The goal is to permanently protect the Kalmiopsis wild lands and rivers through a grassroots movement of friends and organizations. Friends of the Kalmiopsis is also about keeping the stories of people and place alive.
A passion for place
The friends of the Kalmiopsis have a passion for this wildest of wild places and are committed to its protection. Friends contribute in numerous ways; writing letters, tabling, going to meetings, holding meetings, hiking the wild country, photographing, caring, speaking in defense of the Kalmiopsis and bringing stories about why it should be preserved to the people.
The successes of the 1990s
In the 1990s, a lose-knit effective group of local activists—centered around the charismatic Lou Gold—came together in defense of the North and South Kalmiopsis Roadless Areas. As the decade advanced the local tribe evolved into a structured, effective organization, known as Siskiyou Project.
Seventeen of eighteen proposed roadless area timber sales came to naught. A proposed wilderness gold mine died with the purchase of a patented mining claim. The proposed Nicore Nickel Mine was put on hold while lawsuits tortuously wind their way through the federal courts. It was a decade of great challenge and success.
Even before that
But even before that there were friends of this botanically rich wildlands working to protect it. The Illinois Valley Garden Club of the 1930s was a friend before pioneering botanist Lila Leach discovered the tiny ancient shrub, for which the Kalmiopsis Wild Area was eventually named.
Effie Smith and the local Garden Club worked to preserve the unique landscape and plant communities at Rough and Ready Creek before there was an environmental movement. Their efforts lead to the establishment of the Rough and Ready Creek State Botanical Wayside in 1938.
Local naturalist Mary Paetzel’s years of rare plant surveys helped establish the Forest Service’s Rough and Ready Creek Botanical Area. In 1998, the designation of the BLM Rough and Ready Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern was another citizen’s effort to protect the unique natural values of this much loved otherworldly part of the Kalmiopsis Wildlands.
Change and the growing threats
In 2002, the Biscuit Fire burned across extensive areas of the Kalmiopsis Wildlands. The natural fire and the blackening unburned areas for fire suppression by the Forest Service altered the landscape. The post-fire logging took its toll on the land too and the activism. Both are in recovery.
While the logging of beloved places like Fiddler Mountain and the Babyfoot Lake Botanical Area was heart breaking, as with Sugarloaf, it was not without opposition.
A decade later, new threats loom and old ones have resurfaced. There’s new nickel mine and smelter proposed at Rough and Ready Creek. A foreign owned mining company wants to mine Baldface Creek and the North Fork Smith watersheds nickel. Nickel strip mining would turn these pristine Kalmiopsis wild places into industrial wastelands. Yesterday’s proponent’s of logging have growing stronger.
Almost four decades ago, John Hart, in Hiking the Bigfoot Country, issued this challenge and prediction:
“There is just enough timber in the north, just enough mineral potential in the south, to guarantee that the Kalmiopsis wildlands will be roaded and logged and mined right down to its small protected core—unless enough people speak out and ask that it be left along … [T]his is a land of most uncommon worth and charm. It if goes—if we permit its exploitation for the little dose of commodities it could yield—there will never be anything like it, for us, again.”
People have spoken out. Some have spend decades in the ongoing struggle to protect this wild land of most uncommon worth and charm. Their commitment and dedication is why, despite the loses, there’s so much left to protect. The passage of time has also shown us that our backyard is a place of national significance worthy of the highest level of protection.
It’s time to press forward with the Forest Service’s two decade old recommendations for five new Wild and Scenic Rivers in the Kalmiopsis Wildlands. It time to reexamine the agency’s recommended additions to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Add to them if possible, but whole heartedly advocate for the rivers and places they encompass and organically grow their permanent protection into reality—because these most uncommon and charming wild lands and rivers are worthy of the effort and the national recognition. They’re truly one-of-a-kind.