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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Rogue Riverkeeper Acts to Protect Salmon Stronghold

Rogue Riverkeeper files suit under the Clean Water Act to challenge illegal gold mining.

Rogue Riverkeeper Acts to Protect Salmon Stronghold

Harming Critical Habitat: Coho salmon over-winter in off-channel habitat where mining pits were built in the Sucker Creek floodplain.

Mar 09, 2011

Tumbling down the western Siskiyou Mountains near the Oregon Caves National Monument, Sucker Creek is widely recognized by fisheries biologists as a critical stream for Coho salmon in the Rogue Basin. The Illinois River sub-basin is one of the most important areas of the Rogue River for wild Coho salmon, and Sucker Creek is one of the most important spawning and rearing tributaries for Coho in the Illinois River sub-basin.

Sucker Creek is designated as a Key Watershed for salmon recovery under the Northwest Forest Plan and provides critical habitat for Coho, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Sucker Creek also supports Chinook salmon, which is designated by the Forest Service as regionally sensitive. Sucker Creek is designated Essential Salmon Habitat by the Oregon Department of State Lands, a Coho Core Area by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and an Aquatic Diversity Area by the American Fisheries Society.

Unfortunately, Sucker Creek has taken quite a beating since the 1850s Gold Rush. Aquatic resources have been severely degraded by logging, road construction and historic mining activities. Channel modification from historic mining is especially intense along Sucker Creek, and landslide activity and severe flooding of the watershed in 1964 and 1997 accentuated pre-existing channel damage. In response, the public has invested significant money to restore this important Coho stream.

In 2010, we received calls from supporters who found recent mining activity on public lands in the Sucker Creek floodplain. After investigating through file reviews and site visits, we determined that the operator of the Reelfoot mine was impacting Sucker Creek and its fish habitat without state or federal permits. Rogue Riverkeeper sent notice of the violations to the miner in October of 2010, but he ignored them and did not clean up the site. In February, Rogue Riverkeeper filed suit against the Reelfoot mining operation in federal district court due to ongoing violations to this salmon stronghold.

The suit challenges actions that violate the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The miner has been operating without obtaining necessary permits, dumped fill into public waters to drive heavy equipment through Sucker Creek, diverted public waters, and altered winter flows and critical habitat for salmon by building pits, dams, and mounds of excavated alluvium across the Sucker Creek floodplain.

As the price of gold has risen, mining impacts on Sucker Creek have accelerated and cumulative impacts remain a concern. According to the Forest Service, in August 2007 a different mining pond adjacent to Sucker Creek created a continuous link of subsurface flow that resulted in muddy water flowing subsurface from the mining pit into Sucker Creek. In yet a different area in August of 2009, Mr. Clifford Tracy illegally bulldozed through Sucker Creek, diverted tributary creeks and dug holding ponds on federal lands without legal permission or permits.

Sucker Creek is a linchpin for Coho recovery in the Rogue Basin, and all activities should adhere to the Clean Water Act and other laws that protect public resources like salmon. Rogue Riverkeeper is hopeful that this matter can be resolved through discussions rather than the courtroom, but we are also prepared to defend public waters and salmon from illegal activities.

Many thanks to the Crag Law Center and Bahr Law Offices for representing us.

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