The Department of Agriculture recently announced that it will not review a 20-year prohibition on
new mining development (i.e., a “mineral withdrawal) for over 101,000 acres of public lands
in SW Oregon. The protection, which was implemented in late 2016, covers rivers cherished by the
whitewater community including the Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith and Illinois Rivers and their
The threat to the SW Oregon mineral withdrawal came last fall when Representative Rob Bishop of Utah called on the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to “review” all mineral withdrawals implemented between 2009 and the first three weeks of 2017. In his letter, Bishop called out the southwestern Oregon withdrawal in particular as one where “Federal lands were inappropriately withdrawn from mineral access due to false premises of environmental protectionism…”
Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Representative Peter DeFazio responded by calling on the Secretaries not to pursue Bishop’s request. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue replied to the Oregon delegation’s request on February 21, indicating that while the Forest Service will be evaluating proposed mining bans, the SW Oregon mineral withdrawal would not be part of that effort because it was finalized.
The Secretary’s letter is welcome news for the local communities that rely on the outstanding natural resource values of rivers in the Kalmiopsis region. In addition to being home to some outstanding whitewater, these rivers provide a vital stronghold for some of the few remaining wild salmon and steelhead runs and are home to wildlife and rare plants not found anywhere else on the planet. These rivers are the backbone of the region’s recreation economy, and visitors travel from across the globe to experience the area. Additionally, there was overwhelming bipartisan support for protecting the region during the lengthy public process leading up to the withdrawal.
While those that love Kalmiopsis rivers are breathing a little easier following the Secretary's letter, American Whitewater and our partners are celebrating the news with a bit of caution. There still is no indication from the Department of Interior about whether it will "review" the SW Oregon withdrawal. Stay tuned for updates.
Senators Wyden and Merkley and Representatives DeFazio and Huffman continue to advocate for preserving the region, and re-introduced legislation to permanently protect the Kalmiopsis from new mining claims (the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act of 2017). We encourage you to reach out and thank them for their leadership in protecting the region and urge them to continue to advance the legislation. (We've made it easy for you to do that here.) Ultimately, permanent protection is what the region needs to stop the threat of industrial-scale strip mines and protect these special rivers for generations to come.
Thanks to Northwest Rafting Company for the photo!