A homegrown movement to protect the pure waters & famed rivers of Southwest Oregon's Kalmiopsis - Wild Rivers Coast Region

The Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks Watershed Mineral Withdrawal Area | it's too special to mine

The largest of two proposed Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal Areas is an ancient wild land of rock, gnarled pine and cedar, rare plant wetlands and native bunch grass savannas. But what makes the 73,000-acre Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks Withdrawal Area so exceptional is the beautiful and unique rivers and creeks that flow through it. They have some of the cleanest, clearest water in the nation. Wild salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout roam pristine streams, as they have for thousands of years and the rarest of plants line creek banks or find refuge among the abundant buckskin-colored boulders, as they have for millennia.

This unique, remote corner of the Siskiyou National Forest and adjacent BLM-managed lands has some of the highest conservation values of any area its size on the West Coast and is a source of clean drinking water for downstream communities. It’s one of two areas subject to the proposed Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal and the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act. To learn about the Hunter Creek and North Fork Pistol River Headwaters Withdrawal Area click here

Rough and Ready Creek in the Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal Area
Rough and Ready Creek in the proposed Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal Area. The creek is a tributary of the West Fork Illinois River (a tributary of the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River) and a USFS Eligible Wild and Scenic River. Rough and Ready Creek is known for its exceptionally clear water and high concentrations of rare plants. Barbara Ullian

Location

The Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks Withdrawal Area is located in Josephine and Curry counties on the California/Oregon border. It’s directly adjacent to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and the Smith River National Recreation Area, sharing a 20-mile long common boundary with the former and a 14-mile common boundary with the latter.

The withdrawal area is mostly underlain by an ancient geologic feature known as the Josephine ophiolite. It’s the youngest of four ophiolites found in the greater Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion and host to one of the highest concentrations of rare plants in North America.[1] Learn more about the stark beauty botanical richness of the Klamath-Siskiyou Serpentines here.

The National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River and Baldface Creek Watersheds

About half of the proposed withdrawal area is the unprotected watershed of the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River, including Baldface Creek. Baldface Creek and all its perennial tributaries are U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Eligible Wild and Scenic Rivers.

Baldface Creek
Baldface Creek in the largest of two Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal Areas. The creek is a tributary of the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River, a USFS Eligible Wild and Scenic River and one of the most productive tributaries of the famed Wild and Scenic Smith River. J.R. Weir

This southernmost part of the withdrawal area is directly adjacent to the Smith River National Recreation Area in California. It’s the only National Forest land in the Smith River watershed that has no protection from mining, although most is either in the Inventoried South Kalmiopsis and Packsaddle Roadless Areas.

The West Fork Illinois River and Rough and Ready Creek Watersheds

Wild azalea and the West Fork Illinois River
Wild azalea on the West Fork Illinois River in the proposed Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal Area.

The north and eastern most part of the proposed withdrawal area encompasses the serpentine terrain of the West Fork Illinois River, including all of the Rough and Ready Creek watershed. Like Baldface Creek, Rough and Ready Creek is a USFS Eligible Wild and Scenic River.

This part of the Rough and Ready and Baldface Creek Withdrawal Area is home to the highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon. It includes two U.S. Forest Service Special Interest Botanical Areas, two BLM Areas of Critical Environmental Concern and a Research Natural Area with the creek’s remote headwaters  yet to be explored. Much of this part of the proposed withdrawal area is also in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area.

There is a place, like no place on earth, full of mystery and wonder 

A rare geology, coastal influenced climate and millions of years of unbroken evolution—combined with its size continuity and near-pristine condition—have resulted in a wild one-of-a-kind landscape of mystery and complexity.

The Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks Withdrawal Area is spare, rugged, and with few exceptions, desert-like in appearance. But it’s no desert. Even the easternmost edges can get 100 inches of annual precipitation, with the uplands receiving 160 or more inches.

Springs and wetlands dot the landscape, populated with carnivorous plants. What grows here has evolved to endure the mineral imbalances of its ancient red soils, high surface rock content, and both drought and deluge.

biscuit-hill_1016-aw
Pictured – Jeffrey pine, native bunchgrass, rare wildflowers and an abundance of buckskin colored boulders in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area and Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks Withdrawal Area.

But among the buckskin boulders, under gnarled pine, in wetlands or growing out of seemingly solid rock you’ll find the highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon. Springs emerge on ridge tops, or along the streams, forming one of the rarest habitat types in North America—the Serpentine Darlingtonia Wetland. These springs not only nourish plants found nowhere else in the world, they also are a source of cool water that provide unspoiled refugia for salmon, trout and other aquatic species during the hot summers. 

