Nickel Mine Challenges Persist for Oregon Rivers


This guest blog from Tim Palmer on nickel mining near the Rough and Ready Creek was originally published in The Register Guard on January 11, 2014. Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks were listed as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2013.


North Fork Smith River, OR | ® Zach Collier, Northwest Rafting Company

Take action to protect Rough and Ready and Baldface creeks from dangerous mining practices | © Zach Collier, Northwest Rafting Company

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Hidden from the usual tourist circuit, two streams in southwestern Oregon tumble from the Siskiyou mountains through wild canyons embossed with pines and boulder fields. These unprotected streams are now threatened by nickel mines.

They go by the hardscrabble names of Baldface and Rough and Ready. Their flush of crystalline water nourishes some of the finest runs of salmon downstream — vital for sport and commercial fishing. Elegant in snowstorms, brilliant with springtime blooms, these enclaves abound with botanical curiosities such as bug-eating plants. Vegetation found nowhere else in the world thrives in ancient red soil; botanists worldwide come just to see it.

Baldface Creek flows into the north fork of the Smith River, which crosses the border into California and makes its breathtakingly beautiful course through the heart of redwood country. Flowing off the other side of the Siskiyou mountains, Rough and Ready Creek joins the Illinois River — a branch of the legendary Rogue River and its principal nursery of imperiled coho salmon.

While the Rogue, Illinois, and Smith rivers have enjoyed decades-long protection as designated wild and scenic rivers, our two remarkable tributaries have just kept flowing in a way that one might imagine lasting forever. But that vision is in jeopardy.

Exploration for open-pit nickel mines is proposed for both these basins; plans are pending at the U.S. Forest Service. On Google Earth, see the abandoned nickel mine at Riddle, south of Roseburg, to realize what awaits our slice of Siskiyou paradise. Pollution could quickly infect the Rogue and Smith rivers. Appalachia-style strip mining is permitted under the General Mining Act of 1872 — a relic of Ulysses Grant’s presidency that allows miners to dig wherever they want on our public lands, exempt even from royalty payments and buffered from anti-pollution rules.

The infamous law was passed when miners were American sourdoughs swinging pickaxes, but those days are over; today’s applicant at Baldface is a multinational corporation in Great Britain.

A century of work by dedicated local people and extending the whole way to Congress has protected the Rogue and Smith rivers, but all that could now fall victim to the price that Chinese nickel buyers are willing to pay to a corporate giant on the other side of the Atlantic. Oregon does not have to be an impoverished and polluted resource colony of other nations. Congress can withdraw the area from mining claims, and our elected officials can pass legislation to protect these streams’ fisheries and botanical treasures.

This would honor the decades-long work and investments that Oregonians and Californians have made in safeguarding the Rogue and Smith for the health of an economy that’s based on fish, recreation, and thriving stable communities — not the boom, bust, and permanent damage of strip mining.

The Forest Service has found both streams eligible for safeguarding under their own wild and scenic status. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Rep. Peter DeFazio have indicated support to protect these areas.

That initiative deserves immediate action with the backing of the entire Oregon delegation.

Tim Palmer of Port Orford is the author of “Rivers of America,” “The Columbia,” and “The Wild and Scenic Rivers of America.”

11 Responses to “Nickel Mine Challenges Persist for Oregon Rivers”

Steve Pawlowski

Repeal the General Mining Law of 1872. Multinational companies are lining up to destroy many parts of the West. Here in Arizona, a Canadian multinational mining company proposes to destroy the Santa Rita Mountains, one of the Sky Islands of SE AZ. This kind of environmental destruction will continue until we repeal this dangerous, obsolete law.

Cameron La Follette

Oregon Coast Alliance is one of several groups working against the proposed nickel strip mines on Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks east of Gold Beach in Curry County. These mining proposals are very controversial in Oregon, partly because Oregon has the remains of the other (now inactive) nickel mine in the US, at Riddle. The scar from that strip mine is easily visible on aerial photos, as no successful reclamation has occurred, and the mountaintop is scarred and lifeless.

Curry County Board of Commissioners has already come out against nickel mining in the National Forest at either of these two sites near Gold Beach. ORCA commends the County for its foresight and courage in leading the way with public opposition. We will continue working in coalition with other concerned residents and organizations to stop this threat to our public lands, and protect them permanently from nickel strip mining.

Brian Thompson

I am writing to urge the Forest Service to protect Baldface and Rough and Ready tributaries from open-pit nickel mines. These waterways support a thriving recreational economy and are home to an abundance of elegant and delicate species. Giving a multinational mining corporation the authority to pollute and destroy these waters would be an assault on our natural heritage, and put local communities and neighborhoods downstream at risk from pollution. Again, I ask that you protect Baldface and Rough and Ready tributaries from corporate interests by revoking any permits for open-pit mining in this wilderness area. Thank you.

Ann Vileisis

Not only would a pro-active political action protect these great river headwaters –but it would save taxpayer money that will invariably be spent on litigations, enforcement, and –if the mines get approval–what would ultimately be futile reclamation attempts. There is almost no way to restore a strip mine in the fragile serpentine soils of the Kalmiopsis area.



