A homegrown movement to protect the clear waters and wild rivers of Oregon's Kalmiopsis & Wild Rivers Coast

From headwaters to coast | Kids, communities say no to nickel mines and yes to clean water

We look back to September 11, 2015 on the Wild Rivers Coast. It was one of those days that verged on perfect. The evening before, the Gold Beach hearing for the proposed Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal wowed everyone with the sheer size of the crowd and the overwhelming local support. BLM, Forest Service and congressional staff were there to hear what the public had to say. What they heard was overwhelming local support for closing the Hunter Creek and Pistol River headwaters and the North Fork Smith River, Rough and Ready Creek and Baldface Creek watersheds to mining and doing it for 20 years.

Kalmiopsis Rivers - Grants Pass hearing
Mary Gautreaux, of Senator Wyden’s office, smiles in the background as Grandma Agnes Baker Pilgrim, Takilma Elder, delivers her message about the importance of clean water to all of life at the Grants Pass hearing for the Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal.

To get to the second hearing in Grants Pass, where they were met with an equally enthusiastic crowd, their route would cross four of the rivers that flow from the two areas subject to the proposed withdrawal and through some of the most affected communities.

Kalmiopsis Rivers
The spectacular Wild Rivers Coast and Samuel Boardman State Scenic Area between Gold Beach and Brookings, Oregon. The Red Flat Mining Project is about 7 miles “as a crow flies” inland from Cape Sebastian State Park. Barbara Ullian photo.

Here’s a little of what they saw as they traveled through this remote rugged corner of Southwest Oregon and Northwest California—a region famed for its beautiful Wild and Scenic Rivers, the great clarity of their waters and the wild salmon and steelhead they produce.

From Gold Beach, at the mouth of the world famous Rogue River, their way took them down the beautiful Wild Rivers Coast and through the Samuel Boardman State Park to Brookings at the mouth of the Chetco River. This is one of the most beautiful stretches of the Pacific Coast in the contiguous U.S..

Wild Rivers Coast
The Wild Rivers Coast, near the mouth of the Pistol River, just south of Gold Beach, Oregon, is a favorite of wind surfers, Friends of the Kalmiopsis photo.

First they crossed Hunter Creek and then the Pistol River, where these native salmon streams flow into the Pacific Ocean. It’s in the headwaters of these cherished coastal rivers that Red Flat Nickel Corporation wants to develop the Red Flat Project. This is the first of the two proposed withdrawal areas. It’s a complex of unique serpentine plant communities, springs and rare plant wetlands.  Many homes downstream get their drinking water from wells along Hunter Creek and the Pistol River. Residents in the area oppose the mine and support the withdrawal.

Kalmiopsis Rivers
The headwaters of Hunter Creek is where Red Flat Nickel Corporation wants to develop a nickel laterite strip mine. Ken Morris photo.

Next, immediately south of Brookings, they crossed the Chetco River. In 2013, the Scenic and Recreation Sections of the Wild and Scenic Chetco were temporarily withdrawn from the 1872 Mining Law for five years. This action also enjoyed overwhelming public support. Seventeen miles of this beautiful world-class salmon and steelhead river would be permanently protected from mining in the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act (H.R. 682 and S. 346).

Wild Rivers Coast
The boat basin at Harbor, Oregon on the mount of the Chetco River during the annual salmon derby.Friends of the Kalmiopsis photo.

After crossing into California, their way turned away from the coast and into the Redwood National and State Parks. Then through the communities Hiouchi and Gasquet and up the Wild and Scenic Smith River canyon in the Smith River National Recreation Area. All 305,000 acres of National Forest lands in the Smith River’s watershed in California were withdrawn from the mining laws in 1990. Unfortunately—because half of the North Fork Smith River’s watershed lies in Oregon and 30,000 acres of it is open to mining—the National Recreation Area Act did not entirely result in protecting the Smith River.

Wild Rivers Coast
The National Wild and Scenic Smith River downstream of the proposed Cleopatra Project, flows through the Redwood State and National Parks. Friends of the Kalmiopsis

Crescent City, the National and State Parks and Hiouchi all get their drinking water from the Smith River downstream of the Cleopatra Project. It’s the second nickel laterite mine project owned by the foreign owned Red Flat Nickel Corporation.

National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River
The stark rugged serpentine terrain of the Kalmiopsis Wildlands stands in sharp contrast to the lush adjacent forests of the Wild Rivers Coast. But the rivers that flow though it—like the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River below—provide downstream communities with some of the cleanest drinking water in the nation. Jon Parmentor photo.

While the  Cleopatra Project claims group (2,800 acres) is in Oregon’s half of the North Fork Smith River watershed, little Gasquet, California—about 11 miles as the crow flies to the south—would be on the front lines. The Cleopatra Project claims are entirely within the pristine watersheds of the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River and Baldface Creek and the Inventoried South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area. The North Fork Smith is Gasquet’s drinking source.

