In this 50th anniversary year of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, river advocates, fishermen, conservationists, and members of the Oregon congressional delegation lamented the Trump administration’s decision to abandon protections for the nationally significant Wild and Scenic Chetco River in southern Oregon from mining. Protections expired today despite support from local communities and U.S. Senators Wyden and Merkley and U.S. Representative DeFazio and action by the U.S. Forest Service to extend the ban on new mining claims. This October will mark the 30th Anniversary of the Chetco River’s designation as Wild and Scenic along with many of Oregon’s other finest rivers, an effort led by Republican U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield.
In 2011, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management worked with decision makers and public stakeholders to provide protection for over 18 miles of the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River by withdrawing the area from mineral development. At the time, the Chetco was threatened by proposals to mine almost 24 miles of the river. The Chetco River mineral withdrawal was a temporary measure designed to allow Congress the time to pass additional protections for the river.
“Unfortunately, politics has gotten in the way of protecting this national treasure in the heart of the Wild Rivers Coast,” said Ann Vileisis, President of Kalmiopsis Audubon, a local conservation group. “Not only has the gridlock in Congress stalled the persistent efforts of Senators Wyden and Merkley and Congressmen DeFazio and Huffman to put the Chetco off-limits to in-stream mining, but now Interior Secretary Zinke has neglected to take action, too.”
Ordinarily, administrative mineral withdrawals such as this for the Chetco are routinely extended on request by the land managing agency to safeguard local values and give Congress time to act. The Forest Service began the process to extend the withdrawal two years ago. However, Secretary Zinke has ignored requests from Senators Wyden and Merkley and Congressmen DeFazio and Huffman to protect this outstanding river and its renowned fisheries for Oregonians and all Americans. Indeed, the members of Congress have yet to receive any response from the Department of Interior regarding the status of the Chetco withdrawal, or the reason Secretary Zinke has allowed it to lapse.
“The Chetco is an amazing Wild and Scenic river, renowned for its water clarity, world-class fishery of big fish, and for a full range of recreation including swimming, camping, and boating,” said Dave Lacey, owner of South Coast Tours, a local kayaking company. “People come from all over to enjoy the Chetco. It would be crazy to allow mining in this popular river.”
“With the 50th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act approaching in October, we should be celebrating rivers like the Chetco, not throwing them open to new mining threats,” said David Moryc of American Rivers.
“Secretary Zinke considers himself a fisherman,” said Harvey Young of Fishawk River Company in Brookings. “It’s too bad that he couldn’t take the time to visit the Chetco to land a big Chinook from its clear, blue-green waters so he could really understand what’s at risk. This decision should have been a no-brainer because the river fishery’s economic values are so high for our community. What a disappointment.”
Susan Jane Brown, Western Environmental Law Center, 503-680-5513
Ann Vileisis, Kalmiopsis Audubon, 541-332-0261