by Ann Vileisis, president and conservation chair of Kalmiopsis Audubon Society
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Nickel Mine threat update
Last fall we all came together at jam-packed public hearings to show strong support for a proposal to temporarily “withdraw” areas at the headwaters of several of our great local rivers currently threatened by proposals for mining. The proposed 5-year withdrawal will provide time for our Senators and Congressman DeFazio to pass their legislation—the Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act (SOWSPA)— to provide permanent protection from mining.
You may recall, many of us asked for a 20-year rather than a 5-year withdrawal for areas at the headwaters of Hunter Creek, Pistol River, the North Fork Smith River, and Rough and Ready Creek at the headwaters of the Illinois River. So what’s happened to the “mineral withdrawal” proposal since then?
The good news is that the Forest Service and BLM heard us loud and clear and have decided to consider the option of a 20-year withdrawal in their Environmental Assessment (EA) for the proposed withdrawal. The EA is due out soon, and there will be a 30-day comment period. After the agencies consider comments, the Forest Service and BLM will forward their study, hopefully with a positive recommendation, to the Department of the Interior for consideration by Secretary Sally Jewell.
You can help by sending a letter in response to the EA. Please see ACTION ITEM #1 below.
The bad news is that we’ve also learned we’re up against powerful forces. According to the website that tracks lobbying (OpenSecrets.org), Red Flat Nickel Corporation (RFNC) has spent $120,000 lobbying Congress and the Forest Service in Washington D.C. The lobbyist working for RFNC was former Senate Majority leader Trent Lott! It’s likely that lobbying was directed at blocking the withdrawal and SOWSPA legislation. This makes it all the more important that we use our “people power” to let our elected officials know we appreciate and support their work to advance and pass the Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act.
We are extremely fortunate that Senators Wyden and Merkley and Congressman DeFazio really get this issue and have been champions willing to go to bat for our wild rivers. But since the opposite party is in power in the Congress right now, it’s no surprise that our elected officials are having a hard time of it. That doesn’t mean we stop asking and pushing, but it does mean it’s good to push and press with an attitude of appreciation. We need to cheer them on so they prioritize getting THIS legislation through the gauntlet. Please see Action Item #2 below.
*ACTION ITEM #1, Comment on the Forest Service EA
Please cut and paste this comment directly into an email, and send it to:
Include “SW Oregon Mineral Withdrawal” in subject line.
Dear Supervisor MacWhorter:
I support a 20-year mineral withdrawal for two remarkable areas in Southwest Oregon with exceptionally high conservation values. With outstanding wild rivers, crystal clear water, robust salmon runs, and globally unique botanical values, these National Forest and BLM lands are too special to mine!
A 20-year withdrawal will provide interim protection from mining for:
• Pristine tributaries of the National Wild and Scenic Illinois, Rogue, North Fork Smith and Smith Rivers and their world class fisheries, outstanding water quality and high recreation values;
• Wild watersheds providing downstream communities with some of the cleanest drinking water in the nation;
• The headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Pistol River, prized free flowing native salmon and steelhead streams;
• Eight designated and two proposed botanical reserves and the highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon;
• Two Inventoried Roadless Areas (South Kalmiopsis and Packsaddle);
• Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks—both Forest Service eligible Wild and Scenic Rivers—and a Forest Service proposed addition to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness;
• Downstream communities that depend on these outstanding natural resources to fuel local economies based on clean water, sport and commercial fishing, recreation, scenery, and tourism.
Mining companies, one foreign-owned, want to strip mine these unique public lands for low-grade nickel. According to the U.S. EPA, metal mining is America’s most polluting industry. Strip mining would turn our National Forests and BLM lands into industrial zones and put rivers at irrevocable risk for pollution.
Oregon’s Senators and local Congressional Representatives support a 20-year withdrawal and are currently working to permanently protect the areas from nickel strip mining through the Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act.
To secure our region’s extraordinary wildlands, wild rivers, and salmon runs into the future,
I support the Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act and the maximum interim protection possible—a 20-year mining withdrawal. Sincerely,
*ACTION ITEM #2, Call in support for SOWSPA
Please call our Senators and Congressman and tell them you support SOWSPA. Some talking points: THANK YOU for introducing the Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act. I value the pure waters and salmon runs of the Wild and Scenic Rivers on our South Coast and appreciate your efforts to provide for greater protections; I hope you’ll do everything you can to protect the headwaters of our fine rivers from the threat of strip mining.
