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

Kalmiopsis Serpentines

A new name for an ancient landscape

Much of the singular character of the wild country, rivers and rare plant communities of the Kalmiopsis can be attributed to the ultramafic terrain of the Josephine ophiolite, Ophiolites are sections of oceanic crust emplaced against the continent consisting of layers of oceanic crust and mantle. Peridotite or ultramafic rock is usually the thickest layer, thus this unique landscape was in the past referred to as the Josephine Ultramafic sheet or shield. But this starkly beautiful ancient land is so much more than the rock that underlies. It needs a new name.

The Klamath-Siskiyou Serpentines

Geoecologists use the term “serpentine” to encompass not only the ultramafic rock, but the soils developed from it, and the plants growing on these soils. See for example the Serpentine Geoecology of Western North America: Soils, Geology, and Vegetation.

Closer to home the U.S. Forest Service has coined the term Klamath-Siskiyou Serpentines, to describe the four ophiolites found in the Klamath Mountain Province. The Josephine ophiolite is the youngest of the four.

While the Klamath-Siskiyous Mountains are known as a center of diversity and endemism, with species and species assemblages occurring here and no where else, what many don’t realize is that much of the region’s rich diversity can be attributed to it’s extensive serpentine terrain.

The Kalmiopsis Serpentines

The Josephine ophiolite straddles the California/Oregon border in Josephine, Curry and Del Norte Counties. It’s often referred to as the largest such body on land in North America. The largest contiguous part of the Josephine ophiolite is located in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area, the North Fork Smith River watershed in California and the southern extent of the adjacent Kalmiopsis Wilderness – thus the name Kalmiopsis Serpentines seems most appropriate.

The Josephine ophiolite  complexity of its hydrologic regime and the extent to which the rivers flowing through it are influenced by the ultramafic rock of the ophiolite. Rough and Ready Creek is though to be the most dramatic example of this.

 

However, the area’s waters (springs, seeps, tributary streams and rivers are equally key foundational elements, along with the rock, soils and plants, of the ecology of the  serpentine landscape.

The South Kalmiopsis | unique, botanically rich and pristine watershed to beautiful rivers

At the heart of the battle for the integrity of our rivers is a unique, almost otherworldly landscape known as the South Kalmiopsis. Two mining companies want to develop nickel strip mines here—in the watersheds of Rough and Ready Creek, Baldface Creek and the North Fork Smith River. Outwardly it’s a stark, desert-like, boulder-studded wildland. But look closer.

A streamside serpentine Darlingtonia wetland at No Name Creek in the Rough an Ready Creek Botanical Area. A mine haul route is proposed for this area.
A streamside serpentine Darlingtonia wetland at No Name Creek in the Rough an Ready Creek Botanical Area. A mine haul route is proposed for this area.

The South Kalmiopsis has:

  • one of the highest concentrations of rare and endemic plants in North America;
  • many miles of pristine to near-pristine salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout habitat;
  • and one-of-a-kind rivers and streams with exceptionally pure waters including two National Wild and Scenic Rivers; three streams with outstandingly remarkable values that the U. S. Forest Service has found eligible to become National Wild and Scenic Rivers; and
  • the highest concentration of rare plant wetlands, known as serpentine Darlingtonia fens, which are one of the rarest habitat types in North America.
The National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River flowing through the dramatic serpentine terrain of the Josephine ophiolite. Jon Parmentor photo.
In California, the starkly beautiful watershed of the Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River is protected. In Oregon, over 30,000 acres are open to mining. Jon Parmentier photo.

An ancient geology and great threat

The foundational element underlying the stark beauty, exceptionally clear water and great botanical wealth of this most uncommon place is the serpentine terrain of the Josephine ophiolite.

The unusual geology, the area’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean, its high rainfall (up to 100 to 150 inches of rain each year), and its wild undeveloped character are the hallmark attributes of this rare and remarkable wild land.

Fragile and irreplaceable, this wild landscape is no place for the most polluting industry in America—metal mining. It’s quite simply, too special to mine.

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