Southwest Oregon’s Illinois Valley is one of the most biologically diverse little river valleys in the United States. Almost surrounded by the Siskiyou National Forest and Medford District BLM lands, it’s blessed with clean air and water, beautiful rivers and streams and opportunities for recreation in all directions.
The Illinois Valley is gateway to the Oregon Caves National Monument, the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River and the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The California Redwoods and the Oregon/California Coast are a mere hours drive away. The beautiful Deer Creek Center provides opportunities for field studies and research.
However, it’s the biological and botanical diversity of the valley that make it stand out. The high level of diversity and the outstanding nature of its rivers and streams are encapsulated by the nearby federal public lands. They’re the result of a one-of-a-kind convergence of climate, geology and antiquity.
A Wealth of rivers
Three major tributaries—the East Fork, West Fork and Sucker Creek—converge in the valley to soon become the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River. It’s soon joined by Deer Creek, the Illinois River’s fourth large tributary upper tributary. The Illinois River Basin is one of two rivers in the state of Oregon with strictly wild populations of coho and chinook salmon and steelhead and cutthroat trout. It’s the largest most productive tributary of the National Wild and Scenic Rogue River. Four tributaries of the Wild and Scenic Illinois River—Silver, Indigo, Rough and Ready and Josephine/Canyon Creeks—have been found nationally outstanding and “eligible” to become National Wild and Scenic Rivers.
Wild salmon refuge
The absence of high dams, a high percentage of National Forest and BLM lands (83%) and populations of native naturally reproducing and salmon and steelhead make the Illinois River Basin a salmon refuge of great importance nationally. The complex networks of streams flowing through valley provide critically important spawning and rearing habitat for the river’s wild coho and chinook salmon. The Illinois Valley is one of the few places left—between the Olympic sand Baja —where you watch wild salmon spawning in low gradient valley floor streams or experience the spectacle of wild salmon jumping natural barriers in an entirely free flowing river.
Botanical treasure and center of rare plant endemism
The Illinois River Valley, and the National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands to its west and south, host the highest concentration of rare and endemic plants in Oregon and the Klamath-Siskiyou Region. It’s a west coast botanical treasure at the northern end of greater California Floristic Province. Rough and Ready Creek and the West Fork Illinois River host the highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon. Some of the area’s plant species are found nowhere else in the world.
OHV destruction and vandalism?
While the globally important botanical values of the Illinois Valley draw botanists world-wide, these treasured federal public lands are subject to off vandalism and destruction by all terrain and 4-wheel drive vehicle users. The open serpentine terrain that hosts the rare plant communities is scared with user created routes and tracks. Darlingtonia fens and wet meadow habitat have been permanently impacted by mudding. . Rather than celebrating and preserving the unique public land habitat that gives the area national importance, some residents believe its their right to go wherever they please on National Forest and BLM lands, even when it causes mindless destruction.
Special National Forest and BLM botanical land allocations
The Illinois Valley and immediately surrounding BLM and National Forest lands includes these botanically and biologically rich areas hosting rare plant wetlands, serpentine barrens, old growth forests and the unique Rough and Ready Creek floodplain. From north to south they are:
- Eight Dollar Mountain Botanical Area (Forest Service) and Area of Critical Environmental Concern (BLM),
- Days Gulch Botanical Area (Forest Service),
- Woodcock Bog Research Natural Area (BLM),
- Rough and Ready Creek Botanical Area and Area of Critical Environmental Concern (Forest Service and BLM),
- French Flat Area of Critical Environmental Concern (BLM),
- Waldo/Takilma Proposed Area of Critical Environmental Concern (BLM),
- Oregon Mountain Botanical Area (Forest Service),
- Illinois Valley Botanical Emphasis Area (BLM), and the
- T.J. Howell Botanical Drive (Forest Service)