A pristine creek and a wild watershed
Those who know Baldface Creek best are the rugged biologists and stream surveyors who’ve probed its wild watershed. They give its pristine waters high praise. According to the USDA Forest Service’s Wild and Scenic River Eligibility Study for the creek and its tributaries
Baldface Creek provides some of the best water quality and fisheries habitat on the Siskiyou National Forest. The world-class fishery on the Smith River depends on the water and fish produced in the Baldface Creek drainage.
This is no small accolade. The Siskiyou National Forest has some of the most valuable salmon and steelhead habitat in the nation. It’s home to five National Wild and Scenic Wild and Scenic Rivers—the Illinois, Chetco, North Fork Smith, Elk and Rogue. Each is considered a world-class salmon and steelhead stream. The National Wild and Scenic Smith River in California is an icon in that state, known for its clear waters and the prized salmon and steelhead it provides.
More recently, the State of Oregon designated the North Fork Smith River, its tributaries and associated wetlands as Outstanding Resource Waters, under the Clean Water Act. Baldface Creek is a major tributary of the North Fork Smith and as such the mainstem creek, all its tributaries and all its associated wetlands are Outstanding Resource Waters. The Clear Water Act designation was a first for Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. Learn more here and here.
Baldface Creek flows out of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and through the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area. It joins the North Fork Smith two miles before the Wild and Scenic River dives into California and a wild red-walled canyon that’s beloved by the whitewater boating community.
Baldface Creek’s watershed and stream habitat is considered in reference condition. In 2004, the U.S. Forest Service recommended to Congress that its watershed—along with the adjacent watersheds of the North and South Forks of Rough and Ready Creek—be added to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in what the agency called, the South Kalmiopsis Wilderness Addition.
Threatened by a foreign owned mining company
Despite its high conservation values and Forest Service recommendations, this exceptionally productive tributary of California’s famed Smith River remains unprotected—its future uncertain. A foreign owned mining company has been steadily advancing toward their ultimate goal—to develop and operate a nickel strip mine in the creek’s wild watershed. The Forest Service’s position is they can’t say no to a reasonable mine plan unless the area if withdrawn from mining under the 1872 Mining Law. The time to stop a mine is before it starts. Once mining has begun there’s no way to repair the damage and they’re simply not making anymore pristine places like Baldface Creek and its wild watershed.
The Smith River’s world class fishery depends on Baldface Creek
Forest Service documents use words like “phenomenal” to describe the wild creek’s productivity as a wild salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout nursery.
Two Forest Service stream surveys and a wild and scenic river “eligibility assessment” form the bases of our knowledge of Baldface Creek. Their conclusion is that Baldface Creek’s aquatic habitat is big, complex and in reference condition (scientific term for pristine). The agency’s eligibility assessment summarized the creek’s importance California’s famous National Wild and Scenic Smith River:
The world-class fishery of the Smith River depends on the water and fish produced in the Baldface [Creek] drainage.
This wild remote creek so impressed U.S. Forest Service Wild and Scenic River planners that they found not only Baldface Creek but all of its perennial tributaries “eligible” to become National Wild and Scenic Rivers with the highest classification of “Wild.” It’s nationally outstanding values are water quality and fisheries. We would add botanical/ecological and scenic.
No place for a nickel mine
The area’s remoteness has preserved it’s high scientific values as a “reference” watershed with outstanding water and fisheries values. But all this could change unless Congress and the Obama Administration acts quickly.
It’s here in the headwaters of California’s Smith River—one of the most precious rivers in the nation—that foreign owned Red Flat Nickel Corporation wants to develop a nickel strip mine and likely an acid heap leap nickel processing facility. The mining proposal is focused on an approximately 4,000 acre block of federal mining claims. The company laid claim to the national forest land in 2007 under provisions of the antiquated 1872 Mining Law. It’s the Forest Service’s position that the agency does not have the authority ot deny what it calls a reasonable mining plan as long as the area is open to mining.
A wild winter creek revealed
The convergence of a warm dry winter and a wet February storm provided a rare glimpses of the beauty and integrity of this wild creek in winter. J.R. Weir and Daniel Menten, had long dreamed of kayaking Baldface Creek. With an eye ob weather and stream gages, they saw an opening. Dropping everything, they made an epic one day run of Baldface Creek and the Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River—beginning in one of the remotest parts of Oregon and taking out at Gasquet California. J.R. writes:
[Baldface Creek] represents one of the most committing and inaccessible places that you can go in a kayak, and through country that for most, exists only on a map … The scenery was breathtaking. Old growth Port Orford Cedar trees clung to rocks overhanging the creek. Streams and waterfalls poured from banks on both side … Darlingtonia was everywhere.
South Kalmiopsis—wildest and reddest of the Kalmiopsis Wildlands
Baldface Creek flows through the stark, botanically rich serpentine terrain of Southwest Oregon’s South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area, Immediately to the north is the equally wild Rough and Ready Creek country. The two watersheds share a fourteen mile long common boundary with the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.
