Stewart Mining Agreement Results in Clearcut
The Forest Service approved a plan of operations to build a new road into Bohemia Mountain (pictured below) and Stewart mine area. After the road was built, the miners were able to clearcut their patented, private claims as well as mine their unpatented claims, regardless of the Northwest Forest Plan or endangered fish and restoration of damaged creeks.
Under the 1872 mining law, the miners bought the claim for $5 an acre from the public. Once the miners have a patented claim, they can harvest trees, extract minerals, keep all the money, and not have to be responsible for any damage done. The Forest Service claims that the 1872 mining laws says that anyone can test for minerals on public lands, anytime, anyplace. If enough quantity of minerals is found, industry can file for an unpatented claim and propose a "plan of operations." Industry can then demand the public provide them with "reasonable access" within a "reasonable time frame." The Forest Service has the option to approve or disapprove of the plan of operations.
Industry has been able to support the very strong lobby needed to prevent congress from making any significant changes to this law in 124 years. By comparison, industry now claims the 1972 Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts are outdated.
Stewart Mine is at the headwaters of Steamboat creek where no fishing is allowed due to the high importance of Steelhead spawning. Yet, we allowed this mining under the antiquated 1872 mining law.
The Forest Service originally issued an Environmental Analysis for public comments on this extremely devastating and detrimental project. Commenters encouraged the Forest Service to study the project with a more detailed Environmental Impact Study. Public Comments for this study were due in December 15, 1996. (See menu above to reference all of these comments). All follwing quotes are excerpted from the 7/12/96 Forest Service Environmental Analysis.
The Stewart Mining Plan proposed to build 5.5 miles of roads and 5' wide ATV trails completely within a Late Successional Reserve (LSR) and Tier 1 Key Watershed, over unstable steep slopes, and through riparian reserves.
The roads were supposedly to facilitate mining operations within the LSR. 167 thousand board feet of trees cut from the Late Successional Reserve were to be given to the miner to build supports for the mine - for free. But eventually, the Stewarts used the road to clearcut their nearby patented mining claim.
Additionally, the project allowed the construction of a 1,500' trail that later could be upgraded to a cat road. This road would be 8-9' wide on 75-100% sideslopes, through a riparian reserve, and end on a 100% sideslope. "The location of this road would be in a high landslide risk area," stated the EA. Another road was being constructed "through high risk landslide terrain" and the probable resulting debris flow "would have a high [detrimental] consequence to aquatic habitat conditions".
A meadow in the area before... ...and after, with a newly installed road
The plan also proposed to "conduct the lode mining operations which include opening, widening or lengthening mine adits [tunnels], disposal of excavated material from the adits, operation of a portable ore crusher, construction of a Pelton power generator, storage of water for ore crushing activity, and harvesting and milling of timber for underground support structures."
This project took place in the headwaters of St. Peter and City Creeks. The purpose was "to explore and develop locatable minerals" within City Creek, a major tributary to Steamboat Creek which is a significant contributor to the world-renowned Wild and Scenic North Umpqua River fisheries, recognized since 1932.
The need for this proposal was "based on the probability that valuable minerals are present in the City Creek drainage and the economic benefit that can be realized from removing them." The UNF admitted that the "economic benefit" is solely to the corporation, "Little benefit to local employment and economics would be provided by this activity." The Umpqua Forest plan "gives direction to foster and encourage the prospecting, discovery, exploration, and development and extraction of locatable minerals." The economic implications to the Oregon fishing industry was not even mentioned in the analysis.
Umpqua Coho salmon are endangered. They live in Steamboat creek, near the mouth of City creek. Winter and summer steelhead trout also reside in City Creek, along with a number of other species. This project was "likely to adversely affect" Umpqua cutthroat trout by increased sedimentation, heavy metals, turbidity, and landslides.
The potential for landslides in the City creek drainage was naturally extremely high, and increases with road building and logging activity. Additionally, one of the new roads in this project accessed approximately 20 acres of private land, and this new road likely means that this 20 acres will be clearcut within a few years. Approximately 2/3 of this private parcel is located within "high risk" landslide terrain, and the remainder was located within "moderate risk." Logging of this land further increases the risk of landslides and debris flow. Heaven help Steamboat creek!
"The most serious potential water quality problem associated with this proposal is acid mine drainage." "Acid mine drainages cause increased solubility of heavy metals. The chief metals potentially dissolved and introduced into streams from acid mine drainage are arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, and zinc." "High heavy metal concentrations may cause direct fish mortality or more chronic effects such as behavioral changes or reproductive failures." However, the EA actually concluded that "there is a low risk of increasing heavy metal concentrations in City Creek streams..."
Under the preferred alternative "there is a high risk of increased summer turbidity due to mining activities..." "High turbidity can affect salmonids by preventing feeding, delaying spawning migrations, or forcing fish to leave habitats altogether." Another source of fish habitat degradation "is blasting associated with road construction and mining" by adding sediment to City Creek.
"The proposed mining activities, including road and trail building, blasting, power generation, and ore milling, can have adverse impacts to water quality and beneficial uses of water by delivering sediment to streams, increasing turbidity, altering pH, and changing water temperatures." "Overall development of intensive mining operations within the LSR, and tree removal can affect the character and function of the LSR."
LSR: The Late Successional Reserves were designated owl habitat, providing all old-growth dependent species some place to live while we liquidate their habitat from "matrix" lands elsewhere in the forest. This is their ONLY refuge.
The Stewart mining company has "clearcut harvested the accessible timber on the Victor claim as a result of road access granted by the Forest Service in 1992. To date this has accounted for a total of approximately 16 acres of suitable owl habitat being removed. This project was "likely to adversely affect" the northern spotted owl.
Timber receipts from this harvest are reportedly being used to finance the mining activities. This proposed project has the potential for resulting in more patented claims.... It is highly likely that the Stewarts will harvest the trees off of any future patented claims," up to 500 acres!
"Much of the Stewart Mine project area consists of unique habitat in the form of meadows and rock outcrops. The high elevation combined with the relative isolation of the area have kept these relatively pristine floristically." However the Stewart Mine project area WAS NOT SURVEYED for species designated under the Northwest Forest Plan. We didn't even know the impacts.
Question: Why did we build roads on steep side slopes, through Late Successional Reserves in Key Watersheds, for the purpose of mining in the headwaters of streams supporting endangered Umpqua fish? Why did we, the public, want to pay for the administration of this, and give public LSR timber away, when all of the minerals extracted from these mines went directly to private industry? Why were none of the profits be returned to the public, who bought the infrastructure, paid for the project administration, and own the land to begin with?
Answer: Our Forest Plan, as amended, is supposed to "foster and encourage" these activities. Also, the outdated 1872 mining law has influence.