Senator Wyden: (202) 224-5244 or (541) 858-5122 (Medford Office)
Senator Merkley: (202) 224-3753 or (541) 608-9102 (Medford Office)
Representative DeFazio: (202) 225-6416 or (541) 269-2609 (Coos Bay office)
Or send a brief note by going to their websites.
North Fork Smith –outstanding water quality
In our effort to prevent industrial strip mines from gaining footing in Curry County, we’ve helped on another front –to protect the North Fork Smith River with a special clean water designation: “Outstanding Resource Water.” (ORW) Under the Clean Water Act, states are supposed to designate and protect streams with the highest water quality to prevent degradation. While other states, including California, Washington, and Idaho, have designated Outstanding Resource Waters, Oregon has not. Because the North Fork Smith flows from rugged wildlands in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and nearby roadless areas, its watershed in Oregon is a prime candidate.
KAS and other partnering groups submitted a request last year for the state Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) to officially consider ORW designation for the North Fk Smith; more recently we’ve supported an individual’s petition to the EQC to advance the nomination. The most important values of the North Fk Smith River are ecosystem services: clean, cold water, which provides both pure drinking water to downstream communities and also excellent habitat for salmon and steelhead. The North Fk Smith also has recreational values, with a unique white water run. Of course, it also supplies the stunning clear water that flows through Redwood state and national parks.
At its April 20 meeting, Oregon’s EQC voted 3 to 1 to move forward to officially consider this designation. The mining industry opposed –as did the Farm Bureau, even though there is no ranching or timber activity whatsoever in the remote and rugged basin of the N Fk Smith. The DEQ will conduct a public process, so we’ll keep you posted.
Floras Lake properties –another swap proposed!
We’ve had another close call/red alert for the county properties near Floras Lake recently. This makes #4 in the past 15 years!
In effort to solve its financial problems, the county has been considering what to do with the properties it owns. This past fall, the Curry County Board of Commissioners (BOC) appointed a citizen task force, the Real Property Task Force (RPTF). Meeting over the course of several months, the group thoughtfully considered every county property, including the 500-acres that the county owns on the south side of Floras Lake. The RPFT recommended that the county explore a land swap with state parks in order to preserve the scenic beauty of the lakefront, its high conservation values (sensitive wetlands that protect water quality/ habitat for coho), its recreation potential (it borders a park bike trail) and also to obtain some different property with greater potential to yield revenue. KAS attended a RPTF meeting, presented information, and supported this sensible approach.
However, at a Board of Commissioners workshop in early April, a totally new proposal was put forth: Herb Crook/Crook Properties proposed to trade the county 17-acres within the City of Gold Beach for ALL of the southern south Floras Lake/Pacific City properties: ~500 acres. The idea was that the 17-acre Gold Beach property could become a new "County Complex" site, out of the tsunami zone. All county buildings would moved there, and the existing courthouse, jail, and more would be converted into office space, restaurants, and upscale housing. The proposal to research this landswap and obtain appraisals was on the BOC agenda on April 20.
County administrator Julie Schmeltzer reported on some ideas that Mr. Crook had in mind for the property: a junior golf course, houses tucked into trees, and a sea kayaking business.
KAS submitted a letter ahead of this meeting, and board member Tim Palmer attended and presented concerns about protecting the important values of the lakefront and the out-of-the-blue proposal that seemed to be wagging the dog of the whole public process. RPTF member and Floras Lake resident Trudy Spanier also spoke to the importance of conserving these lands –and ignoring the RPTF process. Several other local residents spoke, and at the end about 25 people in the audience raised hands to express concern for the Floras Lake lands.
Thus far, there has been no possibility of development at Floras Lake because the lands were platted into lots too tiny to develop (way back in the Lakeport days in 1910) given the challenges of septic and water in such a low-lying wetland area, but it’s unclear what might happen to zoning if the land is traded to a private developer.
With so much opposition to the proposal voiced, the BOC decided against pursuing the swap for now; before the proposal can advance, the RPTF would need to be reconvened.
We appreciate that Commissioners Brown, Huxley and Smith listened to the people who attended the hearing and to those who called and sent emails –and decided that any transaction would need to be totally transparent so that concerns of local citizens could be addressed. What we’d really like for them to do is to move ahead with the RPTF recommendation.
