A plan to exclude mineral development on about 100,000 acres of federal land, to thwart a proposed nickel mine near the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, is nearing fruition.
The U.S. Forest Service released its environmental assessment last week, and written comments will be accepted through May 27.
The proposed mineral withdrawal would add five more years to the existing two-year moratorium on exploration already in place on upper sections of Baldface Creek, Rough and Ready Creek, the Pistol River and Hunter Creek.
The withdrawal falls in line with congressional legislation proposed last year by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio and U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley to protect the area’s pristine nature.
The legislation targets the Red Flat Nickel Corp.’s proposal to strip-mine more than 3,000 acres, primarily for nickel, in the Baldface Creek drainage about 12 miles west of O’Brien just outside the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.
The company also has claims in other drainages.
The Daily Courier was unable to reach representatives for Red Flat’s operation. Based in the United Kingdom, the company has an office in Portland.
Roy Bergstrom of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest said Red Flat hasn’t proved mineral wealth in any of its claims, although it has done test drilling on some of them in the Hunter Creek-Pistol River drainage.
“Valid existing rights are not established on any of these,” Bergstrom said.
Any existing mining claims with valid mineral rights would not be subject to the withdrawal, but claims would have to go through mineral exams to test their validity.
“We would have to do a mineral evaluation to determine if claims are valid or not,” said Kevin Johnson, geologist for the BLM based in Grants Pass. “We have not made any determination yet.”
Virtually no hard-rock mining operations have been permitted by the Forest Service in that area for many years.
The proposed mine location is near Baldface Creek, and claims fall on both sides of the creek.
Baldface drains into the North Fork Smith River, prized by rafters and an important spawning tributary for salmon and steelhead.
At public meetings in Grants Pass and Cave Junction last year, sentiment was heavier toward protecting the watersheds, but others from the mining community were dismayed over shutting down land to extraction of natural resources.
Nickel is an important alloy metal and is especially useful in the production of stainless steel.