by Ann Vileisis, president and conservation chair of Kalmiopsis Audubon Society
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Chetco bill –reintroduced in Oregon Treasures Act
On Feb. 14, Senators Wyden and Merkley gave us a great Valentine’s day gift by reintroducing the Chetco protection bill into their new Oregon Treasures Act. This legislation would also add wilderness protection to several Rogue River tributary watersheds, provide wild and scenic designation for the Molalla, and increase wilderness protection on the lower John Day River. The new act combines four thoroughly vetted bills that have already had hearings in past sessions.
Congressman DeFazio also re-introduced the Chetco River Protection bill in the House, along with Oregon Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici as co-sponsors. As KAS members know, this bill that would provide a mineral withdrawal for the wild and scenic reaches of the Chetco River and protect it from threats such as the one we had a few years back when one miner proposed to dredge in 20 miles of riverbed with large dredges.
At this point, we’ve made our best arguments, and now we must diligently wait for politics to play out. As one staffer told me, “be assured, you are in the queue!” The bigger problem, of course, is that Washington politics has been completely stalemated. There has been no public lands legislation in 4 years. This year with Senator Wyden taking the helm of the Senate Natural Resources committee —the committee with purview over our bill— we hope that there might be some new opportunity for progress. The Senator has already scheduled the Oregon Treasures Act bill for a hearing on April 25 before the Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining. Yet on the House side, prospects remain dim owing to the highly partisan atmosphere of the committee. For the legislation to pass, Senator Wyden must craft some deal that he and his fellow Senators can persuade their House counterparts to adopt.
Despite the deadlock, we must remain patiently engaged and vigilant. Please write a thank you note to Senators Wyden and Merkley and to Congressman DeFazio for re-introducing the Chetco legislation. We must keep our elected officials encouraged, supported, and inspired in this challenging political context—and we must remind them that the decisions and deals they make inside the beltway affect the extraordinary and beloved places in our backyard. Please write a note at their websites—it’s easiest to just google their names and click on the “contact” link to access the forms.
For a shortcut, go to the Save Our Chetco blog, where you’ll find a brief thank you note you can easily cut, paste, and personalize.
More of our Wild Rivers—“endangered”
I regret to report that we have a new and egregious threat looming in some of the most pristine and remarkable parts of our local “beat.” Over the past year, a foreign-owned mining company has filed claims for hundreds of acres in the watershed of Baldface Creek, a tributary to the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith that flows near the southern boundary of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness –just north of the California border. The company has recently submitted a proposal to conduct exploratory drilling at 59 sites in the Baldface Creek/North Fork Smith watershed, across approximately 2,000 acres of the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area, presumably with the aim of developing a nickel strip mine. No further details are available at this time.
Owing to its remote nature, few people have heard of Baldface Creek, but fish biologists have long noted its pristine “reference” quality. The stream hosts prime runs of threatened SONCC coho, Chinook, cutthroat, and steelhead, and provides clear cool water into California’s Smith River, the southernmost highlight of our local “Wild Rivers Coast.” The Baldface watershed is also regarded by botanists as a stronghold for rare plants and was recommended as Wilderness by the most recent Bush Administration.
Our friend Barbara Ullian at Friends of the Kalmiopsis has been warning about the threat of a nickel strip mine in this area for years, and long before this threat materialized, our congressional delegation asked the Obama Administration to withdraw the area –several times, in fact. But the Administration did not act. Now, with the price of nickel climbing, this pristine, stronghold of salmon is at high risk.
The same company, Red Flat Nickel has also assembled a block of claims up Hunter Creek near Gold Beach, but I’ve been told there is no plan of operation pending for that area yet.
However, the mining proposal at Baldface Creek might become associated with another large block of nickel claims in the adjacent watershed of Rough & Ready Creek, a tributary to the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River, widely recognized for its rare plant values, too. (This is located just over the “hill” of the Siskiyou Mountains in Josephine Co.) There, an entirely different company has proposed to mine lands recommended for wilderness, to build many miles of roads through the Rough & Ready Creek Botanical Area and South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area, and —worst of all—to set up a nickel smelter in an established “Area of Critical Environmental Concern” set aside to protect rare plants. In a previous iteration of this proposal (the Nicore Mine proposal in the 1990s), the Forest Service already concluded that such mining would have drastic and irreversible impacts at Rough & Ready Creek.
Moreover if a nickel smelter is indeed built at Rough and Ready and the price of nickel continues to climb, I fear we’d see more mining proposals on nearby public lands –even in the Smith River National Recreation Area (NRA), where mining companies continue to hold claims they staked before the NRA was formed. (If the value of nickel climbs high enough, the companies may well be able to “validate” their claims.)
Owing to this set of emerging mega threats to our extraordinary wild river region, the national group American Rivers just listed Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks in their list of the 10 Most Endangered Rivers for 2013. At this point, the only way to protect these streams is for the Obama Administration to immediately withdraw their two watersheds from the 1872 Mining Law, and then for Congress to pass legislation to permanently protect these streams from mining.
At this point, you can help by writing to Senators Wyden and Merkley and Congressman DeFazio to ask them to press the Obama Administration to immediately withdraw the areas of Baldface and Rough and Ready Creeks from the 1872 Mining Law and to introduce legislation to protect these streams that are crucial tributaries to our Wild & Scenic North Smith (and Smith) Rivers and our Wild and Scenic Illinois. To send your brief emails, it’s easiest to just google their names and click on the “contact” link to access the forms, or you can take a shortcut by going to the website that American Rivers has set up for its Most Endangered Rivers campaign –and sending a note from there.
You can also go to RoughandReadyCreek.org for more information, photos, videos, and updates.
