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.
Your voices are needed to protect these wild rivers! Please reach out to your Congressional representatives and ask that they protect this special place. Stay tuned to the links at the bottom of this page for other active opportunities to weigh in.
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!
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.
Sultan Relicensing - Kalmiopsis Rivers (OR/CA)
- 20150227 AW to NCRWQCB
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
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
17 organization letter to OR Water Resources Dept in Opposition of Cleopatra mine water right
- 20140708 AW to OWRD Cleopatra Water Right
Letter from American Whitewater to the Oregon Water Resources Department in opposition to LL-1533.
Written testimony for Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.