ACTION ITEM #3: Please send an email our call our county commissioners THANKING them for avoiding a rushed action on the Floras Lake properties and asking them to please move forward with the RPTF recommendation to investigate the idea of a land swap, or an outright sale to state parks that would keep the Floras Lake lands in public ownership.
Tom Huxley, Chair - firstname.lastname@example.org
Susan Brown, Vice-Chair - email@example.com
David Brock Smith, Commissioner - firstname.lastname@example.org
Public lands under attack
After the illegal occupation and vandalism of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge this past winter, there is a lot of talk about transferring federal lands to states in some political circles. Unfortunately, this seems to include many of our Curry County candidates for Board of Commissioners who are talking up this untenable idea as an election issue. They don’t even recognize the values of our public lands–the connections between our forests, clean water, and fisheries, plus recreation opportunities and carbon sequestration –but instead regard the federal government solely as an impediment to logging.
Here at KAS we don’t pick and choose candidates (though we do recognize when elected officials help achieve conservation), but I think it’s important for us to reach out and talk to candidates about valuing public lands. When they say the government doesn’t listen and “we have no say,” remind them that there is a public process for every action on federal lands that specifically provides for public input—unlike actions for private and state lands. When they say the federal lands are closed off, remind them there are 480,000 miles of National Forest roads nationwide (8 times the length of the Interstate Highway system) for access and that people can freely use the lands for hunting, fishing, biking, camping, hiking and more. When they say there needs to be more logging, concede that thinning might be appropriate, but tell them that timber harvest was too heavy, damaging, and unsustainable in the 70s and 80s, and we’re still waiting for trees to grow back so that there can be sustainable forestry into the future. Because they cut so much, so fast, there’s not enough now to fund the county. When they say forests need to be cut to protect us from fires, explain that the large trees are fire-resistant and that we need to restore our forests to have big trees and not just crowded, tinder-box tree farms.
It’s tempting to just shrug off the anti-public-land opinions as off-the-wall, yet we need to speak up, and have one-on-one conversations with our neighbors about how extraordinary it is to have fish, clean water, and places for recreation, beauty and birding. This will help counter the repeated anti-government rants that demonize our public lands managing agencies. These polarizing views, despite their homespun appearance, have been actively pushed and funded by oil and gas industries (and others) to promote an agenda of increased extraction and privatization at the expense of so many public values we all cherish.
Forage Fish Success
Over the past several years, KAS has joined with Portland Audubon and other chapters in West Coast states to advocate for better management of forage fish species –these are the small fish at the base of the ocean food chain, like smelts and herring, that are critically important to seabirds. I am please to report a big success. Starting in May, dozens of forage fish species will gain federal protection under a new rule from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Recognizing the invaluable role of forage fish to larger ecosystems, the new rule temporarily bans fishing for these small species and limits bycatch in existing fisheries for other species in federal waters. These new protections are particularly important because growing interest in fishmeal and fish oil products has prompted interest in opening up new commercial fisheries on these small but critical fishes.
Taking a precautionary approach, the new rule ensures that no new commercial fisheries can begin unless and until the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) has adequate scientific information to consider impacts on the species considered, existing fisheries, fishing communities, and the greater marine ecosystem.
According to Portland Audubon’s staff scientist Joe Liebezeit, “Seabirds are experiencing some of the most precipitous population declines of any bird group around the world, and a growing body of research indicates that reduced forage fish populations are a major factor in seabird declines.” Here in Curry County, we have some of the most important seabird-nesting habitat on the West Coast, owing in part to our clean, cold, and productive waters that provide for ample forage. The forage fish campaign will next aim to increase protections in waters under state jurisdiction (< 3mi from shore).
Effluent Pipeline from Port Orford to proposed Pacific Gales Golf Course
Recent meetings between a subcommittee of three city council members and the golf course developer, Elk River Property Development (ERPD), resulted in a recommendation to the council to grant ERPD permission to pipe wastewater to the proposed golf course. However, opposition by 100 Friends of Port Orford, a local citizens group, and others has caused the city to step back from a premature council decision. Instead, a full public hearing will be held. No date has been announced. To stay up to date on this important issue for Port Orford, please email info@100FriendsofPortOrford.org
Last updated April 26, 2016