Secure Permanent Protection

The Smith River is one of the “crown jewels” of the National Wild and Scenic River System with 410 river miles protected.  SRA was instrumental in the establishment of the Smith River National Recreation Area (SRNRA) in 1990 which protects the river and its watershed in California from numerous threats, including mining. Unfortunately, these protections do not extend across the border into Oregon, home to important tributaries like Baldface, Chrome and others.

In 2017, SRA and partners secured temporary (twenty-year) protection from new mining claims for the North Fork Smith in Oregon.  This interim protection survived attack by the Trump Administration and pro-mining Congressional Representatives who pushed for a reversal of the protection.

In 2019 The Smith River National Recreation Area Expansion Act (S.2875) was first introduced. On November 18, 2020, a legislative hearing was held in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining which included consideration of the bill, which would expand the Smith River National Recreation Area by 58,000 acres and protect 75.22 miles under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, including Baldface Creek, Chrome Creek, and nearby streams. 

In 2021 The Smith River National Recreation Area Expansion Act (S.1538) was reintroduced. It will:

  • Permanently withdraw the land from new mining claims, helping to protect this sensitive area from proposed nickel strip mines.
  • Expand the Wild and Scenic River System by adding 75.22 miles of river, including Baldface Creek, Chrome Creek, and nearby streams.
  • Improve public access by updating the recreation plan identifying specific plans for the entire National Recreation Area.
  • Complete a special study of streams, fens, wetlands, and potentially unstable and vulnerable aquatic habitat areas.

When enacted, the bill would protect these diverse ecosystems of the rivers, streams, and adjacent lands of the North Fork Smith River watershed and help boost the local fishing and recreation industries that many families rely on.

An Opportunity to Safeguard the Entire Watershed

Merkley, Wyden Reintroduce Legislation to Expand Smith River National Recreation Area to Include Oregon

Expansion would protect the Oregon section of the Smith River watershed and unique plants and wildlife, boost local recreation economy

In 1990, Congress enacted legislation to establish the Smith River National Recreation Area (NRA) to protect the watershed, but the boundary of the NRA stopped at the Oregon border, leaving the North Folk of the Smith River and its tributaries unprotected.

Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden have introduced new legislation to expand the Smith River National Recreation Area by adding 58,000 acres, a move that would protect the diverse ecosystems of the rivers, streams, and adjacent lands of the North Fork Smith River watershed and help boost the local fishing and recreation industries that many Oregonian families rely on.

“When we come together to protect our state’s natural wonders, we can create jobs, protect resources, grow our economy, and make sure future generations of Oregonians can enjoy our incredible public lands,” Merkley said. “I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work with local leaders, conservationists, and businesses to create legislation expanding the Smith River National Recreation Area—a commonsense win-win for adventurers across the Northwest, those interested in preserving the beautiful places in Oregon, and our local economy.”

“Smith River is not only home to critical salmon and steelhead habitat, it also provides clean drinking water to families along the South Coast,” Wyden said. “Protecting this special area of Oregon should be a no-brainer. Add to the fact that this legislation also allows the Forest Service to continue its work preventing and fighting wildfires and this adds up to a significant win for these communities.”

The Smith River is home to a rich assemblage of life forms—including Coho and Chinook salmon, Coastal Cutthroat trout, the diverse Siskiyou Mountains forests, unique plants found nowhere else on earth, and spectacular redwoods that tower over the lower river banks. The Smith River NRA’s scenic beauty, world-class fisheries, and exceptional water quality attract adventurers who partake in water sports, fishing, hunting, camping, and sightseeing.

The NRA expansion would permanently withdraw the land from new mining claims, helping to protect this sensitive area from proposed nickel strip mines, and protect 75.22 miles of scenic rivers, including Baldface Creek, Chrome Creek, and nearby streams. In addition, the legislation would task the Forest Service with the preparation of an updated recreation plan identifying specific plans for the entire National Recreation Area, and produce a special study of streams, fens, wetlands, and potentially unstable and vulnerable aquatic habitat areas. The bill complements the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act, which was introduced by the Senators earlier this year to protect the North Fork Smith River watershed and other Southwestern Oregon rivers and streams.

Take Action

Sign a petition to protect the North Fork Smith River – January 2020

Click here to sign a petition sponsored by American Rivers and Smith River Alliance and join with thousands of citizens who oppose strip mining for nickel in the headwaters of the North Fork Smith River and agree that the entire North Fork Smith watershed should be added to the Smith River National Recreation Area. Scroll down for updates on the status of the protection effort.

