Protecting the beautiful rivers, wild lands and legendary botanical diversity of Oregon's Kalmiopsis Country

Wild and Scenic Chetco River

The Wild and Scenic Chetco River is one of three congressionally designated National Wild and Scenic River flowing through Kalmiopsis – Wild Rivers Coast regions. The high percentage of wilderness and National Forest lands in its watershed is a rarity on the West Coast, south of the Olympic Pennisula. The Chetco flows into the Pacific Ocean at Brookings, Oregon.

Fly Fishing on the Chetco River
Fly Fishing on the Chetco River

The Chetco River, with its famed salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout runs, is a major economic engine for the communities of Southwest Oregon and Northwest California’s Wild Rivers Coast. It also provides clean, clear drinking water for the communities of Brookings and Harbor at its mouth.

Brookings-Harbor, Oregon
The Port of Harbor, Oregon at the mouth of the Chetco River on Salmon Derby Day.

In 2010,  proposalS to mine almost half the length of the Wild and Scenic Chetco River for gold put it on the nation’s “most endangered rivers” list that year. There is currently two bills in Congress to permanently close the 17 miles of the river outside the Kalmiopsis Wilderness to mining. See the Oregon Wildlands Act of 2015 (S. 1699) and the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act (H.R. 682 and S. 346).

There's legislation in Congress to close the Scenic Section of the Wild and Scenic River from mining. Photo © Ann Vileisis.
There’s legislation in Congress to close the Scenic Section of the Wild and Scenic River from mining. Photo © Ann Vileisis.

In 2012, to give Congress time to act on the legislation, the Obama Administration put in place a five year withdrawal of the river from mining and the location of new mining claims.

Why the Chetco River is so special and important as a wild salmon and steelhead refuge

The Wild and Scenic Chetco is a relative rarity among United States’ West Coast rivers—outside of Alaska. It has a high percentage of National Forest land (78%) and Congressionally protected Wilderness (44%) in its watershed, with additional potential Wilderness (21%). Most wilderness is high elevation with little if any salmon and steelhead habitat. The Kalmiopsis Wilderenss is different. It’s relatively low elevation with many miles of pristine salmon and steelhead habitat. The Chetco River’s exceptonal water quality and runs of wild salmon and steelhead are a reflection of the high percent of of undisturbed National Forest land in its watershed.

Learn more about the Wild & Scenic Chetco River and its wild watershed

Top photo by Northwest Rafting Company