GOLD BEACH, Ore. — A rancher on the southern Oregon coast is asking to remove 10,000 cubic yards of gravel from the lower Pistol River to stop flooding and erosion of surrounding farmland.
Ronald Adams owns 117 acres of pasture where he grazes cattle on both sides of the river south of Gold Beach. He said the waterway “has been in disarray for many years” due to gravel washing downstream and pushing the river over its banks.
“I’ve lost probably close to 20 acres,” Adams said. “Every time the river goes up, it just washes way more debris down there than what’s normal.”
Adams applied for a conditional use permit with Curry County in May to remove gravel from the river near his property. But opponents say the project could harm native fish, including coho salmon protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The Pistol River is a coastal stream that meanders for 21 miles from its headwaters in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest to the Pacific Ocean. It is designated as essential salmon habitat by the Oregon Department of State Lands to regulate work in-stream.
Bob Lobdell, a natural resources coordinator for the agency in Coos and Curry counties, said there has not been a new gravel removal permit issued on the Pistol River for at least 10 years.
“Since that time, the river has been doing what it would do naturally,” he said. “These changes are nothing new to the Pistol.”
Adams, 68, said he also worries about debris causing gravel and flood waters to back up underneath the nearby Pistol River Bridge, which runs into the small community of Pistol River, population 84.
The Curry County Planning Commission held a hearing on June 20, and Adams had until July 18 to respond to comments. The commission will meet again July 25. Any permit issued by the county would be subject to additional state and federal approvals.
Several conservation groups wrote in opposition to gravel removal. Mark Sherwood, executive director of the nonprofit Native Fish Society, said Adams’ application does not include sufficient information about impacts on water quality, overall land stability and fish habitat.
Phillip Johnson, executive director of the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition, said he recognizes the importance of gravel mining but worries how the proposal could disturb the river bed.
“Oregon Shores understands that sand, gravel and aggregate are necessary resources, and mining for them must take place somewhere,” Johnson said. “However, a mining operation immediately adjacent to, and possibly within the bed of a river of high ecological, recreational and economic importance should receive the highest level of scrutiny.”
In his application, Adams said he will work entirely on bare gravel and would remove only what is needed to allow the passage of high water.
Adams maintains gravel removal will actually benefit fish. He said erosion is causing the river to fan out unnaturally wide, burying habitat and resulting in high water temperatures that kill fish.
“The impact of this operation should be mostly positive,” he said. “Anything we do would be an improvement over the way it is now.”