Each year since 1986, American Rivers has released its America's Most Endangered Rivers report to spotlight the nation's ten most imperiled rivers. This year, the Chetco River found itself at #7 on the Most Endangered Rivers List. Southern Oregon's Wild and Scenic Chetco River boasts pristine waters and abundant wild salmon and steelhead, but it faces an immediate threat from a strip mining proposal that would use a highly damaging method of dredging. Oregon's Senators Wyden and Merkley, Congressman DeFazio, and Governor Kulongoski are calling on the agencies that manage this river (the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Interior) to prohibit mining in or near the Chetco River this summer. This reprieve would allow Congress time to legislate the best possible long-term protection for the Chetco River.
This is not a hypothetical threat. Some mining has already been approved and the mining company is advertising the river as a “free mining corridor.” Seven mining plans have been submitted to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. They include mining the river’s bed for gold with gasoline powered suction dredges weighing up to one ton, for a period of 10 years.
The Chetco is a rare priceless treasure. The upper river flows through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, then through National Forest lands to southwest Oregon’s Wild Rivers Coast. It provides exceptionally pure water for the community of Brookings. Families picnic along its banks. Children play in its sparkling waters. In the winter, its reputation for producing very large salmon and steelhead bring anglers from far and wide who are major contributers to the local economy.
In 2009, Oregon’s congressional delegation asked you for an interim withdrawal from the Mining Law for the Chetco and two streams in the South Kalmiopsis—Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks. I am disappointed to hear that you denied their request. This unwillingness to assist Congress in providing greater protection for one of our nation’s Wild and Scenic Rivers is hard for me to understand, especially since it is the Forest Service’s position that “absent an official withdrawal they have no authority to prohibit any operation under the Mining Law.”
Again this year the delegation has asked for your assistance in this interim measure, which will give Congress the time needed to provide the long-term protection these national treasures deserve. I add my voice to their plea for your help.
Thank you for considering my request. Please notify me in writing of your decision.