A Victory for the Wild and Scenic Illinois River!
On June 27th, the Interior Department approved a 20-year extension for a mineral withdrawal along 14 miles of Oregon’s National Wild and Scenic Illinois River. The measure will protect one of the most popular stretches of river in the state from mining. The existing withdrawal expired on Sunday, June 30th.
Absent reform of the 1872 Mining Law, mineral withdrawals are essential to protect the public’s interest in their National Forests from mining. Under current policy, the Forest Service allows mining over all other land uses, unless an area is first withdrawn from operation under the 1872 Mining Law. Out of over 4,000 comments, there was only one letter submitted in opposition to the Illinois River withdrawal.
This 14-mile stretch of the Illinois River was first withdrawn from mining in 1968. The wisdom of this action, which prioritized recreational and fishery values, has become increasingly apparent as use of this premier whitewater river has increased to beyond full capacity on some stretches. On a hot summer day, as many as 1,000 people can crowd onto five miles of the most popular part of the Scenic Illinois River canyon.
American Rivers, along with other local, state, and national conservation organizations, applauds the Department of Interior’s actions for the Illinois River. At the same time, we are calling on the Obama Administration to withdraw from mining the watersheds of Rough & Ready and Baldface Creeks. These pristine streams are also facing serious threats from mining, which is why we listed them among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2013. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and Representative Peter DeFazio have repeatedly asked the Secretary of Interior and Secretary of Agriculture to withdraw these high quality salmon streams from mining. No action has been taken to date.
Mineral withdrawals have been sought for these rivers and the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River because hardrock mining on public lands is governed by the 1872 Mining Law, a 140 year old law that prioritizes mining over all other land uses and gives federal land managers little ability to deny a mine, regardless of competing land uses.
A bill to reform the mining law (H.R. 2467), which was introduced last month by Representatives Raul Grijalva, Ed Markey, and Rush Holt, would protect national treasures like Wild and Scenic Rivers from mining.