A serpentine Darlingtonia wetland at Rough and Ready Creek.
A streamside serpentine Darlingtonia wetland at No Name Creek in the Rough an Ready Creek Botanical Area. A mine haul route is proposed for this area.

The Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks Withdrawal Area is spare, lean and desert-like in appearance. This is not due to a lack of rainfall however, but to the mineral imbalances of its rare serpentine soils. Even the eastern most edges can get 100 inches of precipitation annually, with the uplands receiving 160 or more inches. A little to the south, 244 inches of rain were recorded at Gasquet Mountain in the North Fork Smith River watershed.

Special conservation value 

The conservation values packed within the Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks proposed withdrawal area are impressive and there’s still vast areas to explore. The 73,000 acres includes:

  • 6.5 miles of the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River;
  • Two USFS Eligible Wild and Scenic Rivers (Baldface Creek and Rough and Ready Creek;
  • Well over a hundred miles of streams (including pristine to near pristine habitat for coho and chinook salmon and steelhead and cutthroat trout;
  • All or a large part of two USFS Inventoried Roadless Areas (The South Kalmiopsis and Packsaddle);
  • The USFS proposed 34,153 acre South Kalmiopsis Wilderness Addition with additional adjacent lands found to have high wilderness character;
  • Six Botanical Special Interest and Research Natural Areas:
  • Numerous rare plant wetlands known Serpentine preconception Fens that are subject to a United State Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation Agreement;
  • Habitat for coho salmon, which are protected as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act and three rare plant species—two of which are protected as “threatened” under the ESA and one that is protected as “endangered” under the ESA.

Clean drinking water for thousands

The Rough and Ready and Baldface Creek proposed withdrawal area is a source of some of the cleanest drinking water in the nation. The North Fork Smith River, is the direct drinking water source for the community of Gasquet, California and an important contributor of clean, clear water to the Smith River, the drinking water source for much of Del Norte County.

Rough and Ready Creek and the West Fork Illinois River provide drinking water through wells, which tap into associated groundwater.

Access

Few roads penetrate the rugged wild area. Most motorized access is by way of the few native surface or gravel roads suitable only for high clearance vehicles and trails. The only exception is the Redwood Highway (199), a short segment of which crosses the BLM’s Rough and Ready Creek ACEC where one can park and walk on federal public lands to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and beyond.

The ever present threat of nickel strip mines

The rare and ancient geology that’s foundational to the area’s uniqueness is also responsible for the greatest threat to its exceptional conservation values and the clean, clear drinking water it provides to thousands in downstream communities.  Mining companies are seeking to develop nickel strip mines in the Rough and Ready Creek watershed, a tributary to the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River and Baldface Creek a tributary to the National Wild and Scenic North Fork, Middle Fork and Mainstem Smith River.

A wild creek for all

Rough and Ready Creek is the most accessible part of the proposed withdrawal area. While there are few roads in its watershed one can park just off the Redwood Highway and walk for miles without leaving BLM or National Forest lands. The Rough and Ready Creek State Botanical Area and BLM Area of Critical Environmental Concern offer gentle walks and a wheel chair accessible trails. The Chetco Divide Trail follows the watershed divide between Rough and Ready Creek and Baldface Creek to Doe Gap where it meets the Kalmiopsis Rim Trail. Here the watersheds of the Wild and Scenic Chetco, Smith and Illinois Rivers meet.

A subtle complex beauty 

To the uninitiated, this strange land is difficult to explain or categorize. While mostly National Forest land, you will not find vast stretches of verdant green conifer forests so common to the Pacfic Northwest,  But if you come with an open mind and without expectation or preconception—if you immerse yourself in its deep silences, complexities, subtle beauty and mystery—you will know it must be protected, preserved and cherished.

Map | Rough and Ready and Baldface Creek Watershed Withdrawal Area

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Click map and here, for larger image.

 

Learn more about the proposed Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal

The purpose of the proposed Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal is to preserve the existing condition of the two withdrawal areas—the Hunter Creek and North Fork Pistol River Headwaters and the larger Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks Watershed Area—while congress considers legislation to permanently protect them from mining.

Notes

[1] John O. Sawyer, A Botanical El Dorado, in Mountains and Rivers, Fall 2000, Vol. 1, No. 1. John Sawyer was Professor Emeritus of Biology at Humboldt State University. More about Professor Swayer here and his most recent book Northern California: A Natural History here.

[2] With apologies to Lewis Carroll for so loosely paraphrasing his “There is a place. Like no place on Earth. A land full of wonder, mystery, and danger! Some say to survive it: You need to be as mad as a hatter” from Alice and Wonderland. 

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