U.S. Ag Secretary says 20-year mining ban is secure for now – February 2018

Sonny Perdue, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture has stated in letters to U.S. Senators and Congressmen that the Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal is secure for now. Click here for a copy of his letters to Senators Wyden and Merkley and Congressman DeFazio — and for related press. Click here for a December 2017 letter from Trout Unlimited (TU) leadership to Secretary Perdue and Secretary of the Interior Zinke underscoring the significant fisheries values of the Oregon rivers protected through the 20-year mineral withdrawal. The TU letter also highlights the extensive public involvement and engagement supporting the mineral withdrawal process —– and encourages the Secretaries to maintain the completed Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal.

Read More

Department of Interior Responds to Public Demand for Twenty-year Temporary Withdrawal – September 2016

For years, Smith River Alliance and coalition partners have been pushing hard to get the maximum protection possible—a 20-year mineral withdrawal—in place before mining companies advance plans to strip mine the wild headwaters of the iconic Smith, Illinois and Rogue Rivers. The Department of the Interior initially proposed a 5-year withdrawal. Although this would be a worthy safeguard, with the prospect of Congressional gridlock, the public has pressed for the maximum interim protection for these remarkable rivers and their precious headwaters, with over 99% of comments favoring a 20-year withdrawal. In September, the U.S. Forest Service and BLM amended their original proposal for the Southwestern Oregon Mineral withdrawal to extend its duration to 20 years. A new public comment period amending is now open through December 1, 2016. A second comment period demands more work — but when that work is standing up for the Smith River – and we can do it together – we relish the opportunity. With your help we can secure a 20-year withdrawal before the end of the Obama Administration. Over 45,000 Favorable Comments Received on the Environmental Assessment – May 2016 See Coalition technical comments here.

Agencies Release Environmental Assessment for Proposed Mineral Withdrawal – April 2016

The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, with the Medford and Coos Bay Districts of the Bureau of Land Management, has prepared an environmental assessment (EA) for the 2015 Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal. The release of this EA on April 28, 2016 initiated the public comment period; written comments will be accepted for 30 calendar days. The proposed withdrawal, which is in aid of legislation proposed by multiple members of Congress, encompasses more than 100,000 acres of Forest Service and BLM-administered lands in the Rough and Ready-Baldface Creek and the Hunter Creek-North Fork Pistol River subwatersheds of southwestern Oregon. The agencies have provided multiple opportunities for public involvement and comment regarding this proposed withdrawal. Public meetings were held in September 2015 in Gold Beach and Grants Pass, drawing approximately 250 attendees to each meeting, with more than 100 members of the public speaking. Roughly 23,000 comments have been received to date, the majority of which have been in support of the proposed withdrawal. The Environmental Assessment is available online http://1.usa.gov/1TAFAZz.

Foreign Mining Company Pays $120,000 to Washington D.C. Lobbyists

In 2015, Red Flat Nickel Corporation, the foreign owned mining company, retained Squire Patton and Boggs, a Washington D.C. Lobbying firm, to help further the company’s two Southwestern Oregon mining projects—the Red Flat Project, in the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Pistol River and the Cleopatra Project, in the pristine watershed of the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River. According to Open Secrets.org Red Flat Nickel Corp. paid Squire Patton and Boggshe $120,000 for lobbying members of the U.S. Congress and officials at the U. S. Forest Service. Squire Patton and Boggs has the third largest lobbying practice in nation. Former U.S. Senators Trent Lott and John Breaux represented Red Flat Nickel Corporation. https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=F48213&year=2015 http://lobbying.influenceexplorer.com/lobbying/registrations/wqs72Wqgskvbmmr8hHg8bR https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2016/02/22/squire-patton-boggs-to-acquire-calif-based-law-firm-carroll-burdick/

Community Standing Strong Against Strip Mining! September 2015

Pro-mining interests have been outnumbered 200 to 1 at the recent Grants Pass and Gold Beach public meetings re the proposed 5-year ban on new mining claims. Hundreds of citizens as well as representatives from key public agencies have spoken in support for clean water, wild rivers, and salmon. ~ Del Norte Triplicate Article ~ Public Radio Interview The City of Crescent City was represented at both meetings along with Board members for the Big Rock and Gasquet Community Service Districts. The City and these Districts are the major water purveyors in Del Norte. The CA Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) was also represented at the Grants Pass meeting —- and their comments were followed by a roar of applause. In summary, it was a great couple of nights for the protection of clean water and wild rivers.  Without question we have much work ahead to prevent strip mining in the headwaters of the Smith, Illinois and Pistol Rivers and Hunter Creek, but the TEAM scored big for the proposed mineral withdrawal. Watch the 8-minute Emerald Waters video for glimpses of the North Fork Smith and other threatened Kalmiopsis rivers.

