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

Baldface Creek | it's too special to mine

A pristine creek and a wild watershed

Those who know Baldface Creek best, and give it such high praise, are the rugged biologists and stream surveyors who, with mask and snorkel, probe the pristine watery home it provides for some of the last best wild populations of salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout found in the Lower 48 States. According to the USDA Forest Service:

Baldface Creek provides some of the best water quality and fisheries habitat on the Siskiyou National Forest. The world-class fishery on the Smith River depends on the water and fish produced in the Baldface Creek drainage.

This is no small accolade. The Smith River is an icon among California rivers—known for its crystal clear waters and large mint bright salmon and steelhead. And the Siskiyou National Forest has some of the most valuable salmon and steelhead habitat in the nation. It’s home to five National Wild and Scenic Wild and Scenic Rivers—each considered a world-class salmon and steelhead stream.

Recommended as Wilderness

Baldface Creek flows out of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and through the unprotected South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area to join the North Fork of the Smith two miles before the river dives into California and a wild red canyon beloved by the whitewater boating community. Baldface Creek’s watershed and those of the adjacent North and South Forks of Rough and Ready Creek were recommended as the South Kalmiopsis Wilderness Addition a decade ago.

Baldface Creek
During winter storms, water cascade down steep slopes and springs gush from stream banks. The integrity of Baldface Creek’s pristine watershed is reflected in the clarity of its waters, even nearing flood stage.

Threatened by a foreign owned mining company

Despite its high conservation values and Forest Service recommendations, this exceptionally productive tributary of California’s famed Smith River remains unprotected—its future uncertain. A foreign owned mining company has been steadily advancing toward their ultimate goal—to develop and operate a nickel strip mine in the creek’s wild watershed. The Forest Service’s position is they can’t say no to a reasonable mine plan unless the area if withdrawn from mining under the 1872 Mining Law. The time to stop a mine is before it starts. Once mining has begun there’s no way to repair the damage and they’re simply not making anymore pristine places like Baldface Creek and its wild watershed.

The Smith River’s world class fishery depends on Baldface Creek

Forest Service documents use words like “phenomenal” to describe the wild creek’s productivity as a wild salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout nursery.[1]

Baldface Creek
Forest Service planners were so impressed with Baldface Creek, they found the creek and all its perennial tributaries “eligible” to become Wild and Scenic Rivers. Photo J.R. Weir.

Two Forest Service stream surveys and a wild and scenic river “eligibility assessment” form the bases of our knowledge of Baldface Creek. Their conclusion is that Baldface Creek’s aquatic habitat is big, complex and in reference condition (scientific term for pristine). The agency’s eligibility assessment summarized the creek’s importance California’s famous National Wild and Scenic Smith River:

The world-class fishery of the Smith River depends on the water and fish produced in the Baldface [Creek] drainage.[1]

This wild remote creek so impressed U.S. Forest Service Wild and Scenic River planners that they found not only Baldface Creek but all of its perennial tributaries “eligible” to become National Wild and Scenic Rivers with the highest classification of “Wild.” It’s nationally outstanding values are water quality and fisheries. We would add botanical/ecological and scenic.

No place for a nickel mine

The area’s remoteness has preserved it’s high scientific values as a “reference” watershed with outstanding water and fisheries values. But all this could change unless Congress and the Obama Administration acts quickly.

It’s here in the headwaters of California’s Smith River—one of the most precious rivers in the nation—that foreign owned Red Flat Nickel Corporation wants to develop a nickel strip mine and likely an acid heap leap nickel processing facility. The mining proposal is focused on an approximately 4,000 acre block of federal mining claims. The company laid claim to the national forest land in 2007 under provisions of the antiquated 1872 Mining Law. It’s the Forest Service’s position that the agency does not have the authority ot deny what it calls a reasonable mining plan as long as the area is open to mining.

Baldface Creek
The confluence of Baldface and Taylor Creeks, below where Red Flat Nickel Corporation wants to develop the Cleopatra Project—a nickel laterite strip mine.

A wild winter creek revealed

The convergence of a warm dry winter and a wet February storm provided a rare glimpses of the beauty and integrity of this wild creek in winter. J.R. Weir and Daniel Menten, had long dreamed of kayaking Baldface Creek. With an eye ob weather and stream gages, they saw an opening. Dropping everything, they made an epic one day run of Baldface Creek and the Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River—beginning in one of the remotest parts of Oregon and taking out at Gasquet California. J.R. writes:

[Baldface Creek] represents one of the most committing and inaccessible places that you can go in a kayak, and through country that for most, exists only on a map … The scenery was breathtaking. Old growth Port Orford Cedar trees clung to rocks overhanging the creek. Streams and waterfalls poured from banks on both side … Darlingtonia was everywhere.

South Kalmiopsis—wildest and reddest of the Kalmiopsis Wildlands

Baldface Creek flows through the stark, botanically rich serpentine terrain of Southwest Oregon’s South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area, Immediately to the north is the equally wild Rough and Ready Creek country. The two watersheds share a fourteen mile long common boundary with the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.

