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

The South Kalmiopsis Explained

It’s a spacious wildland of most uncommon worth and charm, watershed to three National Wild and Scenic Rivers and three U.S. Forest Service Eligible Wild and Scenic Rivers, and home to the highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon and one of the highest in North America.

The South Kalmiopsis is the colloquial name for a geologically complex and unique part of the National Forest system. It’s located in Southwest Oregon’s Wild Rivers Ranger District of the Siskiyou National Forest. For roughly 32 miles, the South Kalmiopsis is contiguous with the east side of the 180,000 acre Kalmiopsis Wilderness, Oregon’s third largest congressionally designated Wilderness Areas.

It’s northern most extent is the direct watershed of the Wild and Scenic Illinois River—just before the river drops into a deep rugged canyon, one of the most remote wild stretches of whitewater in the Pacific Northwest.

From the Wild and Scenic Illinois River, it extend south—across the Inventoried South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area for which its named— to the California/Oregon border. Here its contiguous with the Smith River National Recreation Area for about 8 miles where its watershed to the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River.

On its east side is the 15,000-acre proposed Illinois Valley Salmon and Botanical Area on Public Land managed by the Medford District of the Bureau of Land Management. The salmon and botanical emphasis area includes six Areas of Critical Environmental Concerns and important valley floor spawning and rearing habitat for the Illinois River’s native salmon and steelhead.

The South Kalmiopsis Wildlands includes all or parts of four Inventoried Roadless Areas—the South Kalmiopsis, North Kalmiopsis, Packsaddle and one that needs a name change. Land allocations, include two Late-Successional Forest Reserves, five Botanical Areas and two Research Natural Area and  corridors of the Wild and Scenic Rivers.

The South Kalmiopsis rich in unique wild creeks and rivers with waters renowned for their exceptional clarity.  Three of its stream systems are U.S. Forest Service Candidate Wild and Scenic Rivers—Baldface Creek, a tributary of the North Fork Smith and Rough and Ready and Josephine/Canyon Creeks, tributaries of the Illinois River.

The South Kalmiopsis is also renowned for its rare and endemic plants. The watershed of the West Fork Illinois River and Rough and Ready Creek is home to the highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon.[1]

Josephine Creek has the  highest known concentration of a unique rare plant wetland that’s found only on serpentine terrain in the Klamath-Siskiyou Region.  Five rare plants associated with the serpentine Darlingtonia wetlands are subject to a formal conservation agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the managing agencies.

.There’s just enough road for motorized travel to provide high quality recreation and educational opportunities, while maintaining the integrity of this mostly wild landscape.

With few exceptions, when walking the Kalmiopsis Rim Trail (# 1124) you will not know if you’re in congressionally protected Wilderness or the South Kalmiopsis unless you look at your maps. The north end of the trail along the watershed divide of the Chetco and Illinois River is featured in Tim Palmer’s gorgeous and informative new coffee table book—America’s Great Mountain Trails: 100 highcountry  hikes of a lifetime.

But size and continuity with the Kalmiopsis Wilderness is only one measure of the South Kalmiopsis’ worth. It stands apart from other National Forest wild areas in many ways. It’s a landscape dramatically shaped by its faulted and fractured underlying geology that was once deep beneath the ocean floor.

The Wild and Scenic Rivers

Rough and Ready Creek in the South Kalmio[psis
Rough and Ready Creek is a U.S. Forest Service Eligible Wild and Scenic River
The South Kalmiopsis is watershed to three National Wild and Scenic Rivers—the IllinoisNorth Fork Smith, and Chetco Rivers and three streams the U. S. Forest Service has determined to be eligible to become National Wild and Scenic Rivers. Baldface Creek, Rough and Ready Creek and Josephine/Canyon Creeks all meet the free flowing and nationally outstanding criteria required to be added to the national system of wild and scenic rivers upon congressional action..

Both redder and wilder than the Kalmiopsis Wilderness

In the seminal hiking guide to the Klamath Mountain Province—Hiking the Bigfoot Country—John Hart writes that the South Kalmiopsis is both redder and wilder than the upper Chetco Basin in the adjacent congressionally protected Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Hart describes the South Kalmiopsis as “all tumbled ridges drained by the North Fork Smith River and Rough and Ready Creek.”

