The Current - Articles Smith River Alliance - Summer 2015 - Page 5

Nickel Mine Threat

But, due to political realities at the time, 45,000 acres of the North Fork Smith River basin in Oregon was left out of the SRNRA, and now, 25 years after the defeat of one nickel strip mine proposal in the Smith basin, Red Flat Nickel Corporation has launched an effort to mine the unprotected headwaters of the North Fork Smith.

The proposed mine area is drained by Baldface Creek, a North Fork Smith tributary that is a known hotspot for endangered wild coho salmon, Chinook salmon, and steelhead. All of Baldface Creek’s tributaries were found eligible for addition to the National Wild and Scenic River System in 1994. The watershed is located in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area, which was recommended for Wilderness status by the Bush Administration.

Hardrock mining — including strip mining — is the largest source of toxic pollution in the United States, according to the U.S. EPA. "Locating a strip mine in the headwaters of the wild and scenic Smith River is like putting ice cubes made with toxic waste in your favorite drink," said Werschkull in a 2014 San Francisco Chronicle story detailing the mining proposal.

A broad coalition of organizations including SRA and CalTrout are fighting these mining proposals on multiple fronts --- and we’ve been effective at raising awareness to the threat. Earlier this year, State Senator Mike McGuire introduced legislation urging federal action to safeguard the unprotected portions of the Smith River, which passed the senate and is awaiting a vote by the assembly. “Any future mining activities will unnecessarily put the people and wildlife that rely on the Smith River at risk and would create irreversible impacts to the entire watershed,” Senator McGuire said in a statement about the legislation.

Early Genetic Research Findings:

The most obvious and striking result from our initial genetic analysis is that the Fall River contains two very genetically distinct populations of rainbow trout. These races essentially behave as independent populations with very little genetic exchange. By cross referencing the genetics with movement and collection location data, we determined that one population corresponds to fish that reproduce in Bear Creek and the other is fish that spawn within the spring-fed system.

Another interesting result is that these two populations are not only genetically differentiated, but the genetic patterns demonstrate they are also adaptively differentiated with distinct growth rates. Fish from the Bear Creek population contain gene variants that will make them grow faster than the spring-fed population. This is likely necessary to compensate for the colder water temperatures experienced by Bear Creek fish early in their life.

Wild Trout Monitoring Program Moving Forward:

These results are only the tip of the iceberg as far as what will be unveiled as our genetic data collection and analysis are expended. California Trout and the Fall River Conservancy are committed to ensuring that important research like this continues on the Fall River so that we can better understand the ecological issues with real science findings. To ensure this happens, California Trout has secured funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to continue this important work in the next couple years.