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

The Kalmiopsis and Wild Rivers Coast Regions

The Kalmiopsis is a distinct geographic region a little inland from the Wild River Coast of southwest Oregon and northwest California. Located in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains, and almost entirely within the Siskiyou National Forest, it consists of the congressionally protected Kalmiopsis Wilderness, surrounded by large, equally wild but unprotected Roadless Areas, bordered by Areas of Critical Environmental Concern and Botanical Areas.

Named for one of the rarest plants on earth, the Kalmiopsis (pronounced Kal-me-opsis) is steep, lean and wild in the extreme. It’s the rugged backcountry to the lush green, of a spectacular coastline with its small communities, state and national parks, private and national forests and public lands. But most important the Kalmiopsis region is the home and headwaters to some of the most unique and beautiful rivers in the nation.

Rough and Ready Creek
Rough and Ready Creek in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area flows almost entirely through stark serpentine. Desert-like in appearance, even at low elevations it can get 110 inches of precipitation annually. Barbara Ullian Photo

The clearest of water and wildest of salmon and steelhead

The abundant streams flowing from the Kalmiopsis region boast some of the clearest, cleanest waters in the nation. Three National Wild and Scenic Rivers  and their tributaries provide pristine habitat and refuge for renowned runs of wild salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout. 

The riches of rivers, salmon and clean water provided by this remote wilderness, and smaller free-flowing coastal streams like Hunter Creek and the Pistol River, are essential to the economy and livability of the Wild Rivers Coast.

Hunter Creek
Immediately west of the Kalmiopsis, are Hunter Creek and the Pistol River, free-flowing native salmon and steelhead streams that enter the Pacific Ocean a little South of Gold Beach along the spectacular Wild Rivers Coast. US Forest Service photo

The Kalmiopsis serpentines

The unique serpentine geology that sets much of the Kalmiopsis apart from the deep green of the surrounding mixed evergreen forests is a little understood scientific wonderland. Growing amongst the ancient rock of this almost desert-like landscape are some of the rarest plants on earth. Unique wetlands—with insectivorous plants and ancient cedar—are found on ridge tops, as well as well as, along the region’s creeks and rivers.

South Kalmiopsis
The stark serpentine terrain of the South Kalmiopsis may appear desert-like but it can receive 100 to 160 inches of precipitation annually. It’s a one-of-a-kind refuge for rare plants, pure water and beautiful streams. Barbara Ullian photo

The rocky serpentine terrain serves as a vast sponge, recharging a complex groundwater system that provides pure water for fish, rare plants and downstream communities. There is quite simply no place like it.

Kalmiopsis Rivers
The stark serpentine terrain of the Kalmiopsis Wilderenss and adjacent South Kalmiopsis and Packsaddle Roadless Areas sets the Kalmiopsis region apart from the surrounding lush forests of the Wild River Coast. But it’s from the Kalmiopsis that some of the clearest cleanest rivers in the nation flow. Nate Wilson photo

The Kalmiopsis wild lands

The Kalmiopsis Wilderness lies at the region’s heart. But surrounding the congressionally protected Wilderness are the North and South Kalmiopsis Roadless Areas. Together they are the largest unprotected National Forest wild area adjacent to designated Wilderness in Oregon and on the West Coast, south of the Olympics. Smaller adjacent Roadless Areas, such as Packsaddle, are often separated from the whole by a narrow ribbon of road. Around the wild edges of the greater Kalmiopsis are numerous Botanical Areas and Areas of Critical Environmental Concern.

Rough and Ready Creek
In sharp contrast to the desert-like appearance of much of the Kalmiopsis are springs that form rare plant wetlands populated with lilies, orchids, wild azalea and the insectivorous rhododendron rhododendron (aka Cobra lily). These lush lovely, soggy habitats are one of the rarest vegetation types in North America They’re found along streams and dotted throughout the spare serpentine landscape of the Kalmiopsis region. Barbara Ullian photo

The Kalmiopsis rivers

While legendary for its rare plants, and named for one of the rarest (Kalmiopsis leachiana), most people know Kalmiopsis best for the rivers that flow through it—the National Wild and Scenic Illinois, Chetco and North Fork Smith rivers.

The Kalmiopsis is also home to five U.S. Forest Service Eligible Wild and Scenic Rivers that meet the criteria needed to become National Wild and Scenic Rivers. They are: Baldface Creek, Rough and Ready Creek, Josephine/Canyon Creeks, Silver Creek and Indigo Creeks. 

Rough and Ready Creek
The North Fork of Rough and Ready in the South Kalmiopsis is a US Forest Service Eligible Wild and Scenic River and recommended Wilderness addition to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. One of RNR Resources nickel strip mines is proposed above it. Northwest Rafting Co. photo.

These rivers and their tributaries flow without high dams to the Pacific Ocean. Combine these unique river systems with the nearby National Wild and Scenic Rogue, Elk and Smith Rivers—and smaller priceless native salmon and streams like Hunter Creek, the Pistol River and the Winchuck River—and you have a wealth rivers like none other on the West Coast,

The boat basin at the mouth of the Chetco River during the annual Salmon Derby. The world class salmon and steelhead runs of the Wild Rivers Coast are a key component of the economy of the Wild Rivers Coast. Barbara Ullian photo
The boat basin at the mouth of the Chetco River during the annual Salmon Derby. The world class salmon and steelhead runs of the rivers flowing out of the Kalmiopsis region are a key component of the economy of the Wild Rivers Coast. Barbara Ullian photo

The Wild Rivers Coast

Gradually, the leanness of Kalmiopsis—with its deep river canyons and slopes beyond the angle of repose—gives way to a spectacular coastlineSamuel Boardman and other State Parks preserve much of it, providing a wealth of public access to beautiful beaches and remote stretches of coast. Remnants of a great redwood forest are preserved in Redwood National and State Parks.  The 305,000 acre Smith River National Recreation Area shelters the watershed National Wild and Scenic Smith Rive system in California by protecting all of the river’s National Forest lands in that state.

Wild Rivers Coast
It’s geology and not precipitation that sets the open forests of the Kalmiopsis region apart from the lushness of the Wild Rivers Coast. Pictured –  Redwood National Park, a little south and west of the Kalmiopsis, along the California section of the Wild Rivers Coast. Barbara Ullian photo.

An un-paralleled conservation opportunity

The greater Kalmiopsis Region and the Wild Rivers Coast offers a one-of-a-kind conservation opportunity to protect unique free flowing river systems, their wild National Forest watersheds and native runs of salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout.