Illinois River Gets Protected for Another 20 Years

The Interior Department has given a 20-year extension on protecting Oregon’s National Wild and Scenic Illinois River from mineral withdrawal.

On June 27th, the Interior Department approved a 20-year extension for a mineral withdrawal along 14 miles of Oregon’s National Wild and Scenic Illinois River. The measure will protect one of the most popular stretches of river in the state from mining. The existing withdrawal expired on Sunday, June 30th.

Absent reform of the 1872 Mining Law, mineral withdrawals are essential to protect the public’s interest in their National Forest from mining. Under current policy, the Forest Service allows mining over all other land uses, unless an area is first withdrawn from operation of the 1872 Mining Law.

The Illinois River is well known as one of our nation’s most outstanding whitewater rivers,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director for America Whitewater a conservation-oriented paddling organization and one of the groups supporting the withdrawal. “Mining is not appropriate on any part of this National Wild and Scenic River.”

This 14-mile stretch of the Illinois River was first withdrawn in 1968. The wisdom of this action, which prioritized recreational and fishery values, has become increasingly apparent as use of this premier whitewater river has increased to beyond full capacity on some stretches. On a hot summer day, as many as 1,000 people can crowd onto five miles of the most popular part of the Scenic Illinois River canyon.

Local, state and national conservation organizations applaud the Interior’s actions for the Illinois River and are urging the Obama Administration to withdraw the watersheds of Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks and Oregon’s National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River.

“While we are very pleased by the Interior Department’s action on the Illinois river, we believe now is also the time for the Administration to also protect Rough and Ready Creek and Baldface Creek,” said Chad Woodward, Western Oregon coordinator for American Rivers. “These pristine streams are also facing serious threats from mining, which is why American Rivers named them among America’s Most Endangered Rivers for 2013.”

Mineral withdrawals have been sought for these rivers and the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River because hardrock mining on public lands is governed by the 1872 Mining Law, a 140-year old law that prioritizes mining over all other land uses and gives federal land managers little ability to deny a mine, regardless of competing land uses.