Veva Stansell Botanical Area —Nominated
In late January, the Kalmiopsis Audubon Society joined together with the Native Plant Society of Oregon (NPSO) and submitted a nomination to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest for designation of a new botanical area in honor of Veva Stansell, a life-long Curry County resident and retired U.S. Forest Service botanist, widely-known and respected for her contributions to understanding and conserving the unique native plant resources of the Siskiyou Mountains. As many KAS members know, Veva was a founding member of our Audubon chapter and was instrumental in the conservation of several important botanical areas in our region.
The proposed Veva Stansell Botanical Area is located in the vicinity of Signal Buttes (east of Gold Beach) and adjoins the Bureau of Land Management’s North Fork Hunter Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). The area includes near-coast, serpentine associated plant communities, including Jeffrey Pine and other grassy area and meadow openings, as well as the largest known population of Veva’s Erigeron (Erigeron stanselliae), the small daisy that was recently described and named in Veva’s honor.
Members of both KAS and NPSO have known Veva and her enthusiasm for wild plants for over 30 years. Veva walked, botanized, and collected plants in the proposed Botanical area, which includes the Hummingbird and Butterfly Garden already dedicated to her. As one friend noted of Veva’s close association with this place: “her physical presence is stamped on the area.”
Designation of Botanical Areas is a Forest Service administrative process. It can be completed through a specific Forest Plan Amendment, which could happen at any time, or as part of an updating of the entire Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Plan, a process that will likely occur sometime within the next five to seven years. (National Forest plans are long overdue for updating owing to lack of funding). Designation of the Veva Stansell Botanical Area would entail the development of a management plan to protect the site’s botanical resources. The area is already within a designated Late-Seral Reserve (LSR) area and therefore is already off-limits to logging.
Local support for the designation will be very important, so please send a short note to Forest Supervisor Rob MacWhorter to register your support for the Veva Stansell Botanical Area. Here are some talking points:
The Veva Stansell Botanical Area would
• help protect diverse near-coast, serpentine associated plant communities in a range of elevations, including sensitive species, such as the largest known population of Veva's Erigeron
• work in tandem with an adjoining BLM ACEC to afford protection for botanic resources
• provide habitat for sensitive Mardon skipper butterfly plus a wide range of other birds and wildlife
• provide a unique site for botanic study and hiking
Here’s his address:
Rob MacWhorter, Forest Supervisor
Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest
3040 Biddle Road
Medford, OR 97504
KAS lends support for ecosystem approach to forage fish
In late March, KAS joined a coalition of Oregon and California Audubon chapters in urging the Pacific Fishery Management Council to consider new ways to protect currently unmanaged forage fish. Forage fish, which include species such as Pacific herring, are crucial for their role in ocean ecosystems, providing food for economically valuable fisheries (think salmon), but also for sea birds, marine mammals, and the entire chain of life in the ocean. The south coast’s rocky shoreline and offshore seastacks provide breeding habitat for half of Oregon’s seabirds, which is a large share of the Pacific coast’s population. Abundant and proximate forage fish are crucially important during the phase of life when parent birds are feeding their babies, and then when young birds fledge. Paul Englemeyer of Audubon’s Tenmile Creek Sanctuary, who has long been active in ocean conservation efforts, has been leading the effort to take a proactive approach with forage fish stocks.
Chetco gravel mining news
Remember a few years back, I reported that the Army Corps of Engineers was working on a “general permit” for gravel extraction on the lower Chetco River? Ideally, they were developing the gravel budget science that would enable them to make better decisions for the river while at the same time streamlining the permit process for routine gravel operations, where activities would cause “only minimal individual and cumulative impacts on the aquatic environment.” The process was supposed to be a model for permitting gravel operations on salmon streams throughout Oregon. KAS provided testimony early in that process.
What ended up happening —a recent court decision determined— is that the Corps unlawfully hosted a series of closed-door meetings with the mining companies and excluded the public from meaningful participation. The Northwest Environmental Defense Council (NEDC) filed the litigation that alleged the agency violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act in how it developed its final general permit. According to Mark Riskedahl, NEDC’s director, “The Corps invited industry to the table to negotiate a long-term extraction plan for the Chetco River, and the public was intentionally shut out of the process. Not only is such an approach unconscionable, but the judge ruled it is illegal.”
In addition, the court found that the National Marine Fisheries (NMFS) failed to properly analyze the impacts of the mining on the Chetco’s threatened SONCC coho population. NMFS estimates that fewer than 100 fish remain in a population that once numbered over 60,000 individuals.
The three local gravel extraction companies that were granted the general permit will be allowed to continue harvesting gravel until a remedy is worked out between the agencies and NEDC to address the shortcomings in the general permit process.
NEDC staff attorney Andrew Hawley said: “It’s disheartening they would spend this much time and resources and still come out with this flawed permit and analysis,” he added. “Now the opportunity presents itself to do it again — and do it right.”
Crook Point Resort Update
I know many KAS members are very interested to know: what’s the latest with the Crook Point Resort proposal? In late March, the Curry County Board of Commissioners (BOC) finalized its approval of the Tentative Master Plan for the Crook Point Golf Course. The initial BOC approval back in 2010 was appealed by Oregon Coast Alliance (ORCA) and Oregon Shores Conservation Council. The Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) remanded the decision back to the county on several counts related to geologic hazards, the shoreland boundary, water availability, and siting next to a “wildlife preserve” —the Crook Point Unit of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The Crooks presented several reports to address to the issues raised by the appeals, which the Commissioners and their counsel apparently found to be satisfactory. In April, ORCA appealed this latest BOC approval based on the poor quality of the geologic study required by LUBA to show compliance with the Curry County geohazard requirements.