Kalmiopsis Rivers (OR/CA)

The Siskiyou Mountains in Southwestern Oregon give rise to iconic wild rivers like the Wild and Scenic Illinois, Rogue, Chetco and North Fork Smith Rivers. The region is known for its stunningly clear rivers, salmon strongholds, unique and rich biodiversity, and outstanding opportunities for angling and backcountry whitewater adventures. Those exploring the headwaters of these rivers pack their boats and gear in through rugged wilderness terrain. A new generation of ultralight gear, including packrafts, has made it more feasible to explore the region. But, it is rugged country–flows can be tricky to predict, and any trip is a true adventure. The mainstem rivers have easier access and have been known as whitewater classics for decades, and flow through some of the same rugged country.

The rivers and public lands of the region are threatened by proposals to develop nickel strip mines at Baldface Creek (tributary to the North Fork Smith River), Rough and Ready Creek (tributary to the Illinois River) and in the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Pistol river on the Oregon Coast. Paddler's voices are needed to protect the rivers of the region.

Take Action!

Your voices are needed to protect these wild rivers! Write comments to the BLM by September 28, 2015 to support the administrative effort to protect the rivers from mining!

The Threat

Two mining companies are actively pursuing proposals to develop three nickel strip mines in the region. Red Flat Nickel Corporation–an international mining company–is proposing the “Cleopatra” strip mine in the Baldface Creek watershed, which is a key tributary to the Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River. The company has also proposed a second strip mine in the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Pistol River on the Oregon Coast. Similarly, RNR Resources is pursuing a proposal to strip mine for nickel in the headwaters of the Wild and Scenic Illinois River on Rough and Ready Creek.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the metal mining industry is the largest source of toxic pollution disposal in the country. The damage and pollution caused by strip mining are irreversible, and if these mines move forward, they’ll destroy the very things that make these rivers—and this region—so special.

In addition to the impacts to whitewater recreation, a strip mine will pose a serious threat to local drinking water supplies. Test drilling alone has significant potential to contaminate and impair the public drinking water of downstream communities. In particular, towns in Del Norte County, CA including Gasquet, Hiouchi and the City of Crescent City receive their drinking water from the Smith River, and many are on record opposing the mine proposed near Baldface Creek. (You can view letters of opposition here from The County of Del Norte County, Crescent City, the CA North Coast Water Quality Control Board and the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife.) The rivers of the region are also strongholds for chinook and coho salmon and steelhead. A strip mine would have significant impacts to these values.

Although some of the area's values have been protected through numerous designations (including the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, Wild and Scenic River designations, and the Smith River National Recreation Area in CA), they are not enough to protect this remote and rugged landscape from the threat of mining. The 1872 Mining Law prioritizes mining activities over all others, making it difficult for public lands agencies to protect drinking water supplies, salmon strongholds, and vibrant recreation economies.

American Whitewater's Stewardship

American Whitewater is working with our partners to protect the wild Kalmiopsis rivers from the threats of nickel strip mines by:

  • Advocating that the area be protected from future mining activity by securing a “mineral withdrawal.” (Contrary to how it sounds, a “mineral withdrawal” means withdrawing public lands from new mining activity rather than withdrawing minerals from the land).
  • Supporting the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and California State Water Resources Control Board in designating the North Fork Smith River and its tributaries as Outstanding National Resource Waters under the Clean Water Act. View a group letter to Oregon here, organizational letter to California here, and listen to our testimony before the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission, April 16, 2015 here. (AW at 20:00 to 24:46, and our partners at 2:18 to 12:06 and 35:37 to 40:15.) Listen to DEQ Director Dick Pederson discussing the issue here (13:43 to 20:29).
  • Opposing Red Flat Nickel Corp's application for a water right from the Oregon Water Resources Department for exploratory drilling. View our letter here.

Many thanks to Northwest Rafting Company for the pictures!

Take Action! Protect Kalmiopsis Rivers (OR/CA)

posted July 14, 2015
by Megan Hooker
article photo 2
The BLM is considering whether to halt new mining activities for 5 years on roughly 100,000 acres in the Kalmiopsis region of Southwestern Oregon. This action, known as a "mineral withdrawal," would protect wild rivers like Baldface Creek, the Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith, Rough and Creek and the Wild and Scenic Illinois from the threats of nickel strip mines. These rivers are not only whitewater gems, but also provide clean drinking water to downstream communities, are strongholds for salmon, and support the local economy. Paddler's voices from across the country are needed to support this effort.

The contacts below include staff and volunteers working on this project. Make sure you are logged in if you wish to join the group.

projects - Kalmiopsis Rivers (OR/CA)

Title Name City


Associated Rivers

Baldface Creek [OR]
Chetco, South Fork [OR]
Rough and Ready Creek [OR]