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Smith River (CA/OR)

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The Smith River is a free-flowing river on the California-Oregon border known for its exceptional water quality, unique botanical resources, and spectacular paddling opportunities all of which American Whitewater works to protect.

American Whitewater has partnered with the local group Smith River Alliance and other partners on efforts to protect the headwaters that extend from California into Oregon. The primary threat to these beautiful streams and their pure waters is the development of nickel laterite strip mines, networks of ore haul roads, and nickel processing facilities that would have a devastating impact on the water quality of both the Smith River, specifically Baldface Creek in the North Fork Smith watershed, and Rough and Ready Creek in the Illinois River watershed.

Administrative Ban on New Mining Claims in the Smith and Illinois River Watersheds

Following advocacy by American Whitewater and our partners, the Secretary of Interior instituted an administrative ban on new mining claims covering 106,238 acres of the Smith River watershed and adjoining watershed in the Illinois River basin in January 2017 (Public Land Order 7859).

This ban on a new mining claims is an administrative action with a term of 20 years and American Whitewater is working to make it permanent through federal legislation. The Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act championed by Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley in the Senate and the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act championed by Representative DeFazio in the House would permanently protect these rivers from new mining claims.

Smith River, Outstanding Resource Waters

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 in July 2017. Outstanding Resource Waters are high quality waters that constitute an outstanding state resource due to their extraordinary water quality or ecological values, or where special protection is needed to maintain critical habitat areas. Under the Clean Water Act, the water quality and uses of water designated as Outstanding Resource Waters must be maintained and protected against all sources of pollution through an anti-degradation policy.

American Whitewater worked with our many partners to support the Outstanding Resource Waters designation and hundreds of paddlers who know how exceptional the North Fork Smith is weighed in as part of the robust public process to establish this protection for the headwaters.

Smith River National Recreation Expansion

American Whitewater is also actively supporting the effort to expand the Smith River National Recreation Area through legislation sponsored by Senators Merkley, Wyden, and Feinstein in the Senate and Representatives Huffman and DeFazio in the House. In 1990, Congress enacted legislation to establish the Smith River National Recreation Area (NRA) to protect the watershed, but the boundary of the NRA stopped at the Oregon border, leaving the North Fork of the Smith River and its tributaries unprotected. While an administrative ban on new mining claims and designation of Outstanding Resource Waters have addressed needs for protection of the river, expanding the National Recreation Area would improve management of the watershed.

The proposed legislation would expand the Smith River National Recreation Area by 58,000 acres protecting the diverse ecosystems of this watershed and providing consistent management for the recreational opportunities our members enjoy in this spectacular landscape. Additionally, the legislation would extend Wild and Scenic designation to the upper watershed of the North Fork of the Smith River and including its major tributaries. This would further protect one of the west coast’s last free-flowing rivers and a special place for all who enjoy wild rivers.

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