On one of Oregon’s wildest rivers, mining protections lapse

On one of Oregon’s wildest rivers, mining protections lapse

News Type: Regional, Federal Source: High Country News
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In tight, deep canyons and past tree-trimmed sandbars, the Chetco River runs nearly 56 miles from a remote area of southern Oregon’s coastal mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Many of the river’s miles lie in stretches of national forest crossed by few roads or inside the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, accessible only by a steep walk.

“It’s unbelievably beautiful and clear,” said Zachary Collier, who owns the Northwest Rafting Company and is one of the only operators to run trips on the upper Chetco. Its lower reaches, where dense coastal forests approach the river’s edge, offer world-class salmon and steelhead fishing. The river sustains human populations, too: People in Brookings and Harbor rely on it for drinking water.

But, due to inaction by the Interior Department, stretches of the river and its watershed are now open to mining. In late July, the agency allowed a ban on new mining exploration to expire along 17 miles of the Chetco’s middle and lower reaches. The move comes as limitations on mining on public lands are rolled back nationwide. Environmentalists say that is revealing the weaknesses of key environmental laws, including the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.