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Mining restrictions renewed for Russian River watershed

 Anglers fish the Russian River on Friday, June 24.
Riley Board
Anglers fish the Russian River on Friday, June 24.

A mandate that protects the Russian River watershed from mining has been extended another 20 years.

In 2003, the U.S. Forest Service applied to exempt the area around the Russian River and Upper Russian Lake from mining claims — known as a withdrawal, since mining is usually allowed on Forest Service Lands. The Russian River area encompasses almost 3,000 square miles within the Chugach National Forest. That initial withdrawal period expired this weekend and was just extended by another 20 years, until February 2043.

Spokesperson Brandon Raile with the Forest Service says the order is meant to protect the Russian River watershed and all of its resources, including fish and recreation. Raile says the Russian River is a very important resource to the state of Alaska, and to both Alaskans and tourists.

Raile says mining within the watershed can affect recreation and fish, and the withdrawal keeps the Russian River safe. He cited the damage mining caused to the Resurrection Creek salmon population as a motivation for the withdrawal.

Jim Hart with the Bureau of Land Management — the entity that oversees both withdrawal applications and mining claims — says the Federal Land Policy and Management Act limits withdrawals like this to 20-year periods. This law requires periodic reviews of the withdrawals near the ends of those terms to determine if the withdrawals are still necessary.

Riley Board is a Report For America reporter covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula for KDLL.
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