Northwest Environmental Defense Center

Northwest Defense is the Northwest Environmental Defense Center's blog (and newsletter). Learn about NEDC's latest work, current issues related to air and water quality, and conservation measures in the Pacific Northwest.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Mining in our National Forests deserves greater scrutiny from the U.S. Forest Service

By Marla Nelson, Staff Attorney

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is considering the approval of 28 Plans of Operations for mining activities in the Granite Creek Watershed (collectively called the Granite Creek Watershed Mining Project). The proposed area covers approximately 94,480 acres in the Whitman Ranger District of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and the North Fork John Day Ranger District of the Umatilla National Forest. Much of this area is already degraded from historic mining practices, road-building, and other surface-disturbing activity. Does it really make sense to allow the proposed in-stream mining, suction dredging, and road-building activities in a region that has already experienced degradation from human disturbance?

USFS DEIS, page 9

The USFS prepared a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because the agency determined potential significant environmental impacts may occur as a result of the proposed mining operations in the Granite Creek Watershed. There are multiple streams listed as water quality impaired for temperature and sedimentation within the proposed project area. See DEIS at S-1 - S-5. Numerous sensitive fish species also exist in the area, including two species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and designated critical habitat. Id.

USFS DEIS at 145

NEDC submitted comments on behalf of itself and Hells Canyon Preservation Council, outlining our concerns about the impacts to water quality and the species that depend on it from the 28 proposed mining Plans of Operations, as well as highlighting inadequacies in the USFS's analysis under NEPA. The proposed mining activities are especially concerning in light of the fact that listed species are present and the project area contains already degraded water quality conditions.

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