April 19, 2011

Pew Mining Study Lists Chetco River Among Ten Most Threatened National Parks and Forests

Wyden, Merkley and DeFazio Bill Protects River from Invasive Mining Practices

Washington, D.C. – As a further demonstration of the need to take action against the invasive and threatening mining practices currently allowed along the Chetco River, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) along with Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) pointed to a newly released study from the Pew Environment Group on mining that cited the Siskiyou Wild Rivers Area and the Chetco River in particular as one of the nation’s ten most endangered national parks and forests.  The Pew Environment Group report is titled “Ten Treasures at Stake: New Mining Claims, Plus an Old Law Put National Parks and Forests at Risk.”

Earlier this month, Wyden, Merkley and DeFazio introduced legislation in both houses of Congress to protect the Wild and Scenic Chetco River from suction dredge mining, an invasive form of mining that can be very hazardous to a rivers ecosystem and threatens the breeding grounds of salmon and steelhead. The Chetco River Protection Act permanently raises the federal protection levels along more than three miles of the Chetco and puts in place new prohibitions on future mining claims. It also requires current mining claims to undergo a rigorous validation process to maintain the claims.

“The Pew report validates what we have already known about the importance of responsible mining along our Wild and Scenic rivers,” Wyden said. “Suction dredge mining is an incredibly invasive practice that endangers the habitats of salmon and steelhead but also threatens to throw off the entire ecosystem of the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area.  Mining of this type on federal land is only allowed due to a 140 year old mining law that gives mining companies – including those from out of state as in the case of the Chetco – carte blanche. Our bill puts a check on that recklessness and will protect the Chetco for generations.”

“This report is a stark reminder that the Southern Oregon landscape will be forever changed if we don’t take action to stop mining claims in the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area,” Merkley said.  “By allowing mining to continue, we risk damaging waterways that provide clean drinking water for the region and eliminating native species not found anywhere else on earth.  We have a responsibility to preserve recreational and economic opportunities in Southern Oregon for our children and protect the Chetco River from being ruined by out-of-state mining interests.”

 “The Siskiyou Wild Rivers area is one of the most ecologically diverse places in the United States,” DeFazio said. “But the recent ban on suction dredge mining in California combined with high prices for minerals has created a new gold rush in the Southwest corner of our state. This report confirms the need for quick congressional action on legislation I recently introduced with Senators Wyden and Merkley to provide lasting protection to the Chetco River, truly one of the most incredible resources in Oregon."

In 2010, the Obama administration green-lighted a process that allows the Forest Service to put a freeze on all future mining claims along a portion of the river, pending Congressional action. That action and the Wyden, Merkley, DeFazio legislation will protect the Chetco from invasive mining practices permitted under an antiquated 1872 law.