Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River

A jewel of a river artificially divided and partially protected—The National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith is a jewel of river artificially divided by political boundaries and administrative juridictions. Half of its 105,000 acre watershed is in Oregon and half in California (50,400 acres and 55,550 acres respectively).

In California, the 1981 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act added 325.5 miles of the Smith River and its tributaries to the National Wild and Scenic River System. In Oregon, only the 13 mile long mainstem was designated Wild and Scenic. The Smith River Watershed in California was protected in the Smith River National Recreation Area Act of 1990. In Oregon, the Smith’s watershed outside the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and the Wild and Scenic River Fork Smith River corridor has little protection.

Baldface Creek flowing into the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River

Baldface Creek flowing into the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River – Photo © Barbara Ullian

Best North Fork Smith fisheries habitat is unprotected—Diamond Creek is the largest tributary of the North Fork Smith. While it provides cool pure water, the most productive fisheries habitat lies in Oregon unprotected. The mainstem of the North Fork Smith in Oregon provides 7 miles of near pristine salmon and steelhead spawning habitat. Some of the North Forks smaller tributaries tributaries fall into a similar category but it’s Baldface Creek that really stands out.

Baldface Creek, is the most productive fisheries habitat in the North Fork Smith Watershed and according to the USDA Forest Service:

The world-class fishery on the Smith River depends on water and fish produced in the Baldface drainage.[1]

Threatened by nickel strip mines—Balface Creek, was found eligible to be added to the National Wild and Scenic River System by the Siskiyou National Forest in 1994. In 2004, the Secretary of Agriculture recommended that Congress add Baldface Creek’s watershed and the watersheds of the North and South Forks of Rough and Ready Creek be added to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Despite its nationally outstanding fisheries, scientific and ecological values Baldface Creek remains unprotected and threatened by nickel strip mining. The mining threat extend to the headwaters of the North Fork of Diamond Creek and the Fall Creek Watershed—all tributaries of the North Fork Smith River.

Oregon Senators repeatedly ask for help from Obama Administration—In California, the Smith River Watershed on National Forest land is withdrawn from location and entry under the 1872 Mining Law, with ~ 288,000 acres protected under the Smith River National Recreation Area Act.

In Oregon despite repeated requests by Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Representative Peter DeFazio to the Obama Administration asking for help in providing interim protection for the area. The administration has not acted on the home state senators plea for help. As a result, the North Fork Smith River watershed—with some of the best fisheries habitat in the whole Smith River system—remains open to mining. A foreign owned mining company has taken advantage of the delays in protecting the area and is moving quickly to consolidate their hold on the area.

Rogue OHV users and agency inaction pose irreversible impacts to pristine watersheds— Out of control, extreme off-highway-vehicle (OHV) use is also threatening rare plant habitat on the serpentine terrain of one of North America’s centers of rare and endemic plants—the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area and the watersheds of Rough and Ready Creek and Baldface Creek. Read more about the Klamath-Siskiyou Serpentines.

The OHV use also brings with it the threat of an irreversible impact that could change the pristine nature and ecology of the area forever—the introduction of a non-native pathogen that kills Port Orford cedar. The principle riparian conifer along Baldface Creek and adjacent Rough and Ready Creek Creek is the water loving Port Orford cedar, which is a keystone riparian species on serpentine terrain. Currently the USDA Forest Service stream surveys show Baldface Creek’s riparian areas in reference (pristine) condition.

High praise from wild river paddlers—If its ecological values are not enough, Zachary Collier of Northwest Rafting company writes that:

The North Fork of the Smith is the best overall run in the Smith Drainage and the reason that most paddlers come to this cold and rainy country.

See Zach photos and read the trip report here. Or read Zach Urness account of the North Fork Smith here. He begins:

The North Fork of the Smith River is a wilderness run that’s among the most beautiful, remote and strange stretches of water on the West Coast.

Coming together to finish the job—Divided almost in half politically by the Oregon/California border and administratively by Forest Service Regions, the North Fork Smith River, is cherished by rafters, botanists, fisheries scientists and lovers of wild places. Together these interest groups could form a powerful voice for the protection of the whole watershed.


[1] USDA Forest Service, Wild and Scenic River Eligibility Study Baldface Creek and Its Tributaries, Siskiyou National Forest, November 1993.

Quick Facts
Year Designated:
California—Jan. 19, 1981 and Nov. 16, 1990
Oregon—October 28, 1988

River Segments Designated:
* California
Mainstem North Fork Smith 
Diamond Ck. and the N. Fk. Diamond Ck.
Bear Creek, 
Still Creek, 
High Plateau Creek, 
Stony Creek, and 
Peridotite Creek.

- Managing Agency—Six Rivers National Forest, Region 5 of the USDA Forest Service. For “river area” classifications see Appendix A Smith River National Recreation Area Management Plan

* Oregon (river classification and miles)
Mainstem North Fork Smith (13 miles)
Headwaters to Horse Ck.—Wild (4.5 miles)
Horse to Baldface Ck.—Scenic (6.5 miles)
Baldface Ck. to Calif. border—Wild (2 miles)

- Managing agency—Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, Region 6 of the USDA Forest Service.

- Identified Outstandingly Remarkable Values:
  • Fisheries (provides 7 miles of near pristine spawning and rearing habitatfor salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout and contributes substantially to the National Wild and Scenic Smith River System)
  • Water Quality (the river’s emerald green waters, its clarity and over all quality contributes to the functioning of the river system and is an integral part of the National Wild and Scenic Smith River system.
  • Scenery (associated with the river’s emerald hued water, the variety of landscape elements and the pristine character of the river corridor) 
Baldface Creek and Rough and Ready Creek are integrally intwined. They share a landscape—the serpentine terrain of the Josephine ophiolite, the most botanically rich part of the Klamath-Siskiyou Serpentines. 

The have a watershed divide in common and share a long common boundary with the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. they are large intact watersheds within the Inventoried South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area, by far the largest roadless area (unprotected wilderness) in Oregon and the third largest in the Northwest. 

All of the Baldface Creek watershed is within the USDA’s recommended South Kalmiopsis Wilderness Addition to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, along with the watersheds of the North and South Forks of Rough and Ready Creek. And there’s more high value, wilderness quality lands in the Rough and Ready Creek watershed. This part of the Rough and Ready Creek watershed was excluded from the recommended Wilderness addition in  2004, because of the concentration of mining claims but new circumstances require a new look at the area.

They also share common threats—nickel strip mining, OHV abuse and introduction of agressive non-native invaders (one Port Orford cedar root disease and the other yellow-tuft alyssum).

And because of the sparsly vegetated rocky serpentine, they are not suitable for timber production and serve as a natural fire break for nearby communities.

Because of the values and landscapes they share and because the nickel mining threat to them is so pervasive and intractable as long as they’re unprotected and open to the 1872 Mining Law, Rough and Ready Creek and Baldface Creek also share a website. Click here to learn about these most endangered and most remarkable watersheds.