The Chetco River is one of three congressionally designated National Wild and Scenic River that flow through the Kalmiopsis Wildlands. The high percentage of Congressionally designated Wilderness and other National Forest lands in its watershed is a rarity on the West Coast, south of the Olympic Peninsula. It’s rivaled only in this only by Oregon’s Illinois River. The Chetco flows into the Pacific Ocean at Brookings, Oregon.
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.
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. 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. 192).
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 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 roadless area lands (21%).
Most Congressionally Wilderness in the Western United States 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 exceptional water quality and robust runs of wild salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout are a reflection of the high percent of of undisturbed National Forest land in its watershed.
Learn more about the National Wild & Scenic Chetco River and its wild watershed
- Click here to go to Save Our Chetco River about the effort to protect the river from instream gold mining.
- See Northwest Rafting Company’s Chetco River Exploratory trip report
- See Sundance Kayak School’s Chetco River trip report (note this report is about five amazing women who pack their kayaks into the Kalmiopsis Wilderenss to run the Wild Chetco River)
- Read about Siskiyou Mountain Club’s heroic work to restore the trans Kalmiopsis trail, which provides access to the Chetco River in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.
- River of Dreams: Traversing Oregon’s Kalmiopsis Wilderness
Top photo by Northwest Rafting Company