Proposed strip mines threaten Oregon waters.
As salmon return to Oregon rivers this fall, thousands of anglers from near and far flood local communities to take sporting advantage of some of the best salmon runs in decades. Unfortunately, salmon runs in some of Oregon's most productive and pristine watersheds - the Rogue, Illinois, North Fork Smith, Pistol Rivers and Hunter Creek - are threatened by a series of proposed industrial strip mines.
The streams directly threatened by the mines have exceptionally clean water, providing drinking water to residents in Josephine and Curry counties in Oregon and in Crescent City, Calif., and provide excellent habitat for steelhead and salmon to spawn. Mining, road construction and metal processing would devastate this fragile wild area.
Statewide, salmon fishing pumps more than $1 billion into the economy annually. Oregon ranks first in the Pacific Northwest and seventh in the nation for the number of anglers coming from out of state to spend money here, roughly $250 million a year. The Wild and Scenic Rogue River alone contributes $16 million every year to the economy of Southwest Oregon.
Healthy, self-sustaining, harvestable salmon and steelhead runs are simply good for business.
The recent spill of 3 million gallons of toxic mining waste into the Animas River in Colorado should be a wake-up call for Oregonians. While we continue to deal with a legacy of mining pollution in Oregon rivers, with more than 500 abandoned mines and 100 that are deemed to be a safety risk, federal agencies are asking for input from the public on new mines proposed for some of Oregon's most pristine rivers that supply clean drinking water and prime salmon habitat.
A mine in the Umpqua River watershed is a federally designated toxic waste site after leaking acid pollution degrading 13 miles of salmon and steelhead habitat. According to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, a foreign-owned mining company saddled taxpayers with approximately $20 million in cleanup costs by abandoning the mine.
While another foreign-owned mining conglomerate is now seeking to conduct exploratory drilling in Southwest Oregon, opposition to the mines and support for permanent protection of the area is growing. Last week overflow crowds of nearly 300 spoke in favor of protecting these wild and scenic rivers in Gold Beach and Grants Pass.
Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Rep. Peter DeFazio have led the charge to protect the area by introducing legislation that withdraws the area from mining additional mining claims.
The importance of protecting clean water and our fishing heritage from industrial mining is nothing new to these men. Wyden and DeFazio have been champions for protecting clean water, rivers and the salmon-based economy of this area for more than 15 years.
DeFazio has also been the leader in calling for reform the antiquated and costly Mining Law of 1872 that gives multi-national mining companies billions of dollars in subsidies to operate on our public lands.
The U.S. Forest Service and BLM put a temporary halt to any new mining claims while they solicit input about the future of these wild rivers in Southwest Oregon. The agencies are taking public input on this issue through Sept. 28 at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As former Oregon Gov. Tom McCall once said about protecting our valuable natural places,"Oregon is demure and lovely, and it ought to play a little hard to get." Like McCall, Wyden, Merkley and DeFazio understand the value of balancing development with permanently protecting Oregon's clean water, wild rivers and salmon strongholds.
Jim Martin of Mulino (email@example.com) is the retired chief of fisheries for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.