After a ten-year effort, Western Rivers Conservancy saved the Chetco River in the heart of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area from massive gold mining. The Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area, one of the largest remaining wildlands on the Pacific Coast and a landscape of international importance, is in the Siskiyou National Forest in the Klamath Mountains of southwestern Oregon. The Chetco National Wild & Scenic River is a world-class salmon, steelhead, and cutthroat trout stream, including wild populations a fall chinook and coho salmon, with its headwaters in the Kalmiopsis. The Chetco has some of the highest salmonid returns of any coastal stream in Oregon.
Unbelievably, the Chetco River with all its amazing attributes was threatened by destructive placer mining. Mining claims totaling 2,115 acres extended along nine miles of the Chetco's headwaters. Sixteen miles of road had been carved into the Wilderness Area to access the claims. The proposed mining would have disturbed the riverbanks, silted the water, and dramatically increased the chance of massive slope failure. Western Rivers Conservancy worked tirelessly for a decade to secure funds for the U.S. Forest Service to purchase the claims.
With the help of the Siskiyou Project, Western Rivers Conservancy persevered over years of negotiations with the claim holder, the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon's U.S. Senators. The U.S. Forest Service now possesses the patented claim, and Western Rivers Conservancy was successful in persuading the claim holder to relinquish the remaining claims. Most importantly, the clear, blue waters of the Chetco will remain a truly wild and scenic river.
Photos by Zach Collier, Northwest Rafting Company