Baldface Creek
The Baldface Creek Watershed and U.S. Forest Service’s recommended South Kalmiopsis Wilderness Addition with the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in the background.

The U.S. Forest Service has found both Baldface Creek and Rough and Ready Creek nationally outstanding and eligible to be added to the National Wild and Scenic River System and their watersheds are recommended as additions to the congressionally protected Kalmiopsis Wilderness.

 

Baldface Creek
Jeffrey pine, native grasses, wildflowers and buckskin boulders  in the Biscuit Hill area of the U.S. Forest Service’s recommended South Kalmiopsis Wilderness Addition.

What the US Forest Service says about Baldface Creek

While Baldface Creek is a little known gem outside certain circles, it’s the stuff of legends for fisheries biologists, stream ecologists and those who’ve taken the time and effort to penetrate it’s wildness. According to the 1994 USDA Forest Service Wild and Scenic River Eligibility Assessment and other documents:

“Baldface Creek contributes substantially to the world-class fishery of the North Fork Smith River. It provides near-pristine spawning and rearing habitat and is a source of the high quality water on which the anadromous fishery of the Smith River depends.” [1]

“Water quality is good to excellent. Water quality … could be of the highest value for streams in the region … The drainage is locally known to be of exceptional quality for fisheries. The water quality is a major factor in the excellent functioning of this watershed.”[1]

“Of the fish producing streams in the North Fork of the Smith watershed, Baldface Creek is remarkable in its variety of habitats and very high fish productivity potential. There are no known blockages to fish migration in the watershed. The upper limits of distribution for the various species are governed by gradient, flow, and intrinsic migration capabilities of the species.”[3]

“Baldface Creek provides an opportunity to observe the evolution of a pristine watershed.”[1]

“The watershed interior (from ridge lines to canyon bottoms) is roadless.”[2]

“The riparian vegetation found along Baldface Creek is presently in a reference condition that has little or no alteration from human activities”.[2]

“Baldface Creek is considered to be in a reference condition.”[2]

“Stream gradient is mild, the channel is wide, and the aquatic habitats are large and complex”.[2]

“There are numerous small wetlands seeps, Darlingtonia bogs and springs that aid in maintaining lower [water] temperatures.”[1]

Baldface Creek trout
According to the Forest Service, the fish habitat in Baldface Creek is big, complex and pristine.. Fish are found as far up in the watershed as there’s water for them.

Oregon’s Congressional Delegation

Senator Wyden and Congressman DeFazio have long advocated for the protection of Rough and Ready Creek and the surrounding South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area. In November 2009 and April 2010, Senator Merkley joined Senator Wyden and Representative DeFazio in asking the Obama Administration for help in providing interim protection for the Rough and Ready and Baldface Creek areas while congress considered their future protection. In July of 2011, the three Oregon congressional delegation members wrote to the Secretaries yet again. Click on the dates to read the individual requests to the Obama Administration.

Little is known about the groundwater regime of Baldface Creek. Here springs create a grotto, with Darlingtonia growing in niches in the rock face below the Cleopatra mining claims.
Little is known about the complex groundwater regime of Baldface Creek. Here springs form a grotto, with Darlingtonia (cobra lily) occupying  niches in the almost perpendicular rock face.

U.S. Forest Service Recommendations

In 1994, the Siskiyou National Forest completed a Wild and Scenic River Eligibility Assessment and findings for Baldface Creek and its tributaries. The agency’s Wild and Scenic River planners and fisheries biologist were impressed by the creek’s water quality, the numbers of juvenile salmon and trout and the quality of the habitat. Out of recognition of the need to protect these values, the Forest Service found Baldface Creek and all it’s perennial tributaries “eligible” to become a National Wild and Scenic River and to be classified as “Wild.” The “Wild River” classification offers the highest level of protection available, outside of Wilderness, for rivers in the United States.

The 2004 proposed South Kalmiopsis Wilderness Addition includes the Watershed of Baldface Creek, an eligible Wild and Scenic River. NW Rafting Co. Photo
Everything about Baldface Creek is pristine and wild. Natural processes are in full force. Scientist consider both Baldface and its watershed to be in “reference” condition.

In 2004, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Vilsack, recommended Congress add all of the Baldface Creek Watershed and much of the adjacent Rough and Ready Creek Watershed to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Read the Secretary’s Press Release here.  The proposed South Kalmiopsis Wilderness Addition (approximately 34,000 acres) is the largest of four proposed additions to the Wilderness recommended by the Bush Administration.

This page is under construction so please excuse errors or omissions. Please check back soon.

In the media

Baldface Creek, the North Fork Smith River and the proposed Cleopatra Mining Project in the media.

Additional information

Definitions

Reference condition is an ecological term applied to sites in natural or least disturbed conditions. The concept of identifying streams in “reference condition” is to establish controls or benchmarks that represent conditions in unimpaired water bodies, against which the conditions in impaired bodies can be evaluated.

References

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

[2] USDA Forest Service, Level II Stream Survey Baldface Creek, Siskiyou Research Group, July 2005.

[3] USDA Forest Service, North Fork of the Smith River Watershed Analysis, Iteration 1.0, Siskiyou National Forest, October 31, 1995.