This is the climax of peridotite landscape, the stunted yet lovely forests and the enormous reddish vistas of the Josephine Sheet.

What John Hart refers to as the Josephine Sheet is now more accurately known as the serpentine terrain of the Josephine ophiolite. 

You find peridotite/serpentine landscapes in many parts of the Klamath Mountains but no where in those mountains—no where in the United States—can you find so large a region of peridotite so nearly uninterrupted by other kind of stone.

Immediately north of Rough and Ready Creek is the watershed of Josephine Creek and it’s tributaries Canyon and Fiddler Creeks.

In finding Rough and Ready Creek “eligible” to become a stand alone National Wild and Scenic River, the U.S. Forest Service describes its watershed as “epitomizing serpentine/peridotite geology.” It’s watershed is almost entirely underlain by the serpentine terrain of the Josephine ophiolite. 

The extensive underlying serpentine geology, relatively high annual precipitation, relative lack of disturbance and the unrestricted reaches of the mainstem of Rough and Ready Creek make it truly unique. We know of no other stream similar to in the United States.



The South Kalmiopsis is the epitome of what pioneering ecologist Robert Whittaker concluded is,

as dramatic as an expression of [the] relations of natural communities to geological formations as to be found anywhere in the world.

Kalmiopsis Wild
The watershed divide between Baldface Creek and Rough and Ready Creek in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area and the U.S. Forest Service’s recommended 34,000 acre South Kalmiopsis Wilderenss Addition. Barbara Ullian Photo.


Two large Inventoried Roadless Areas surround the 179,000 acre congressionally protected Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The North and South Kalmiopsis—in reality one big wild area—total over 194,000 acres. They’re the largest unprotected national forest wild area in Oregon.

  • South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area – 104,620 acres
  • North Kalmiopsis Roadless Area –   88,582 acres
  • Kalmiopsis Wilderness Addition         1,166 acres

Smaller nearby wild areas

Additional unprotected roadless and wild areas surround the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and the North and South Kalmiopsis. The wild areas are often separated by little more than a narrow road corridor. They include the Packsaddle Roadless Area at over 7,000 acres and the Squaw Mountain Roadless area at 7,700 acres.

Why the Roadless Area Rule does not protect the South Kalmiopsis

The Clinton Roadless Area Conservation Rule is supposed to prevent logging and new road construction in Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRA) such as the South Kalmiopsis. However, it did not prevent post-fire logging in the South or North Kalmiopsis Roadless Areas during the Bush Administration.

The rule also allows motorized recreation in IRAs. Irresponsible off highway vehicle use is seriously impacting the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area’s unique serpentine terrain and rare plant habitat. Even in areas closed to public motorized travel, OHV users are creating new routes, including in the Forest Service recommended South Kalmiopsis Wilderness Additiion. They vandalize gates and vehicle barriers.

OHV activities have resulted in irreversible impacts to many miles of streams in the South Kalmiopsis through the introduction of Port Orford cedar root disease. The non-native pathogen is fatal to Port Orford cedar, which is often the principle riparian conifer along streams flowing through serpentine terrain. See the USDA’s Celebrating Wildflowers on Port Orford cedar.

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule offers no protection from the most significant threat facing the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area—nickel strip mining. The Cleopatra mining project is entirely in the South Kalmiopsis, as well as both proposed mine sites for the RNR mining project at Rough and Ready Creek. Learn more at our Kalmiopsis Rivers website.


[1] Mapping of natural heritage data shows that, with adjacent national forest and BLM lands, the South Kalmiopsis is host to one of the highest concentrations of rare plants in the Klamath-Siskiyou Region and likely North America. The U.S. Forest Service’s West Fork Illinois River Watershed Analysis notes that the West Fork Illinois River Watershed is host to the highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon. Heritage element mapping shows the concentration of rare plants in the Rough and Ready Creek Watershed to be highest of the West Fork Illinois tributaries.