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Utah Congressman Renews Effort To Overturn SW Oregon Mining Ban

Jamie Dannen/BLM
Smith River Falls

A Congressmember from Utah is renewing his efforts to undo a ban on mining near several pristine waterways in southwest Oregon.  And federal lawmakers from Oregon are once again pushing back. 

Days before leaving office, President Barack Obama declared a 20-year mining ban on 100,000 acres of federal land near the headwaters of the Smith, Illinois and Pistol Rivers. Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Rep. Peter DeFazio had asked for the ban.

Last fall, Republican representative Rob Bishop of Utah asked the Departments of Agriculture and Interior to review so-called “mineral withdrawals” passed under the Obama Administration. Bishop said the SW Oregon ban was illegal.

But in February, Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue said he considered it a done deal.

Now, Bishop – who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee – has again asked Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to assess mineral withdrawals to see if they’re justified. He specifically mentions the SW Oregon withdrawal as “unwarranted.”

In response, Wyden, Merkley and DeFazio have written to Zinke, urging him to join Perdue in putting the matter to rest once and for all.

Meanwhile, a UK-based company that wants to build a nickel mine in the area is seeking recognition of its claim as being valid before the ban was put in place. The Forest Service is currently evaluating that request.

Liam Moriarty has been covering news in the Pacific Northwest for three decades. He served two stints as JPR News Director and retired full-time from JPR at the end of 2021. Liam now edits and curates the news on JPR's website and digital platforms.