World Biodiversity Hotspot Worth Much More than a Nickel – by Jim Yuskavitch (Earth Island Journal – September 23, 2015)

Trio of mining proposals threatens Klamath-Siskiyou region

If there were a place in the United States that possessed such biodiversity that it had been designated an “Area of Global Botanical Significance” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and also proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve, surely it would be protected from any industrial development that would compromise its ecological integrity. There is, in fact, such a place. But its most recent designation is “endangered” as the area faces threats from three proposed nickel strip mines at its heart.

Spanning the northern California-southwestern Oregon border and encompassing nearly 20,000 square miles, the Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion includes a complex suite of geology, climate, terrain, and such a remarkable example of temperate climate biodiversity that in 1992 the IUCN recognized the region as an area of global botanical significance. The region is home to 3,500 plant species – 280 of which are rare or endemic. The streams that originate in the Klamath and Siskiyou mountains are among the most productive on the continent, the spawning grounds for wild Pacific salmon and steelhead.

And while the region has the most designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in the US, nearly a dozen wilderness areas, and the 62,000-acre Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, it also contains the largest area of unprotected forest on the West Coast outside of Alaska. Despite protection in some areas, the region also has been heavily impacted by logging, livestock grazing, road building, and in particular, gold mining.

Now, a raft of proposed surface nickel mines pose a new threat to the region’s environmental health. The threat is serious enough that two of the region’s rivers – the Rogue and Smith – were placed on American Rivers’ list of 10 Most Endangered Rivers of 2015.

There are three proposals for nickel laterite mines on the Oregon side of the Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion. Two involve plans for exploratory drilling by the Red Flat Nickel Corporation, a subsidiary of the British investment company St Peter Port Capital Ltd., to determine the nickel content of the rocks and whether it is worth moving ahead with mining operations. One of the two mining claims, which were first staked in 2007, is located in the headwaters of the North Fork Smith River, a primary tributary of northern California’s famed Smith River.

The second claim is located in the headwaters of Hunter Creek, near Gold Beach. The first claim, the 3,000-acre Cleopatra claim, is also within the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area, a place that conservationists want to see eventually added to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The third is a claim on Rough and Ready Creek by a different company, RNR Resources, which is trying to move forward with a full-blown mining operation.

“There is a lot of opposition to putting a nickel strip mine in the headwaters of the Smith River because of its ecological impacts,” says Joseph Vaile, executive director of KS Wild, one of the many local and regional conservation groups opposing the mines. “The Smith River is also the drinking water supply for communities in northern California, so there is a lot of concern in California, even though the mines are in Oregon”

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