SALEM, Ore. — Four Oregon and California lawmakers sent off a letter to Trump Administration officials on Wednesday, urging them to extend environmental protections for the Chetco River that are set to expire on July 25 of this year.
U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), alongside Representatives Pete DeFazio (D-OR4) and Jared Huffman (D-CA2) signed the letter and addressed it to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
"As you are aware," the letter begins, "We have repeatedly written to you over the last decade supporting the withdrawal of Oregon's iconic Chetco River from mineral entry. We are writing to you today with extreme urgency."
According to the U.S. Forest Service, a withdrawal is an administrative tool used to withhold an area of National Forest land from settlement, sale, or entry under certain land laws—particularly the leasing of land for mining operations.
If the current protection is not extended, they wrote, “we will lose precious ground in protecting this world-class salmon and steelhead river and source of clean drinking water for two communities while Congress considers our legislation to make the withdrawal permanent.”
“Earlier progress reports to our staffs indicated that the extension was on schedule and that the reasoning for an extension was still valid,” the four lawmakers wrote federal officials. “However, now, with the expiration date of the current 5-year withdrawal fast approaching, and what appears to be insufficient time to complete the process to extend it, our staffs cannot learn anything concrete about what is happening or what is causing what appears to be an inexcusable delay.”
Lawmakers tried to make the Chetco mineral withdrawal permanent by introducing it to the U.S. House and Senate in 2010. Those efforts have apparently not yielded any tangible results as yet.
Meanwhile, the lawmakers claim, the Chetco withdrawal has become a popular measure among locals and some federal officials—most notably administrators of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the withdrawal is most ardently opposed by miners, who tend to deny any ecological impact.
"You should also know that the threat to the river when we introduced our legislation was no small matter. There were proposals to mine its bed for almost the full length of the river subject to the withdrawal. However, during the time that the interim withdrawal has been in place, most of the existing federal mining claims have been eliminated," the lawmakers wrote.