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Kalmiopsis Rivers (OR/CA)

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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 face persistent threats 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! Please reach out to your Congressional representatives and ask that they protect this special place. We will share news on strategic opportunities to weigh in.

The Threat

Mining companies have actively pursued proposals to develop three nickel strip mines in the region. Red Flat Nickel Corporation–an international mining company–has proposed 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 has proposed a 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. These rivers are unique with relatively undeveloped shorelines and remain in a free flowing condition from their headwaters to the ocean. The damage and pollution caused by strip mining are irreversible, and if these mines move forward, they would destroy the very things that make these rivers—and this region—so special.

In addition to the impacts to whitewater recreation, a strip mine would 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 and Wild and Scenic River designations, the Smith River National Recreation Area in CA, Outstanding Resource Waters designation through the Clean Water Act for the North Fork Smith, Roadless Area Conservation Rule protections, and an administrative mineral withdrawal from new mining claims for a 20 year period), they are not enough to fully 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 has worked with our partners to protect the wild Kalmiopsis rivers from the threats of nickel strip mines by:

  • Securing administrative protections for a period of 20 years to prevent future mining activity by securing a “mineral withdrawal” through Public Land Order No. 7859; Withdrawal of National Forest System and Bureau of Land Management Public Lands in Southwestern Oregon; Oregon; 92 FR 4415-4416 (Issued Jan. 13, 2017). 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 efforts of Senator Wyden and Representative DeFazio to secure a permanent mineral withdrawal through federal legislation.
  • 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 in July 2017. View a group letter to Oregon here and organizational letter to California here. We testified before the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission on April 16, 2015. American Whitewater testified at 20:00 to 24:46, and our partners at 2:18 to 12:06 and 35:37 to 40:15. DEQ Director Dick Pederson discussed the issue at 13:43 to 20:29.
  • Opposed Red Flat Nickel Corp's application for a water right from the Oregon Water Resources Department for exploratory drilling in 2014. View our letter here.

Many thanks to Northwest Rafting Company for the pictures!

article photo 34247.jpg

Effort to Protect the Rogue Continues (OR)

05/13/2019 - by Thomas O'Keefe

At the end of last Congress, the House and Senate negotiated a public lands package that ultimately resulted in 256 new miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers for Oregon when the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act was signed into law on March 12th, 2019. While rivers like the Molalla and several tributaries of the Rogue were designated Wild and Scenic, the lands surrounding the immediate river corridor were left unprotected. With a commitment to finish the job, and building on the successful effort to move these initiatives out of committee with bipartisan support last Congress, Senator Wyden was joined by Senator Merkley in introducing the Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act (S. 1262) on May 1st, 2019. The bill is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on May 14th, 2019.

Good News for Kalmiopsis Rivers! (OR/CA)

02/28/2018 - by Megan Hooker

The Department of Agriculture recently announced that it will not review a 20-year prohibition on new mining development (i.e., a “mineral withdrawal) for over 101,000 acres of public lands in SW Oregon. The protection, which was implemented in late 2016, covers rivers cherished by the whitewater community including the Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith and Illinois Rivers and their headwaters.

Oregon Environmental Quality Commission Takes Action to Protect North Fork Smith

07/21/2017 - by Thomas O'Keefe

Earlier this month the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission unanimously voted to designate the waters of the North Fork Smith River in southwest Oregon as the first Outstanding Resource Waters in the Pacific Northwest.

BLM and USFS Issue 20 Year Protection for Kalmiopsis Rivers! (CA/OR)

01/13/2017 - by Megan Hooker

On January 12, 2017, the BLM and Forest Service announced a 20-year halt to new mining activities in the watersheds of the North Fork Smith, Illinois, Pistol River and Hunter Creek in Oregon. American Whitewater celebrates this important milestone with the conservation and recreation partners that we've worked with, and thanks Representatives DeFazio and Huffman and Senators Wyden and Merkley for their dedication to protecting this place. And we thank YOU too for standing up for these wild rivers!

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

Title Name City


20150227 AW to NCRWQCB (6/24/2015)

AW letter to CA North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board in support of designating NF Smith as Outstanding Resource Water

20150202 OR EQC ORW (6/24/2015)

Group letter to the OR Envt'l Quality Comm'n in support of Outstanding Resource Water designation for North Fork Smith

20140702 Group Letter to OR WRD (6/24/2015)

17 organization letter to OR Water Resources Dept in Opposition of Cleopatra mine water right

20140708 AW to OWRD Cleopatra Water Right (9/30/2014)

Letter from American Whitewater to the Oregon Water Resources Department in opposition to LL-1533.

Smith River National Recreation Area Expansion Act Testimony (11/17/2020)

Testimony of American Whitewater as submitted to Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Testimony of American Whitewater on SOWSPA (11/18/2021)

Testimony of American Whitewater on the Southwest Oregon Salmon and Watershed Protection Act (HR 980)

20140708 Del Norte County Letter (6/24/2015)

Letter from Del Norte County, California to the OR Water Resources Department in opposition to the water right for the Cleopatra mine.

20140708 NCRWQCB to ORWRD (6/24/2015)

Letter from CA North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to the OR Water Resources Department in opposition to the water right for the Cleopatra Mine.

20140708 Crescent City Letter (6/24/2015)

Letter from Crescent City, CA to the OR Water Resources Department in opposition to the application for a water right for the Cleopatra mine.

20140708 CA DFW Letter (6/24/2015)

Letter from California Department of Fish and Wildlife to the Oregon Water Resources Department in Opposition to the water right for the Cleopatra Mine.

Public Lands, Forests, and Mining Subcommittee Legislative Hearing Testimony (11/1/2021)

Testimony on S. 180, Buffalo Tract Protection Act; S. 1459, Protecting Unique and Beautiful Landscapes by Investing in California (PUBLIC) Lands Act; S. 1493, Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act; S. 1538, Smith River National Recreation Area Expansion Act; and S. 1589, Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act.

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