Governor Schwarzenegger upset many gold miners this summer when he signed into law a ban on suction dredge mining in California rivers after a moratorium was put in place by the Alameda Superior Court. The short term ban on dredge mining is meant to protect threatened fish populations until the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) revises “its dredging restrictions and place limits on what areas can be mined, when they can be mined and the size of equipment that can be used”. Now, Oregon’s Governor Kulongoski is concerned banned California miners will invade his state.
Governor Kulongski is asking the federal government for protection from the influx of California miners expected from the dredge ban. The governor has written to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar asking for “greater protections of the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area in southwest Oregon”, specifically mentioning mining. Governor Kulongoski explained:
The Siskiyou Wild Rivers area is the most unique and biologically diverse region of our state, and without greater protections, we could lose what makes this area so special. The first step should be to withdraw mining, and the second should be a wilderness designation — the greatest protection federal law provides.
Federal mining laws for southern Oregon have not been revised since 1872. The governor wants to protect approximately one million acres from California miners seeking new claims. Currently, only four percent of the state is designated as wilderness area. In his letter to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, the governor explains:
In early 2008, I wrote Oregon’s congressional delegation in support of Wilderness protection for the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area surrounding the existing Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The need for protection in this area has only grown since that letter was written. California recently banned the use of suction dredge mining, the same type of destructive mining that is used in southwest Oregon. We are very concerned that the suction dredge miners are now heading for Oregon.
The Siskiyou Wild Rivers area is home to Oregon’s only redwood forest, as well as the “healthiest runs of salmon”.
Kulongoski’s request for a mining withdrawal would not affect existing mining claims. The governor is not the only one petitioning the federal government. Siskiyou Wild Rivers Campaign asked for a mining withdrawal in August 2009, in order to:
1) to prevent further destruction from mining of the unique plant diversity and salmon spawning streams from mineral exploration and mining on existing claims which may not be valid, and 2) to call a time out on the location of new claims until Congress resolves the need for permanent protection of these spectacular wildlands, and salmon filled rivers.
The proposed mining withdraw in the region by the Clinton administration, which was then canceled by President Bush is another example of the environmental degradation that occurred under the past president. Will Obama’s administration protect this unique and diverse land in southern Oregon? Placing a moratorium on new mining claims while the wilderness designation is explored could protect this extraordinary region.