Kalmiopsis Rivers
Congress protected all National Forest lands in the Smith River watershed in California but not in Oregon’s pristine headwaters of the North Fork Smith. The Smith is a wild salmon and steelhead refuge. Cal Trout photo of one of the Smith River’s beautiful steelhead.

The list of official support for the proposed withdrawal in Northwest California and Del Norte County is impressive. Go to our Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal page and scroll down.

Rough and Ready Creek
The geologically unique floodplain of Rough and Ready Creek, looks a bit like a desert but looks can be deceiving. It’s a botanical wonderland and favorite community open space that can get 80 to 90 inches of rain annually. Friends of the Kalmiopsis.

Finally, the hearing officials’ route took them back to Oregon and into the watershed of the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River, the largest tributary of the lower Rogue River, and through the Illinois River Valley. The week before, the Cave Junction City Council voted to support both the proposed Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal and the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act (H. R. 682 and S. 346). See Cave Junction;s letter of support.

The Redwood Highway takes you across the West Fork Illinois River twice. In between is the otherworldly, bouldery floodplain of Rough and Ready Creek. The West Fork Illinois River and Rough and Ready Creek watershed is host to the greatest concentrations of rare plants in Oregon. For more than two decades citizen’s have been fighting to protect Rough and Ready Creek from two nickel laterite mine proposals—the Nicore and RNR Projects— and the largest-known mineral patent application for a metal mine in the nation.

Rough and Ready Creek
Crossing Rough and Ready Creek on the Redwood Highway in late summer there’s little evidence of water. However, upstream are deep, beautiful pools of great clarity. Friends of the Kalmiopsis

The Rough and Ready Creek watershed, the botanically rich serpentine terrain of the West Fork Illinois River and the North Fork Smith watershed makes up the second of the two proposed Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal areas. The two withdrawal areas encompass a little over 101,000 acres of the Siskiyou National Forest and Medford and Coos Bay Districts BLM. The conservation value of these lands is  exceptional and they produce some of the cleanest drinking water in the nation.

Illinois River Valley
Cave Junction in the Illinois River Valley would be most impacted by a proposed nickel mine at Rough and Ready Creek. The City Council voted to support the proposed mineral withdrawal. Friend of the Kalmiopsis. Friends of the Kalmiopisis
The message is simple "support mineral withdrawal."
The message is simple “support the mineral withdrawal, protect clean water and fish”

From the headwaters to the coast the message was the same — “no to nickel mines, yes to protecting  clean water, our beautiful National Wild and Scenic Rivers and wild salmon and steelhead. Approximately 250 people attended each hearing. of those who spoke there were only three who opposed the withdrawal.

At the Grants Pass hearing, giant tree puppets with, “No Nickel Mine,” signs, huge peace doves and smiling, cheering folk of all ages and walks of life greeted those that had traveled from Del Norte and Curry counties to join their voices with those in Josephine County. The positive energy and sense of community was palpable and continued through the hearing.

There were a few grumbling nay sayers. They were heard with the same respect and  courtesy accorded those testifying in favor of the withdrawal. The count was about 250 in attendance, three spoke in opposition to the mineral withdrawal.


Kalmiopsis Rivers
The meeting room at the Grants Pass withdrawal hearing wasn’t large enough to hold the crowd. Many supporters remained outside on the streets.
Kalmiopsis Rivers
Smiling, sign waving supporters of the proposed mineral withdrawal greeted those attending the Grants Pass hearing.
Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal
Isadora Millay, speaking in support of the Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal at the Grants Pass hearing.
Kalmiopsis Rivers
Lilyana Molyneaux, is 15 and also from the Illinois River Valley. Like Isodora she did all her own research and wrote the testimony she gave at the Grants Pass hearing in support of the proposed mineral withdrawal.
Kalmiopsis Rivers
Harvey Young, dad, river guide and native son  testified next. He had the hardest act to follow and asked for a second round of applause for all the amazing young people who’d gone before him.
Kalmiopsis Rivers
The Smith River, downstream of one of the proposed mine areas (the Cleopatra Project), is the water source for the citizens of Crescent City. The City Council opposed the nickel mining early on.
Kalmiopsis Rivers
Rick Bennett lives along the North Fork Smith River about 17 miles downstream of the Cleopatra Mine Project. He spoke for his neighbors, all who get their drinking water from one of the cleanest rivers in the nation.
Kalmiopsis Rivers
Dave Lacey, dad, guide and Hunter Creek River resident, is concerned about the impacts of the proposed nickel mine in his aeaa on the rivers, local economy and the healthy environment where he works, lives and is raising his family.

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