Southwest Oregon mineral withdrawal passes first test

TU calls on the Interior Department to follow Agriculture Department Decision.

By Kyle Smith

Last week brought good news for the legendary wild steelhead fisheries of Southwest Oregon. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue issued a letter on February 21 stating his Department will not pursue a review of the Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal, executed in 2017. Trout Unlimited applauds Secretary Perdue’s decision, which honors the strong local consensus that the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, and the many critical steelhead and salmon strongholds it includes, should be protected from large scale mining operations.

Dean Finnerty, northwest region director for TU’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project, said, “TU, and anglers around the country, appreciate Secretary Perdue’s decision. TU also thanks Senators Wyden and Merkley and Rep. DeFazio for their continued leadership in helping to establish and defend the Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal, which is key to conserving the vital spawning and rearing habitat this area provides for the Smith River’s amazing steelhead and salmon runs.”

In November of last year, Utah’s Rep. Rob Bishop wrote to Perdue and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke urging a review of all mineral withdrawals conducted under the Obama administration. Because most of the 100,000+ acres of the SW Oregon Mineral Withdrawal are on lands managed by the US Forest Service, under the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) the Secretary of Agriculture’s consent is needed before any mineral withdrawal can be modified or revoked.

Senators Wyden and Merkley and Rep. DeFazio responded with a letter to Zinke and Perdue urging them to allow the mineral withdrawal for the Kalmiopsis Wilderness area to remain in place. Trout Unlimited’s CEO Chris Wood, Oregon Council Chair Terry Turner, and California Council Chair Cindy Noble also sent a letter to Zinke and Perdue with the same message.

Before being adopted, the Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal went through an extensive public process and environmental analysis, during which public support was overwhelmingly in favor of the withdrawal. Years of advocacy from Trout Unlimited and a coalition of other conservation groups catalyzed a tidal wave of public support.

The National Forest lands that were withdrawn from new mining claims have exceptionally high scientific, social, and ecological values and include some of the best salmon, trout, and steelhead habitat in the Lower 48. In fact, these values were further acknowledged and protected when Oregon recently bestowed upon the North Fork Smith River and its tributaries the State’s first Outstanding Resource Waters designation.

While Secretary Perdue’s decision not to reverse the Kalmiopsis mineral withdrawal is sensible and welcome, the issue is not yet fully resolved. Secretary Perdue’s letter only maintains the withdrawal for lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service. There are a little over 5,000 acres in the withdrawal managed by the BLM, and these lands are made up almost entirely of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern.

TU strongly urges Secretary of the Interior Zinke to follow Secretary Perdue’s example, acknowledge the importance of this withdrawal for the Smith River’s salmon and steelhead and the local economies that rely heavily on angling, and follow the wishes and leadership of Oregon’s residents and Congressional delegates in allowing the Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal to remain in place.

Kyle Smith is the Oregon Field Coordinator for TU’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project.

By Brennan Sang.