New Bill Would Permanently Ban Some Mining Projects to Protect Oregon Salmon

Image via Rep. Val Hoyle.

Legislation now before the U.S. House of Representatives would ensure that certain federal lands in Southwest Oregon are permanently “withdrawn” from eligibility for mining.

Rep. Val Hoyle, D-Ore., who introduced the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act (SOWSPA) on July 27, said the bill would protect high-quality salmon and steelhead strongholds, clean drinking water in the outdoor recreation and tourism economy, and a high concentration of rare plants in the area of the Rogue, Smith, Illinois and Chetco National Wild and Scenic Rivers.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-CA, a cosponsor of the bill, said it is hard to overstate the ecological, cultural and economic importance of salmon and their habitat in this watershed.

“It’s hard to overstate the ecological, cultural, and economic importance of salmon and their habitat in this Southwestern Oregon watershed – they support thousands of jobs, sustain communities and generate billions of dollars in economic activity,” he said. “This legislation will protect this cornerstone species.”

Wild Steelheaders United and Trout Unlimited (TU) also applauded introduction of SOWSPA in the 118th Congress, saying it would offer critical new protections for key habitat areas in some of America’s last, best salmon and steelhead waters.

Spokespeople for both organizations said that SOWSPA would protect these waters from proposed hard-rock mining, among other threats, and reflects feedback gained from many years of outreach to local communities.

“The warming climate and continued development pressures are wreaking havoc on many of our salmon and steelhead fisheries,” Dean Finnerty, manager of TU’s wild steelhead initiative, said. “We no longer have the luxury of taking chances with those few remaining lands and waters where wild salmon and steelhead runs are still consistent.  Finnerty said the effort to permanently stop new mining operations in the area was also backed by commercial harvesters.

TU officials noted that in 2016 a large foreign mining firm began exploring the region for development of its possible mineral resources, and local concerns resulted in adoption of a 20-year mineral withdrawal. The Hoyle bill would make that withdrawal permanent.