USFS: Mineral withdrawal to stay unchanged

The U.S. Forest Service has announced it will not revisit a mineral withdrawal hundreds of citizens in Curry and Del Norte counties fought for last year.

Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, along with Rep. Peter DeFazio, introduced the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act in 2015 to protect the area from development.

At the end of 2016, the Obama administration withdrew more than 100,000 acres near the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area from mineral development following extensive public comment periods over several years.

There were more than 45,000 comments submitted from local city council members, tribal leaders, county commissioners and recreation business leaders.

Leaving the withdrawal in place will protect more than 100,000 acres at the headwaters of Hunter Creek and Pistol River near Gold Beach, and the Smith River in California and Oregon.

Red Flat Nickel Mining, based on an island off England, wanted to conduct exploratory nickel mining development that year. The news brought citizens, environmentalists, business interest and many others out in opposition.

The three elected officials said they received the notification from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. They also urged the Trump administration last fall to not pursue the “misguided and misinformed request.”

“Oregonians expressed overwhelming support for withdrawing this valuable area from proposed foreign-owned nickel mining,” Wyden said. “I am gratified that Secretary Perdue is not second-guessing that public participation and responded positively to the request to preserve these significant natural resources.”

Hundreds of people filled the Brookings-Harbor High School gymnasium last year to express their dismay at the proposal. They cited the beauty of the areas in question, the economic repercussions to fishing and recreation and the likelihood that a mining company would leave the place in a worse condition than it was found among many reasons to oppose the proposal.

Dave Lacey, a resident at the headwaters of Hunter Creek, said he’s cautiously optimistic the withdrawal will remain intact.

“I’m not 100 percent confident,” he said. “I suppose the secretary of the interior could still change his mind if the president tells him to. I just feel like it’s so volatile in Washington right now, I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s unpredictable.”

Merkley seemed confident, however.

“Mining here would have posed an unacceptable threat to drinking water and fish runs,” he said. “It’s great news for Oregon that Secretary Perdue has accepted the results of the public process that overwhelmingly favored protection for these waters. We can’t — and won’t — allow these pristine Southern Oregon treasures to be lost.”

DeFazio agreed, noting that the pristine waters critical to salmon habitat would have been threatened.

“Allowing mining would have devastated this natural treasure and threatened pristine waters,” he said.