TU responds to lapse of Chetco River mineral withdrawal

The Chetco River, one of the finest salmon and steelhead fisheries in the West.

For more than a decade TU has worked with other fishing and conservation groups to protect coastal salmon and steelhead streams in southwest Oregon from mining and o

ther types of resource development that could harm legendary fisheries such as the Chetco River.

Seven years ago, and again five years ago, our efforts helped convince the Department of the Interior (DOI) that it should temporarily withdraw all mineral claims along 17 miles of the Chetco that had been designated as a Wild and Scenic River, while Congress considered legislation (e.g. the Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act) to permanently withdraw all new mineral development along this section of the Chetco as well as on other streams. This type of action is common when members of Congress are considering if a permanent withdrawal is needed for an area.

The Rogue-River Siskiyou National Forest, through which the Chetco flows, had recommended the outstanding natural and fishing values of the Chetco be protected from filing and development of new mining claims while Congress deliberated the prospect of permanent mineral withdrawal. Prior to the two previous DOI mineral withdrawals, there were proposals to mine some 24 miles of the Wild and Scenic Chetco for gold, including within the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.

In April of this year, Senators Wyden and Merkley and Reps. DeFazio and Huffman wrote a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke urging him to start the process of extending the five-year withdrawal imposed by the DOI in July of 2013. But in a break from tradition, the agency did not renew the withdrawal while Congress continues to evaluate a permanent legislative solution, instead allowing it to lapse. Thus, as of July 26, Secretary Zinke re-opened 17 miles of the Chetco—from Boulder Creek to the national forest Boundary—to new mining claims.

In order to protect the Chetco and its fabled runs of Chinook and steelhead from the impacts of mining, on July 31 Rep. Peter DeFazio re- introduced the Chetco River Protection Act (H.R. 6546). Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Susan Bonamici, and Jared Huffman co-sponsored the legislation. TU is now working with our Oregon and California councils to advance this legislation and push for re-instatement of the Chetco mineral withdrawal until the Chetco protection bill passes.

For more information on DeFazio’s bill and the myriad reasons the Chetco should be managed to conserve its salmon and steelhead runs, read the Rep. DeFazio’s press release on re-introduction of the Chetco River Protection Act.

What You Can Do

  1. Thank Senators Wyden and Merkley and Reps. DeFazio and Huffman for their leadership in protecting the salmon and steelhead streams of SW Oregon and NW California from mining and other development that could degrade water quality and fishing opportunities, and harm local economies dependent on fishing. You can do this by email, phone or their social media feeds. Wyden: (202) 224-5244/541-858-5122; Merkley: (202) 224-3753/541-608-9102; DeFazio: (202)-225-6416/541-269-2609; Huffman: (202) 225-5161
  2. Tell your senators and representative (if different from above) that as an angler and conservationist you are very concerned about the impacts of new mining development on the Chetco River and other productive salmon and steelhead streams in SW Oregon and NW California now that the mineral withdrawal has expired. Ask them to support the Southwest Oregon Watersheds and Salmon Protection Act and the Checto River Protection Act in the House.

By Brennan Sang.