Rough & Ready Creek is Too Special to Ruin
Today’s guest blog about the #8 Rough & Ready and Baldface Creeks- a part of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® series- is from Barbara Ullian, a dedicated local resident, member of Friends of the Kalmiopsis, and manager of roughandreadycreek.org.
According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, “[Laura] Skaer [of the Northwest Mining Association] says it may be appropriate to remove some special places from mineral entry, but thinks it should only happen after a thorough mineral survey has taken place.”
In that case, the Northwest Mining Association will be very pleased to know that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has, in fact, done a “very thorough mineral survey” at Rough & Ready Creek, one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2013. It cost the American taxpayer about $1 million, and according to the Justice Department was “massive” and “complex.” The conclusion reached in the mineral report for the Nicore Claims Group (which reportedly filled multiple two-inch ring binders) was that none of the mining claims covering about 5,000 acres at Rough & Ready Creek contained a valuable mineral deposit.
On the other hand, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and BLM have found that Rough & Ready Creek is an area of “incredible natural values” with “extremely high scientific, social, and ecological values.” Its water quality is “exceptional,” according to both agencies, and it meets all of the criteria needed to be designated a National Wild and Scenic River.
In 2004, the Secretary of Agriculture recommended much of the creek’s watershed as an addition to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. If this is not enough, Rough & Ready Creek has the highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon, and is a much beloved community open space and outdoor classroom. The BLM also found that the natural values of Rough & Ready Creek are relatively scarce, particularly when compared to the availability of nickel bearing ore worldwide.
The USFS has already analyzed the impacts of proposed nickel strip mining at Rough & Ready Creek and found the impacts would be “drastic,” “irreversible,” and would adversely affect residents. The BLM’s mineral survey raised concerns about: 1) the presence of naturally occurring asbestos in the area; and 2) the potential for the smelter waste (slag) produced using the nickel laterite soils at Rough & Ready Creek to contain high enough levels of chromium for it to be declared a toxic substance, requiring it to be permanently stored on site in the Rough & Ready Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern.
Given these circumstances, we urge the Northwest Mining Association to join us in asking the Obama Administration to withdraw the area from mineral entry and Congress to permanently protect it. We would welcome your support.
It’s also telling that Glenbrook Nickel operated for many years about 90 miles north of Rough & Ready Creek and Baldface Creek, but was never interested in the nickel laterites in these nearby National Forest lands. When looked at on a global scale, the nickel found at Rough & Ready Creek and the watershed of the Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River is low grade and found in relatively small dispersed areas.
When Glenbrook’s Nickel Mountain Mine petered out, the company invested a reported $30 million dollars in a port facility at Coos Bay and imported much higher grade ore from New Caledonia and then trucked it all the way to Riddle. If one wants to see what reclamation looks like at a nickel mine, just do a search in Google Earth for Nickel Mountain, Riddle, Oregon.
While the nickel found in Southwest Oregon and Northwest California is low grade, the serpentine terrain on which it’s found hosts one of the highest concentrations of rare plants in North America, some of the nation’s most beautiful rivers, and world-class salmon and steelhead runs. These streams have some of the clearest water in the West.