Ancient, extreme, legendary and only partly protected
The Kalmiopsis is a stark ancient land of deep canyons, endless ridges and hauntingly beautiful rivers. It lies a little inland from Southwest Oregon’s Wild Rivers Coast in the Siskiyou Mountains of the Klamath-Siskiyou Eco-region, but it’s a land apart from all surrounding it.
Unlike the Grand Canyon, Yosemite or Crater Lake there’s no one iconic view that’s representative of the Kalmiopsis. The grandeur of the Kalmiopsis lies in its rivers and its diversity, antiquity and integrity.
The stunningly beautiful rivers of the Kalmiopsis are refuge for wild salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout. Each is a reflection of the diverse, highly dissected, geologically complex watersheds they flow through.
The botanical richness of the Kalmiopsis is legendary. It’s host to one of the highest concentration of rare endemic plants in North America. Streams like Rough and Ready Creek are literally rivers of flowers.
The Kalmiopsis is a land of contrast and extremes. While frequently desert-like in appearance—because of the unique character of its serpentine terrain—it can receive 160 or more inches of precipitation annually. Elevations range from 135 to 5,098 feet.
We call the area—centered around the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and bounded by the Smith River National Recreation Area in the south and the Wild Rogue Wilderness in the north—Kalmiopsis Country or the Kalmiopsis Wildlands.
Kalmiopsis Wilderness – a job half done
At the heart of Kalmiopsis Country is the 179,000 acre Congressionally designated Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Surrounding the protected wilderness are two large Inventoried Roadless Areas, the North and South Kalmiopsis and smaller Roadless Areas—Packsaddle, Briggs, Squaw Mountain, Shasta Costa, Windy Valley and North Fork Smith, plus numerous botanical areas and research natural areas.
The South and North Kalmiopsis Roadless Areas are managed under the the Roadless Area Conservation Rule but the regulation does not protect roadless areas from mining and off-highway vehicle use. These are the principle threats to the integrity of the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area especially. Nor did the rule prevent the Bush Administration from the travesty of logging parts of both the North and South Kalmiopsis in 2006.
In an effort to appease elected officials for logging old growth forest reserves and roadless areas in the wake of the 2002 Biscuit Fire, the U. S. Department of Agriculture made a recommendation to Congress for the addition of approximately 64,000 acres to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in 2004. Governor Kulongoski, Representative Peter DeFazio and Senator Ron Wyden all said they supported additions to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness but 64,000 acres wasn’t enough. Today the South Kalmiopsis and the largest of the five recommended wilderness additions is gravely threatened by proposals for two nickel laterite mines in the watersheds of Rough and Ready Creek and the North Fork Smith River/Baldface Creek.
Kalmiopsis Rivers – two decades and waiting
However, two decades ago the USDA Forest Service found five tributaries of these rivers—Rough and Ready Creek, Baldface Creek, Canyon/Josephine Creeks, Silver Creek and Indigo Creek— nationally outstanding in their own right and eligible to become National Wild and Scenic Rivers. They await congressional action. Additional rivers such as the South Fork Chetco and West Fork Illinois, deserve further consideration.
Botanical Treasures under siege
Just across the border in California, the Six Rivers National Forest has designated large special management areas like the 23.000 acre plus North Fork Smith Botanical Area. In Oregon. however—where the highest concentration or rare plants lie—the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest’s approach is minimalist and piecemeal.
Management has failed to deal with the greatest threats to the one of the highest concentrations of rare plants in North America and the highest in Oregon—mining and off highway vehicles.
A West Coast Conservation Priority
Maps from the Pew Environment Group of public lands at risk show why the Kalmiopsis Wildlands is a West Coast conservation priority. It’s the last great opportunity—from the Olympics to Baja—to protect and preserve large roadless area and wilderness watersheds where all rivers that are free flowing from their headwaters to the Pacific. That these rivers havd some of the strongest native, naturally reproducing (wild) salmon, steelhead and cutthroat populations in Oregon and California adds imperative to the need to conserve the Kalmiopsis Wildlands and its rivers.