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

Hunter Creek and Pistol River Headwaters | too special to mine

Hunter Creek and the Pistol River are free flowing native salmon and steelhead strongholds. At their headwaters is a botanically unique area of serpentine terrain in a near-coastal environment. The area is home to the Hunter Creek Bog and North Fork Hunter Creek Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (BLM) and Red Flat Botanical Area (Forest Service).

Flycatcher Springs in the Red Flat area. Pictures are Darlingtonia, wild azalea and Labrador tea.
Flycatcher Springs in the Red Flat area. Pictured are Darlingtonia, wild azalea and Labrador tea. Ann Vileisis Photo.

Hunter Creek and the Pistol River enter the Pacific Ocean between Gold Beach and Brookings, Oregon along the Wild Rivers Coast. It’s about seven miles inland from the beautiful Wild Rivers Coast and Cape Sebastian State Park.

The headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Pistol River are usually not thought of as part of the Kalmiopsis region but the areas, while separated by a few miles, are related through their similar geology and plant life and common threat.

Like Rough and Ready and Baldface Creeks the botanically rich area has been long eyed by mining companies seeking to exploit the very soils that make them so special. However, even when the Glenbrook Nickel Smelter was operating at Riddle, Oregon the marginal mineral values never lead to actual mining.

In fact, rather than trying to develop nearby nickel laterite soils like those in the Hunter Creek Headwaters, Glenbrook imported a much higher grade of nickel bearing soils from New Caledonia.

The headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Pistol River is managed by both the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and the Coos Bay Bureau of Land Management. The area is located in Curry County. The Pistol River State Park is a favorite wind surfing area.

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

The threat

A foreign owned mining company wants to develop a nickel laterite mine in the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the North Fork Pistol River on an approximately 2,000 acre block of federal mining claims. The claims are on National Forest and Bureau of Land Management holdings. The metal mining industry is the largest toxic polluter in the United States.

Nickel laterites are ancient soils found on botanically rich serpentine terrain. Mining these soils would result in a large area of destruction in the sensitive headwaters and groundwater recharge area for numerous springs and the two rivers.

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

A homegrown movement

The movement to protect the headwaters of these Pacific Coast rivers from nickel laterite strip mining is homegrown—lead by river stewards, botanists and the people who live there.

Red Flat Nickel has staked claims on 2,000 acres of land in the headwaters of Hunter Creek and Pistol River. Both provide drinking water for local communities. The mine development has been opposed by the Curry County Board of Commissioners.

Local resident Dave Lacy, who collected hundreds of signatures against the mine:

“My neighbors and many other residents in Curry County are very concerned about how strip mining would affect our water quality, recreational use and overall quality of life in our watersheds. Many of the homes here have very shallow wells that could easily be affected by industrial mining pollution. A lot of residents also fish, bird watch, hike and hunt these areas so keeping them accessible and intact is important to us.”

Hunter Creek
Dave Lacey, Native Fish Society’s Hunter Creek River Steward, lives in the watershed. Dave is a leader in the effort to preserve the important fisheries and botanical values of Hunter Creek. Ken Anderson Photo.

A wild salmon stronghold at risk

Hunter Creek historically has the reputation for producing large adult fall chinook and winter steelhead. Some of the largest steelhead on the south coast have been caught or observed spawning within the Hunter Creek system.[1] It’s probable that chum salmon spawned in Hunter Creek at one time. There are no hatcheries or dams on Hunter Creek.

Learn more about Hunter Creek and the nickel mine proposal that threatens it and watch the video about it at the Native Fish Society/Hunter Creek page

A botanical treasure under threat

Botanist Veva Stansell at the Hunter Creek Bog ACEC.
Pioneering Botanist Veva Stansell at the Hunter Creek Bog ACEC.

Kalmiopsis Audubon Society and the Native Plant Society of Oregon have submitted a proposal to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest for the establishment of the Veva Stansell Botanical Area at Red Flat.

Click here to learn about the extraordinary botanical values of the area and the citizen’s movement to establish the Botanical Area and here to sign a petition supporting the Veva Stansel Botanical Area.

Learn more


[1] Hunter Creek Watershed Analysis prepared by Engineering, Science and Technology for the Siskiyou National Forest, August 1998.

Please check back as new information is added to this page.