EARTHWORKS

Baldface and Rough and Ready Creeks

United States | Oregon : Red Flat Nickel

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The BLM and Forest Service, both describe the waters of Rough and Ready Creek as exceptionally clear. Tests show the creek’s waters often near the clarity of distilled water (Barbara Ullian photo).

Endangered rivers and top conservation priorities

Rough and Ready Creek and Baldface Creek are nationally outstanding and “eligible” to be added to the National Wild and Scenic River System. The US Department of Agriculture recommended Congress designate 34,000 acres of their watersheds as Wilderness in 2004. They remain unprotected today. In 2013, Rough and Ready Creek, Baldface Creek and the Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River were added to American Rivers' 10 most endangered rivers list.

The threat—Nickel strip mines

The primary threat to these beautiful streams and their pure waters is the development of nickel laterite strip mines, networks of ore haul roads and nickel processing facilities. According to the EPA the metal mining industry is the largest toxic polluter in the nation.

“Allowing mining claims in these areas threatens some of Southern Oregon’s most unique natural treasures,” letter to the Secretary of Interior and Agriculture from Oregon’s Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Peter DeFazio., July 2011.  

The solution—Immediate mineral withdrawal

The 1872 Mining Law, an archaic law that was enacted over 140 years ago, prioritizes mining over all other land uses.  Thus, the only way to permanently protect these rivers and streams from mining is to withdraw their watersheds from the 1872 Mining Law and to permanently protect them. To achieve this Congress must enact legislation. However, in the interim, the Department of the Interior can expeditiously put in place a temporary withdrawal. An administrative withdrawal “in aid of legislation” will provide interim protection, prevent the location of nuisance claims and give Congress time to enact permanent protection.  A mineral withdrawal will require mining companies  that are currently exploring for nickel in these areas to prove that their mining claims are valid, and invalidate those that are not.  The nickel deposits in this area are very low-grade deposits, and there are no nickel laterite processing facilities in the U.S. - raising questions about the economic validity of these projects.   

“Full scale mining would have significant impacts ... would drastically change the character of the landscape and put the surface resources on public lands at risk.” - USDA Forest Service about plans for nickel laterite mining in the Rough and Ready Creek watershed, 1999

Rough and Ready Creek

RNR Resources’ plan to develop nickel strip mines have been returned to company for better information. RNR Resources in return has sued the United States for the delay.

North Fork Smith River/Baldface Creek

Red Flat Nickel Corporation is pressing the Forest Service to approve their plan for exploratory drilling. Scoping for the Environmental Assessment is scheduled for Dec. 2013, approval of drilling plan is expected in the spring of 2014.

"I, and many residents in the area put exponentially more value on our public health, the health of the environment, our recreational enjoyment and the solace that Red Flat area provides than we do on the opportunity for a foreign investment mining group to make money by devastating our public lands." - Dave Lacey, Hunter Creek resident


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