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Environment, Energy and Transportation

Bill To Permanently Ban Mining In Parts Of Southwest Oregon Passes U.S. House

Rough&Ready Ck 2-9-2015_022-a.jpg
Barbara Ullian
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Rough and Ready Creek, a tributary of the Illinois River in Josephine County, is among the waterways that would be protected from the impacts of mining under a bill that recently was approved in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Conservationists have been resisting a proposed nickel mine in Southern Oregon for many years. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a permanent mining ban in the area as part of a new public lands bill.

Just before he left office, former president Barack Obama ordered a temporary ban on mining near the headwaters of several rivers that flow through Southwest Oregon and Northern California. Now, the House has approved a bill to make that ban permanent.

Ann Vileisis is president of the Kalmiopsis Audubon Society, an environmental group in Curry County. She says these protections are important for the communities surrounding the rivers.

“Several communities rely on the rivers for drinking water, but also for recreation like fishing and the recreation economy and tourism economy that we all care about," says Vileisis. "And just our way of life. So the idea of allowing strip mining to get a toehold in our region just makes no sense to me.”

Nickel mining can destroy landscapes and pollute waterways.

Vileisis says conservationists hope make this ban permanent.

“We want to make it so that these places will forever be protected," says Veleisis. "So that’s what this legislation is about. It kind of extends what’s in place now and makes it permanent. We’re hoping that now that it’s moved along in part of this big house bill, our senators will take it up and make it happen finally.”

The bill would protect headwaters of the Wild and Scenic Smith, Rogue and Illinois Rivers and Hunter Creek and North Fork Pistol rivers.

The measure is an amendment to a national public lands bill. It was introduced by Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio and California Representative Jared Huffman. The Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protect Act will now go to the Senate, where Oregon and California Senators have already signaled their support.