Rough and Ready Creek and Baldface Creek Most Endangered Rivers: Half Year Report
This is a guest blog from Barbara Ullian for the Rough and Ready Creek, Baldface Creek and North Fork Smith River working group
It’s been both a frustrating and rewarding six months in the fight to prevent nickel strip mines at Rough and Ready Creek, Baldface Creek and the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River.
As soon as the federal government is open for business, 39 local, regional and national organizations and outfitters will ask their congressional representatives to introduce legislation to withdraw the endangered streams from the mining law. The legislation is necessitated by inaction on the part of the federal agencies in charge of the land
In July, Senator Wyden, Senator Merkley and Representative DeFazio wrote to Secretary Sally Jewel to express their concern about the high risk of mining at Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks:
We have steadily urged protection for these threatened creeks and call on the Administration once more to act now and prevent mining activities from damaging critical habitat for endangered salmon and steelhead.
But while only Secretary Jewel has the authority to administratively withdraw the areas from mining, she can do so only at the request of the land managing agencies. Meetings with the Forest Service—the principle land manager—has made it clear they will only initiate a withdrawal if Congress acts.
The agency found both streams eligible to be added to the National Wild and Scenic River System in 1994 and in 2004 recommended that Congress add over 34,000 acres of their watersheds to the adjacent Kalmiopsis Wilderness. They’ve found the water quality of both streams exceptional and botanical diversity the highest in the State of Oregon. They know Baldface Creek is one of the most productive salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout tributaries in the whole Smith River system. Nonetheless the Forest Service insists they’re required to facilitate mining and say state regulators have more ability to protect the area than they do.
This is news to the Oregon Coast Alliance who with local residents were unsuccessful in preventing the startup of a chromite mine, along the famed Oregon Coast. Owned by an Australian Company, the mine suspended operations, after a little over a year. However, it was market conditions not state regulators that lead to the closure. So the promised jobs went away but the destruction created by the mine has not—nor has the threat of water pollution.
The reward, over the last six months, has been in the breadth and diversity of public support for protecting these wild and scenic rivers in-waiting. Many remember the long struggle to prevent the start-up of the Cal Nickel Mine above the North Fork Smith just across the border in California in the late 1980’s. It lead to Congress establishing the Smith River National Recreation Area.
While these new mining proposals are in Oregon, advocates for California’s iconic Smith River know that pollution flows downstream and has no respect for political boundaries. They want the Oregon part of the Smith River (Baldface Creek and the North Fork Smith) and Rough and Ready Creek protected too.
Residents, rafting companies, sport and commercial fishing organizations, native plant societies, conservation organizations and local tribes are all asking Congress to protect these beloved creeks and the National Wild and Scenic Rivers they flow into and to stop the mines. From experience they know the time to do that is before the mining starts.