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Senators and Reps Defend SW Oregon Mining Ban

Posted: 12/04/2017
by Megan Hooker

In late 2016, the Bureau of Land Management initiated a 20-year ban (i.e. “mineral withdrawal”) on new mining claims in Southwest Oregon, protecting the pristine waters of many rivers in Southwest Oregon that are cherished by the whitewater community. American Whitewater and our partners cheered the decision to protect the watersheds of the Illinois, Rogue and North Fork Smith Rivers, as well as Hunter Creek from the threats of industrial scale nickel strip mines.

Earlier this fall, Rob Bishop, Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, asked the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to begin a process to reverse this federal protection. Bishop called for a comprehensive review of all temporary mining bans adopted since 2008, claiming that the Southwest Oregon ban in particular was “inappropriate” and “unjustified” under the law.

Oregon Senators Wyden and Merkley and Representative DeFazio, and California Representative Huffman defended the 20-year mining ban. Bishop’s request was filled with factual errors and flawed assumptions, and last month, the Oregon delegation sent a letter to the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to set the record straight. (You can read the letter here.) The Southwest Oregon mineral withdrawal is allowed under federal land management and planning laws, and was implemented following an extensive, multi-year public process that involved overwhelming bipartisan and local support (including from the paddling community). The withdrawal also was in support of pending legislation–the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act of 2015 (H.R. 682/S. 346).

American Whitewater applauds the actions of Oregon’s Senators Wyden and Merkley and Representatives DeFazio and Huffman for all of the work that they have done to protect the wild rivers of Southwest Oregon and Northwest California from mining threats. We encourage you to do the same. These wild rivers are extremely valuable to the region, offering some of the cleanest, clearest waters around. They provide drinking water for tens of thousands of Oregonians and Californians, habitat for robust native salmon runs and support the region’s recreation economy that includes sportfishing and whitewater boating.


Bishop’s attempt to initiate a review of the mining ban highlights the need for permanent protection for the region. Senators Wyden and Merkely and Representatives DeFazio and Huffman re-introduced the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act in 2017 (H.R. 310/S. 192), which would make the mining ban permanent. Some places are too precious to mine, and this is one of them.

Join us in thanking Senators Wyden and Merkley and Representatives DeFazio and Huffman for their ongoing efforts to protect these rivers today, and reminding them just how important permanent protection is to you. We’ve made it easy for you to reach out to them here.

Thanks for taking action, and stay tuned to American Whitewater for updates.

Thanks to Northwest Rafting Company for the photos.