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Senators introduce bill to boost protections for Smith River watersheds in Southern Oregon

The North Fork of the Smith River in Oregon was not included in 1990 protections for the river, which runs through California
Zachary Collier/Northwest Rafting Co.
The North Fork of the Smith River in Oregon was not included in 1990 protections for the river, which runs through California

By Eric Tegethoff, Oregon News Service

PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- A new bill in Congress would add greater protections to the Smith River and its watersheds in southern Oregon.

Oregon Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden have introduced legislation to expand the Smith River National Recreation Area by 58,000 acres.

Owner of the Northwest Rafting Company Zach Collier said it's a remote and special part of the state well known for its biodiversity, from Chinook salmon to rare and endangered plants.

"This water provides spawning habitat for fish, which people catch downstream," said Collier, "but also provides clear, clean water for people to enjoy who are rafting downstream, kayaking downstream, fishing downstream and also drinking that water downstream."

The bill would protect the watershed of the North Fork of the Smith River in Oregon. The Smith River flows downstream into California, an area Collier said is well known for whitewater rafting.

It would safeguard 74 miles of waterway, including creeks adjacent to the Smith River.

It would also ensure that mining couldn't disrupt this sensitive habitat. Collier said nickel mining in particular has been proposed in the region.

"Nickel mining is not good on places," said Collier. "It involves strip mining and tons of chemicals. It's not the cleanest way to mine. It would devastate this area that's uniquely special to the world."

Collier said it's important to protect the landscape and fish habitat. But he noted that it's a special place that looks like it would be home on a different planet - literally.

"That area gets tons of rain," said Collier. "It reminds me of being on Endor in 'Return of the Jedi.' It's just very lush, very green - and just a magical, magical river."

The bill has the support of two California senators as well. It's been referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Article Topic Follows: Environment

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