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

Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River

Artificially divided – partially protected

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

Baldface Creek flows into the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River in Oregon.
Baldface Creek flows into the Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River. Both are threatened by a foreign-owned mining company’s plan to develop a nickel strip mine in their watersheds.

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.

Best salmon and steelhead 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 in the North Fork’s watershed—Baldface Creek—is in Oregon unprotected and open to mining.

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. It’s critical to not just the North Fork Smith but the Wild and Scenic Smith River in general.

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 extends into the headwaters of the North Fork of Diamond Creek and the Fall Creek Watershed.  All arel 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.

Off road vehicle 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.

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