Jeff Thompson is executive director of California Trout, a nonprofit organization that has been working to protect and restore wild trout, steelhead, salmon and their waters throughout California since 1971.
The Smith River, stretching from Southern Oregon into the far reaches of Northern California, is the only major California river that remains undammed from its headwaters to its mouth. That’s no small thing. More than 7,000 dams and diversions clutter California’s rivers, making the Smith the last truly wild major river here.
A mining company based in the United Kingdom has set its sights on developing a nickel mine along one of the Smith’s major tributaries in Oregon. The proposed mining area is within a national forest; federal law allows mining on such lands. Just because mining can take place on this land, should we allow it happen?
Is it fair – or even logical – for a private corporation to reap a profit while placing California’s last wild river in harm’s way? Millions of dollars and countless hours have gone into protecting and restoring the Smith River watershed. Ninety percent of the land around the river and its tributaries are managed by public agencies. This tremendous investment of time and money has a singular goal: to protect one of the last salmon strongholds left in the lower 48 states, which provides essential support for a multimillion-dollar salmon fishery.
Because there are no dams or diversions on the Smith, salmon and steelhead are free to spawn in the same creeks and streams where they were born. Once there, salmon find ideal habitat conditions including pristine water quality. The mine would directly threaten the river’s cold, clean waters and one of the most productive West Coast fisheries. Recently the Environmental Protection Agency took an unprecedented step in protecting another salmon stronghold, Bristol Bay in Alaska.
When plans to build a large-scale metals mining operation, known as Pebble Mine, came to light, residents of all walks of life and concerned groups from around the nation urged the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the watershed.
For the rest of this column, click here: http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/openforum/article/Smith-River-is-too-valuable-to-mine-5540255.php