The Hunter Creek and Pistol River Headwaters Mineral Withdrawal Area is located about 10 miles southeast of Gold Beach, Oregon and about 7 miles inland from Cape Sebastian State Park and the spectacular Wild Rivers Coast of Southwest Oregon and Northwest California. It’s one of three special areas proposed for permanent withdrawal by the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act and one of two areas proposed for an interim administrative withdrawal by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in the 2015 Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal.
The approximately 23,800 acres of unique near coastal mountain terrain is underlain by serpentine soils that make for unusual and distinctive plant communities. It’s also the headwaters of two special native salmon and steelhead streams that flow directly into the Pacific Ocean.
The Hunter Creek and Pistol River Headwaters Area is mostly within the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest but also included adjacent lands managed by the Coos Bay District of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Areas of Critical Environmental Concern
The BLM’s Hunter Creek Bog and North Fork Hunter Creek Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) total 2,646 acres within the headwaters withdrawal area. These botanically unique lands were nominated as ACECs in the 1980s by the local Kalmiopsis Audubon Society and the Innominata Garden Club, under the leadership of local botanist Veva Stansell and naturalist Fred Bowen. Their purpose is to protect rare near coastal serpentine plant communities. Despite their ecological importance, both remain open to mining.
National Forest Botanical Areas
The National Forest lands of the Hunter Creek and Pistol River headwaters also have significant botanical values. In recognition of this, the 1989 Siskiyou National Forest Plan proposed designating the 7,172-acre Red Flat Botanical Area. However, the final decision resulted in only 53 acres being protected. Now all is threatened by the Red Flat Project, a foreign-owned company’s plans for mineral exploration with the goal of developing a nickel strip mine in this critical headwaters of Hunter Creek and the North Fork Pistol River.
As an extension of the North Fork Hunter Creek ACEC, citizens have proposed designation of the Veva Stansell Botanical Area on National Forest lands. The 4,094-acre area on the slopes of Signal Butte hosts the westernmost Jeffrey Pine savannas as well as other distinctive plant communities unique to serpentine terrain and maritime climate influence. To learn more about the special values of these National Forest botanical areas and about renowned and beloved local botanist Veva Stansell click here.
Headwaters of native salmon and steelhead streams
While less well-known than the larger rivers of Southwest Oregon, Hunter Creek and Pistol River host important runs of native salmon, steelhead, and cutthroat.
Chinook, coho, steelhead and cutthroat are all present in both Hunter Creek and Pistol River. While chinook and coho primarily use the lower basins, they depend on the intact ecosystem of the upper basin for clean and cold water. Winter steelhead and cutthroat inhabit tributaries throughout both stream systems. Additionally, both host fish with a diverse collection of life histories, including fall steelhead, sea run and resident coastal cutthroat and resident rainbow trout.
The Hunter Creek and Pistol River coho are part of the federally threatened Southern Oregon Northern California Coastal Coho (SONCC) ESU, and the small remaining runs in both streams are recognized as dependent populations that help with interconnectivity to independent runs in larger river systems to the north and south.
Winter steelhead are state sensitive (vulnerable) species and a federal Species of Concern, and Coastal cutthroat trout are a federal Species of Concern.
Source of Drinking Water
Hunter Creek and Pistol River flow with pure water—fed year round by springs on the National Forest and BLM lands in their headwaters. Lower Hunter Creek and Pistol River watersheds encompass industrial forestlands, ranches, and numerous private residences. The ranches and many of the residences draw drinking water from shallow wells that are likely affected by the stream water quantity and quality.
A recent survey of wells in the two watersheds conducted by a local resident found 266 wells that could potentially be impacted by the risk of contamination if a strip mine and nickel processing facilities were developed at the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the North Fork of Pistol River.
Legacy of Mining Damage Shows Risk
The same serpentine soils that support high plant biodiversity at the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the North Fork of Pistol River have long attracted mining interests. In the 1950s, prospectors sampled the area, finding only low-grade ores, but the network of roads and test sites they made in the fragile soils still scars the land. After more than five decades, no vegetation has ever grown back in the bare and exposed soils, providing a window to the difficulty of reclaiming such serpentine sites after strip mining.
Public Support for the Hunter Creek Headwaters Withdrawal
The Hunter Creek-North Fork Pistol River withdrawal proposal enjoys broad support. At a public hearing in September 2015 in Gold Beach, more than 200 local people turned out in support. The Forest Service and BLM have received 45,000 comments in favor of the proposed Southwest Oregon mineral withdrawal; that’s 99.9 percent support. The Gold Beach City Council voted to support the mineral withdrawal, and the Curry County Board of Commissioners has opposed development of strip mines up Hunter Creek. Numerous local businesses and organizations also support the mineral withdrawal and the Southwest Oregon Salmon and Watershed Protection Act.
Download a map of the proposed Hunter Creek and North Fork Pistol River Headwaters rom the US Forest Service’s webpage for the proposed 2015 Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal here.
Learn more about the Hunter Creek and North Fork Pistol River Headwaters Withdrawal Area
- Proposed Veva Stansell Botanical Area
- The Native Fish Society – Hunter Creek
- Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest 2015 Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal Environmental Assessment
- Wild Rivers Coast – Travel Oregon
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.
- 2015 Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal (temporary)
- Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act (withdrawal legislation)
- Understanding the 1872 Mining Law and Mineral Withdrawals
Learn more about the nickel mining threat to the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Pistol River
Red Flat Nickel Corporation—a foreign-owned mining company—wants to develop two nickel strip mines in Curry County. One in the Hunter Creek and Pistol River Headwaters and the other in the headwaters of the North Fork Smith River and its tributary Baldface Creek.
- Learn more about the nickel mining projects and Red Flat Nickel Corporation in general here, and
- Specifically about the Red Flat Mine Project here, and
- About the existing claim holders in the proposed Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal Area here, and
- About the metal mining industry’s general toxic pollution here.