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

Rough & Ready Creek | it's too special to mine

The purest of waters | renowned botanical richness

Rough and Read Creek flows through the wilds of the unprotected South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area, and then in great sweeping bends onto a broad, unique, bouldery floodplain where it meets civilization. There is nowhere like it on earth. But this beloved wild creek—and the rocky, otherworldly watershed it flows through—is as endangered as it is botanically rich.

Rough and Ready Creek
Proof of U. S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management praise that Rough and Ready Creek has exceptional water quality that stays clear even after storms. Barbara Ullian photo.

Rough and Ready Creek’s waters are gin clear, a reflection of its near-pristine watershed. Its flood plain is a beloved community open space and outdoor classroom where the creek’s  conservation was first sought by the Illinois Valley Garden Club in the 1930’s.

The clarity of Rough and Ready Creek approaches that of distilled water.
The clarity of Rough and Ready Creek approaches that of distilled water.

Home to highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon

The Rough and Ready Creek area’s serpentine terrain is desert-like in appearance but even the watershed’s lower elevations can get as much as 110 inches of precipitation annually and it’s home to the highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon[1 & 3] , The creek’s watershed is a meeting ground for a rich diversity of plant life from such desperate regions as the deserts of the Great Basin and fog shrouded forests of the coast.

More oasis than desert, Rough and Ready Creek’s banks and uplands are dotted with springs that form Serpentine Darlingtonia Wetlands – one of North America’s rarest vegetation types.

One of the lush Serpentine Darlingtonia Wetlands along Rough an Ready Creek. A mine haul route proposed for this area would destroy the rare plant wetland.

Strip mining paradise | an ever looming storm

From its headwaters in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness to its confluence with the West Fork Illinois River, Rough and Ready Creek’s watershed (except for about 1,000 acres) is publicly owned and managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. The public ownership is the reason so much of its botanically unique floodplain has been preserved, providing a park-like, accessible open space for residents and the general public to enjoy and learn about the area’s rare serpentine environment. Click here to learn about the three Rough and Ready Creek botanical area designations.

Rough and Ready Creek's botanically rich floodplain is thought to be unique in the world. It's also a favorite open space for area residents.
Rough and Ready Creek’s botanically rich floodplain is thought to be unique in the world. It’s a BLM Area of Critical Environmental Concern and a favorite open space for Southwest Oregon residents.

But the public ownership also holds Rough and Ready Creek’s greatest risk. This is because mining on National Forest and BLM lands in the west is still governed by the 1872 Mining Law. Under the archaic law, mining is treated as the highest and best use of the public’s land, which can be sold for as little at $2,50 per acre, thus becoming private property. And that’s what a mining company is try to do at Rough and Ready Creek. Click here to learn about the stranglehold the 1872 Mining Law has on public lands in the west.

Laying claim to the land

To gain absolute control over Rough and Ready Creek, in 1992 the proponent of the Nicore Project, a proposed nickel strip mine, applied to purchase over 4,000 acres of the National Forest and BLM lands for $2.50 per acre, under the patenting provision of 1872 Mining Law. It the patent is ever granted, the mining company would obtain title to over 4,000 acres of some of the most botanically rich land in Oregon and the wild river that flows through it.

At the same time a plan was submitted to the Forest Service to mine the creek’s watershed in four places. This required miles of ore haul roads along and through Rough and Ready Creek and its tributaries. The Forest Service’s response was to ask for more and better information about the mine. Most notably missing from the Nicore Mine Plan was how, when, and where the nickel laterite soils would be processed

In 2004, the U. S. Forest Service proposed that congress add 34,000 acres to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness including the watershed divide between Rough and Ready Creek and Baldface Creek. Northwest Rafting Company Photo.
In 2004, the U. S. Forest Service proposed that congress add 34,000 acres to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness including the watershed divide between Rough and Ready Creek and Baldface Creek. Northwest Rafting Company Photo.

The Forest Service’s decision states that they did not select any, full scale mining alternatives

“because the economic and operational uncertainties were to great, compared with the extremely high scientific, social, and ecological values that would be placed at risk.” [1]

There are ongoing lawsuits over the proposed Nicore Mine and the validity of 5,000 acres of mining claims. Then in 2011, Nicore’s owner formed RNR Resources and submitted a new plan to mine the area. This time it includes the construction of a smelter on the Rough and Ready Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern.

The Rough and Ready Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern, where the nickel smelter is proposed for, is a favorite community open space and outdoor classroom.
The Rough and Ready Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern—where the nickel smelter is proposed—is a favorite community open space and outdoor classroom.

The RNR Mine Project

The RNR Mine Project is stalled, with the Forest Service asking for more information about the proposal and for RNR Resources to submit a plan for a pilot processing facility before moving to full scale mining. RNR Resources is arguing in the federal courts that the agency denied the proposed mine and because of this they’re owed $600,000,000. The Forest Service says it’s trying to work with the proponent to develop the mine project in a logical, orderly manner.

In any case, as long as the Rough and Ready Creek watershed and surrounding area remain open to mining under the 1872 Mining Law, it could be strip mined out of existence, including by foreign owned mining companies as we’re seeing next door in the Baldface Creek/North Fork Smith watershed. Learn more about the RNR Mine Project here and here.

Protection | Public and political support

We know of no other place that has had such widespread local public and strong political support for its protection but remains at risk of being strip mined and roaded to death.

Rough and Ready Creek made headlines in the 1990s
In the 1990s, protecting Rough and Ready Creek was front page. Public and political support was overwhelming but using it in 2000 as a reason to designate a national monument set the effort back.

The political will to protect Rough and Ready Creek is there. For example in 1999, Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden wrote this to President Clinton

I have been working with Congressman DeFazio, local conservationist and your administration for the past two years in an effort to prevent damage to the Rough and Ready Creek watershed from speculative mining operations. It is imperative that the area’s water quality, special biodiversity and recreational opportunities be protected. As this effort continues, it is clear that special protective status for this area will further these efforts.

Rough and Ready Creek is the only one of the five areas mentioned in Senator Wyden’s letter to the President that has yet to be permanently protected. Read Senator Wyden’s letter to the President.

Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River Recommendations

In 1994, the U.S. Forest Service found Rough and Ready Creek “eligible” to become a Wild and Scenic River. In 2004, the Secretary of Agriculture recommended Wilderness designation for the watersheds of the North and South Forks of Rough and Ready Creek and Baldface Creek. Check out our webpage with the backstory and supporting documents on the U.S. Forest Service’s 2004 proposed Kalmiopsis Wilderness Additions. Click here and here for Northwest Rafting Company’s trip reports for Rough and Ready Creek.

Rough and Ready Creek ACEC

Renewing requests to withdraw the Rough and Ready Creek area from mining

Rough and Ready Creek
California Lady Slipper Orchids/Rough and Ready Creek.

In 1998, Representative Peter DeFazio, with Senator Wyden, led the charge against the proposed nickel mining at Rough and Ready Creek. And they’re still leading the charge, Read their 2010 letter to the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior. In it Senators Wyden and Merkley and Represetnative DeFazio write:

“The Rough and Ready Creek Watershed is one of the most botanically diverse areas on the West Coast and is eligible to be added to the National Wild and Scenic River System. The Forest Service has already contributed substantial resources to studying the area and has confirmed that the Rough and Ready Creek Watershed contains “incredible natural values” and mining in the area would result in “irreversible and significant” impacts.

The letter also states that:

“The unique resource values of the Rough and Ready Creek Watershed are threatened by the prospect of a large nickel mining operation. This operation has been widely opposed by the local population due to its potential health and environmental impacts and cost to taxpayers. In 2003 through 2005, the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to conduct a complex mineral exam of the 161 mining claims in the area. The claims were found not valid. Despite this great expense to the public, the area remains open to new mining claims – which could result in additional mining proposals and possibly set up another round of expensive and duplicative mineral exams and mining plan analysis at great cost to taxpayers.”

July 2015 update | legislation introduced | withdrawal proposed | learn how you can help

Go to our protection effort page for the big news and then help us permanently protect Rough and Ready Creek.

At Rough and Ready Creek, even the rocks bloom, Rough and Ready Creek Botanical Area. Barbara Ullian photo
At Rough and Ready Creek, even the rocks bloom, Rough and Ready Creek Botanical Area. Barbara Ullian photo

Notes

[1] USDA Forest Service, 1999 Nicore Mining Plan of Operation Final Environmental Impact Statement Record of Decision, R6-11-007-99, Siskiyou National Forest.

[2] USDI Bureau of Land Management, 1998 Management Plan and Environmental Assessment for the Rough and Ready Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern.

[3] The Forest Service’s Celebrating Wildflowers Rough and Ready Creek page lists precipitation at Rough and Ready Creek’s lower reach as 60 to 70 inches. However, resident’s in the area who keep meticulous records have measured more that 110 inches of annual precipitation. The headwaters of Rough and Ready Creek are more coastal and receive even greater amounts.

[4] John Sawyer 2000, “A Botanical El Dorado,” in Mountains and Rivers, Vol 1, No. 1, Fall 2000. John Sawyer