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Montana Trout Unlimited

All Smith rivers are worthy of protection

Here in Montana, we want to preserve our precious Smith River, but it’s not the only Smith threatened by mining.

Over in the Kalmiopsis region of southwestern Oregon, the headwaters of the Smith River that flows through northern California are threatened by proposed nickel strip mines. The mining companies are seeking permits from the U.S. Forest Service, which just closed public comment on an environmental assessment on May 27.

The Red Flat Nickel Corporation has proposed to mine near a number of Smith River tributaries, and of course, it’s another small-time subsidiary of a foreign corporation. Oregonians oppose the mines, so the Department of the Interior is considering withdrawing more than 100,000 acres from future mining claims.

Meanwhile, Oregon’s congressional delegation is united in trying to pass the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act to preserve the Smith River headwaters. The act was introduced in both the House and the Senate on Feb. 3, 2015, but both have stalled in their respective Natural Resources committees and have little chance of being passed in this Congress. Both committees are chaired by politicians who oppose federal land protection: Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Rep. Bob Biship, R-Utah.

But if you listen to one of the sponsors, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., talk about the act, he could be talking about our Smith River. Especially when he says the following:

“We need to permanently protect these streams from the perils and the threat of mining… According to the EPA, metal mining is America’s most polluting industry.”
“We need to look ahead to the future and safeguard the special values of our public lands, so that future generations will have the same opportunities, the same beautiful wilderness, the same beautiful streams that we’ve enjoyed.”
“These places that are special, that have given a lot to our generation, we need to care for them so they are there to feed the souls of our children and our children’s children.”

Too bad we can’t pursue similar avenues to protect Montana’s Smith River. Unfortunately, the Black Butte mine will start on private land but it may not stop there. So the surrounding Forest Service lands could use protection.