Wyden, Merkley Southwest Mineral Withdrawal Bill Takes Step Forward

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley announced that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee considered their legislation to protect more than 100,000 acres in southwest Oregon from mining, in a hearing today.

The Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act would prohibit new mining leases in four areas, including Rough and Ready Creek at the headwaters of the Illinois River, Baldface Creek at the headwaters of the Smith River, the Chetco River, and Red Flat at the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Pistol River.

The rivers that would be protected by the bill supply clean drinking water to thousands of residents in Southwest Oregon and Northwest California and are critical to salmon habitat. Withdrawing the area from future mining activities would ensure permanent protections for this unique watershed that hosts a high concentration of rare plants and high-quality recreation opportunities.

“The lands near Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks have some of the most exceptional ecological values in Oregon, and the streams are vitally important to the drinking water supply for several nearby communities and to salmon and steelhead runs,” Wyden said. “The mineral withdrawal in our bill has overwhelming support from local residents who want to preserve the lands and rivers they love, which is why I’m going to keep working to protect these areas from mining once and for all.”

“Our water is a precious resource, and these pristine Southwest Oregon rivers are treasures we can’t allow to be lost,” Merkley said. “Mining would pose an unacceptable risk to drinking water and to fish runs, and it’s time to protect these special areas by ensuring they’re always off-limits to the threat of mining.”

Last June, the senators, along with Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Jared Huffman, D-Calif., applauded the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to begin the process of temporarily banning new mining projects over the same area that would be protected by the bill.

Wyden and Merkley introduced the Senate version of the Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act last year, and DeFazio and Huffman introduced the House version.