lands on the Medford and Coos Bay Districts of the BLM. The land is located in the Rough &
Ready/Baldface Creek area in Josephine County and the Hunter Creek/Pistol River area in Curry County.
Additionally, about 1,700 acres of non-Federal lands are included within the exterior boundaries of the
proposed area that, if subsequently acquired by the United States, would become subject to the terms
and conditions of the withdrawal.

A 90-day comment period associated with the publication of a Federal Register Notice announcing the
segregation commenced on June 29, 2015 and extends through September 28, 2015. Written
comments may be sent to the Bureau of Land Management, Oregon State Office, P.O. Box 2965,
Portland, OR 97208-2965. Two public meetings will be held on September 9 & 10, 2015, in Gold Beach
and Grants Pass, respectively, to provide opportunities for the public to provide verbal or written
comments. All comments received will be considered by the contracted interdisciplinary team that is
providing the environmental analysis for the withdrawal in aid of legislation.

A segregation period of up to 2 years provides time to process the withdrawal application, which
includes an environmental analysis process with a 30-day public comment period during the scoping
phase of the project. This will provide an additional opportunity for public comment. The Forest Service
is the lead agency for the environmental analysis.

Subject to valid existing mineral rights, the withdrawal application would segregate the BLM and
National Forest system lands from sale, location, and entry under the public land laws including the
United States mining laws, and operation under the mineral and geothermal leasing laws while Congress
considers proposed legislation.

Once the NEPA analysis is complete, the Secretary of the Interior is the deciding official, with
recommendations provided by Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Supervisor Rob MacWhorter,
Medford BLM District Manager Dayne Barron and Coos Bay BLM District Manager Patricia Burke.
Assuming a bill is introduced in the legislature when the 5-year withdrawal period ends, the agencies
may request an additional 5-year withdrawal period to the Secretary of the Interior. “