Explore—The Kalmiopsis Wildlands and Its Wild Rivers

A stark ancient land of deep canyons and endless ridges, the Kalmiopsis Wildlands is located along Southwest Oregon’s Wild Rivers Coast in the Klamath-Siskiyou Eco-region. Its hauntingly beautiful rivers are refuge for wild salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout. They’re a reflection of the diverse, highly dissected, geologically complex landscape they flow through.

The botanical richness of the Kalmiopsis Wildlands is legendary. It’s host to one of the highest concentration of rare endemic plants in North America. Frequently desert-like in appearance, because of the unique character of its serpentine terrain, parts of the wildlands can receive 160 or more inches of precipitation annually. Elevations range from 135 to 5,098 feet. Click here for the USDA Forest Service discussion of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains: A Center of Diversity, Endemism, and Rarity.

At the heart of the wildlands is the 179,000 acre Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Surrounding it are two large roadless areas, the North and South Kalmiopsis and smaller roadless areas—Packsaddle, Briggs, Squaw Mountain, Shasta Costa, Windy Valley and North Fork Smith.

Wild and Scenic Rivers — Three National Wild and Scenic Rivers—the Illinois, Chetco and North Fork Smith—flow through it. Each have nationally outstanding wild fisheries, water quality, recreation and scenery. The USDA Forest Service has found five tributaries of these rivers—Rough and Ready, Baldface, Canyon/Josephine, Silver and Indigo Creeks— nationally outstanding in their own right.  They await congressional action to add them to the National Wild and Scenic River System. Additional rivers such as the South Fork Chetco and West Fork Illinois, deserve further consideration.

Wilderness — Surrounding the Kalmiopsis Wilderness are almost 200,000 acres of contiguous Inventoried Roadless and uninventoried roadless area plus smaller adjacent Roadless Areas. In 2004, Secretary of Agriculture, Ann Veneman, recommended Congress add 64,000 acres of the North and South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area to the existing Wilderness.

These Forest Service recommendations are a small in comparison to the wild area available for congressional action. Nonetheless they’d be important additions to Kalmiopsis Wilderness and even more important are currently at risk from proposed large scale nickel mining, off-highway vehicle use and introduction of invasive plants and non-native pathogens. The Forest Service recoomendations include all or parts of four of the eligible Wild and Scenic Rivers and have high wilderness, ecological, scenic and reacreaton values.

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 with rivers that are free flowing rivers from their headwaters to the Pacific. That these are rivers with 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.

The Shasta Costa Watershed is a bridge between the Kalmiopsis Wildlands and the Wild Rogue.

USDA Forest Service: Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains and Serpentine Terrain
The Klamath-Siskiyou Mountain Region is located in Southwest Oregon and Northwest California. Its National Forest lands are in Forest Service Region 5 and Region 6. The Forest Service’s Celebrating Wildflowers web feature has a whole section on the Klamath-Siskiyou Region.

The discussion and references for the botanically rich serpentine terrain of the Klamath-Siskiyou is the best available we’ve found online. Highly recommended. Click here to learn more and to download the above USDA FS poster—Stark Beauty: Klamath-Siskiyou Serpentines
Exploring for Conservation
Zach Collier’s first run of the North Fork of Rough and Ready Creek in 2011 gave us a new look at this little known Eligible Wild River.

Survival in a Land of Extremes

Kalmiopsis leachiana is an ancient and narrowly endemic plant species—a survivor of the last ice age and climate change—that’s found refuge in one of America’s most rugged landscapes. 

It was discovered in 1930 by botanists Lilla and John Leach in the rugged, wild country that’s now known as the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.

With its rose-pink flowers, the diminutive shrub was first thought to be a new form of black laurel (Kalmia polifolia). Lilla combined “Kalmia” with the Greek root “opsis” (for appearance or vision) giving us the name of one of the most restricted plant species in the world and the stark botanically diverse landscape where its found. 

Read more about Kalmiopsis leachiana and its extreme wilderness home and see Michael Kauffmann’s beautiful photographs at his Conifer Country Blog 

Soundscapes of the Kalmiopsis Wildlands and Illinois Valley
A relatively new discipling called “soundscape ecology” is examining what a natural area’s soundscape and how it changes over time can tell us about the health of of the environment. Leaders in this new field is the National Park Service’s Natural Sounds Program and Bernie Krause, an audio engineer and Bryan Pijanowski, an associate professor of forestry and natural resources at Purdue University. We’re also learning that natural sounds such as flowing water, bird song and the wind the trees is beneficial to human health and noise detrimental.

The natural sounds and quiet of the Kalmiopsis Wildlands and surrounding valley areas are increasingly at risk from large scale mining operations, a proposal to use the Illinois Valley Airport as a skydiving center and by off road vehicle use on trails and old mining tracks in wild areas. We working on a webpage to address these threats and learn more about our local soundscapes. Click here.