In Curry County, the Board of Commissioners recently took a position against a similar nickel mining proposal by the same foreign owned company at the headwaters of Hunter Creek, another great coastal stream with important native fish runs and unique botany.

Our rivers and fish are worth far more to the public than the small amounts of nickel that foreign companies want to extract.

Joe Pruessner

Sustainable business development requires that we consider costing and return based not only on monetary metrics, but also societal and environmental metrics. Clearly, when all the costs are figured, there is not a viable return for this project. It’s clear that the proposed nickel mines should most certainly NOT go ahead.

Barbara Ullian

Dear President Obama:

Last night in the State of the Union, you pledged to use your authority “TO PROTECT MORE OF OUR PRISTINE FEDERAL LAND FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS.”

It’s hard to find more pristine lands and rivers in need of that protection than Rough and Ready Creek, Baldface Creek and the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River. Their waters are so pure they’re like distilled water. See for yourself – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw1l0aP0u-U

This is no place for nickel strip mines. The US Environmental Protection Agency reports the metal mining industry is the largest toxic polluter in the United States. Do a search on Google earth for Nickel Mountain Mine, Douglas County, Oregon. You’ll see.

Oregon’s Senator Wyden, Senator Merkley and Representative DeFazio repeatedly asked your administration to help them protect these beautiful and beloved “pristine” places.

Even the Bush Administration,, in 2004 proposed their watersheds as Wilderness. They are either National Wild and Scenic Rivers or found eligible by the Forest Service to become National Wild and Scenic Rivers. Yet they remain unprotected.

So please TAKE ACTION to permanently protect these endangered pristine rivers and lands.

Cliff Dweller

When reading and pondering ‘The Book of Five Rings’ by Miyamoto Musashi, I try to adapt his strategies into the ‘tools’ that we could use today. Instead of swords and other lethal weapons, well directed ‘social media’ is one option and can be just as lethal. As Musashi advised, go for the leadership. A modern day salesman would tell you, ‘you have to get to the decision-maker’ in the corporation to which you wish to sell your product. The product in this case is continued crystalline water in the Baldface and Rough & Ready streams. So the CEOs of the corporations involved should be addressed directly. Also the leadership of your local, state and federal agencies that have a say in the issue. There are many ‘worker bees’ in these agencies who might feel the same as you about water quality.
An old fashioned letter sent through USPS, certified return receipt, can get attention. Even if there is no response from the recipient, you will know that they got the letter.
I don’t have to tell you to always be polite and respectful. But firm, clear and concise.
“Do I have to remind you of the toxic chemical spill into the Elk River at Charleston, WVA?” Not the kind of gross negligence, lies, disinformation that we want ’round here.
Humor and satire are great tools if used judiciously. – a RiverKeeper volunteer (NC)

Karin Leson

For the past 30 years, I have spent many days swimming, botanizing, hiking and just plain exploring Rough and Ready Creek and it’s surrounding area.
Rough and Ready is close to a major highway but amazingly far away from most forms of human degradation. I have visited the creek in all seasons and weather, and have rarely seen another human. When the winter floods come, even though it flows through deep red soil, the creek only takes on a slight, milky cast, unlike many disturbed streams nearby. From the beautiful and rare flowering plants, the many twisted, tortured Jeffery Pine to the clean, sparkling water, it is a quiet, unusual and ancient feeling place.
Baldface Creek is harder to access and even more untouched by human activity. It is a wild place with cold, incredibly clear water, and like Rough and Ready, deserving of all possible protections.
It is hard to imagine either of these special places ruined by any sort of mining. In the long run, their clean water and other environmental values will be worth very much more to the American public than the minerals are to foreign companies. I urge the Forest Service and our lawmakers to do everything in their power to protect Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks and their watersheds.

Baldface Creek is harder to access and even more untouched by human hands

Karin Leson

For the past 30 years, I have spent many days swimming, botanizing, hiking and just plain exploring Rough and Ready Creek and it’s surrounding area.
Rough and Ready is close to a major highway but amazingly far away from most forms of human degradation. I have visited the creek in all seasons and weather, and have rarely seen another human. When the winter floods come, even though it flows through deep red soil, the creek only takes on a slight, milky cast, unlike many disturbed streams nearby. From the beautiful and rare flowering plants, the many twisted, tortured Jeffery Pine to the clean, sparkling water, it is a quiet, unusual and ancient feeling place.
Baldface Creek is harder to access and even more untouched by human activity. It is a wild place with cold, incredibly clear water, and like Rough and Ready, deserving of all possible protections.
It is hard to imagine either of these special places ruined by any sort of mining. In the long run, their clean water and other environmental values will be worth very much more to the American public than the minerals are to foreign companies. I urge the Forest Service and our lawmakers to do everything in their power to protect Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks and their watersheds.

Brian

I urge you to eliminate nickel from your life so we no longer have to undertake these mining horrors.

Dolores

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