The U.S. Forest Service has found both Baldface Creek and Rough and Ready Creek nationally outstanding and eligible to be added to the National Wild and Scenic River System and their watersheds are recommended as additions to the congressionally protected Kalmiopsis Wilderness.
What the US Forest Service says about Baldface Creek
While Baldface Creek is a little known gem outside certain circles, it’s the stuff of legends for fisheries biologists, stream ecologists and those who’ve taken the time and effort to penetrate it’s wildness. According to the 1994 USDA Forest Service Wild and Scenic River Eligibility Assessment and other documents:
“Baldface Creek contributes substantially to the world-class fishery of the North Fork Smith River. It provides near-pristine spawning and rearing habitat and is a source of the high quality water on which the anadromous fishery of the Smith River depends.” 
“Water quality is good to excellent. Water quality … could be of the highest value for streams in the region … The drainage is locally known to be of exceptional quality for fisheries. The water quality is a major factor in the excellent functioning of this watershed.”
“Of the fish producing streams in the North Fork of the Smith watershed, Baldface Creek is remarkable in its variety of habitats and very high fish productivity potential. There are no known blockages to fish migration in the watershed. The upper limits of distribution for the various species are governed by gradient, flow, and intrinsic migration capabilities of the species.”
“Baldface Creek provides an opportunity to observe the evolution of a pristine watershed.”
“The watershed interior (from ridge lines to canyon bottoms) is roadless.”
“The riparian vegetation found along Baldface Creek is presently in a reference condition that has little or no alteration from human activities”.
“Baldface Creek is considered to be in a reference condition.”
“Stream gradient is mild, the channel is wide, and the aquatic habitats are large and complex”.
“There are numerous small wetlands seeps, Darlingtonia bogs and springs that aid in maintaining lower [water] temperatures.”
Oregon’s Congressional Delegation
Senator Wyden and Congressman DeFazio have long advocated for the protection of Rough and Ready Creek and the surrounding South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area. In November 2009 and April 2010, Senator Merkley joined Senator Wyden and Representative DeFazio in asking the Obama Administration for help in providing interim protection for the Rough and Ready and Baldface Creek areas while congress considered their future protection. In July of 2011, the three Oregon congressional delegation members wrote to the Secretaries yet again. Click on the dates to read the individual requests to the Obama Administration.
U.S. Forest Service Recommendations
In 1994, the Siskiyou National Forest completed a Wild and Scenic River Eligibility Assessment and findings for Baldface Creek and its tributaries. The agency’s Wild and Scenic River planners and fisheries biologist were impressed by the creek’s water quality, the numbers of juvenile salmon and trout and the quality of the habitat. Out of recognition of the need to protect these values, the Forest Service found Baldface Creek and all it’s perennial tributaries “eligible” to become a National Wild and Scenic River and to be classified as “Wild.” The “Wild River” classification offers the highest level of protection available, outside of Wilderness, for rivers in the United States.
In 2004, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Vilsack, recommended Congress add all of the Baldface Creek Watershed and much of the adjacent Rough and Ready Creek Watershed to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Read the Secretary’s Press Release here. The proposed South Kalmiopsis Wilderness Addition (approximately 34,000 acres) is the largest of four proposed additions to the Wilderness recommended by the Bush Administration.
This page is under construction so please excuse errors or omissions. Please check back soon.
In the media
Baldface Creek, the North Fork Smith River and the proposed Cleopatra Mining Project in the media.
- Oregon nickel mine proposal runs into stiff opposition (OPB/Earthfix)
- Groups oppose mining in Smith Watershed (Medford Mail Tribune)
- Mining foes speak (Del Norte Triplicate)
- Opinion: Smith River too valuable to mine (San Francisco Chronicle)
- Proposed Mine by wild Smith River roils Del Norte County folks (San Francisco Chronicle)
- Opinion: Nickel mining plans threaten Rogue, Smith tributaries (Eugene Register-Guard)
- Drilling near the Smith? Fears expressed over mining. (Crescent City Triplicate)
- Viewpoint: Water in redwood country worth more than nickel (Sacramento Bee)
- Smith tributary called endangered (Crescent City Triplicate)
- Mining firm interested in national forest nickel (Medford Mail Tribune)
- Baldface Creek and Rough and Ready Creek (Earthworks)
- J.R. Explored Baldface Creek (Sundance Kayak School Blog)
- Baldface Creek Exploration (Northwest Rafting Company Blog)
- Rough and Ready Creek and Baldface Creek: America’s Most Endangered Rivers 2013 (American Rivers)
Reference condition is an ecological term applied to sites in natural or least disturbed conditions. The concept of identifying streams in “reference condition” is to establish controls or benchmarks that represent conditions in unimpaired water bodies, against which the conditions in impaired bodies can be evaluated.
 USDA Forest Service, Wild and Scenic River Eligibility Study: Baldface Creek and Its Tributaries, Siskiyou National Forest, November 1993.
 USDA Forest Service, Level II Stream Survey Baldface Creek, Siskiyou Research Group, July 2005.
 USDA Forest Service, North Fork of the Smith River Watershed Analysis, Iteration 1.0, Siskiyou National Forest, October 31, 1995.