Maps

Smith Watershed Map (Download PDF)

North Fork Smith Watershed with Proposed Wild and Scenic Rivers (Download PDF)

Official Forest Service map prepared for Senator Merkley (Download PDF)

Press Announcement

 United States Senate 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

May 4, 2021 

Contact: Sara Hottman (Merkley) – 503-326-3386 

Contact: Hank Stern (Wyden) – 503-326-7539 

Merkley, Wyden Push to Expand Smith River National Recreation Area to Include Oregon 

Move would support local economies, boost conservation efforts, and improve access to Oregon’s natural treasures 

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today announced they will be introducing legislation to expand the Smith River National Recreation Area by 58,000 acres, which would protect the diverse ecosystems of the rivers, streams, and adjacent lands of the North Fork Smith River watershed, and help boost the local fishing and recreation industries that many Oregon families rely on. 

In 1990, Congress enacted legislation to establish the Smith River National Recreation Area (NRA) to protect the watershed, but the boundary of the NRA stopped at the Oregon border, leaving the North Fork of the Smith River and its tributaries unprotected. 

“When we come together to protect our state’s natural wonders, we can create jobs, protect resources, and make sure Oregonians can enjoy the beauty of our state for generations to come,” Merkley said. “Expanding the Smith River National Recreation Area is a commonsense win-win-win for our economy, adventurers across the Northwest, and those dedicated to preserving the ecosystems that make Oregon so special. I’m grateful to all of the local leaders, conservationists, and businesses who have been a part of this process so far, and look forward to continuing to work together to get this bill signed into law.” 

“This legislation will create jobs and preserve one of the largest undammed rivers in the nation so that generations to come can experience Smith River’s scenic beauty,” Wyden said. “Expanding the Smith River Recreation Area into Oregon protects our state’s world-renowned natural treasures while also investing in our local economies.” 

The Smith River is home to a rich assemblage of life forms—Coho and Chinook salmon, Coastal Cutthroat trout, the diverse Siskiyou Mountains forests, unique plants found nowhere else on earth, and spectacular redwoods that tower over the lower river banks. The Smith River NRA’s scenic beauty, world-class fisheries, and exceptional water quality attract adventurers who partake in water sports, fishing, hunting, camping, and sightseeing. 

The NRA expansion would permanently withdraw the land from new mining claims, helping to protect this sensitive area from proposed nickel strip mines, and protect 74 miles of scenic 

rivers, including Baldface Creek, Chrome Creek, and nearby streams. In addition, the legislation would task the U.S. Forest Service with updating the recreation plan to reflect the new additions to the National Recreation Area, and produce a special study of streams, fens, wetlands, and potentially unstable and vulnerable aquatic habitat areas. 

“The Smith River is one of the largest, single, undammed river systems in the United States and we applaud Senator Merkley’s leadership to protect Oregon’s portion. Expanding the Smith River National Recreation Area into Oregon to protect the North Fork and its tributaries will continue to support the region’s growing and sustainable outdoor recreation economy. We endorse the bill and look forward to its swift passage,” said Brady Robinson, Executive Director of The Conservation Alliance. 

“I thank Senator Merkley and support his efforts and legislation to expand the Smith River National Recreation Area in Oregon’s North Fork of the Smith River watershed,” said David Brock Smith, Oregon House Representative HD 01 (R-Port Orford). “The Smith River is an important watershed in Southern Oregon and Northern California, providing critical salmonid habitat, drinking water and recreational opportunities, and I will continue to be a strong state partner in supporting the Smith River, its tributaries and the watersheds of Southwest Oregon.’” 

“‘I am happy to offer strong support for Senator Merkley’s work to expand our beautiful Smith River Watershed as part of our fabulous Wild Rivers Coast,” said Court Boice, Curry County Commissioner. “The Kalmiopsis Wilderness and Rogue River – Siskiyou National Forest are recognized as the most diverse, wild, unique, rugged and beautiful Landscapes in North America. This legislation will certainly help and is important for maintaining our pristine rivers and recovering the vibrancy of our salmon and steelhead runs.’“ 

“Expanding the Smith River National Recreation Area and protecting the North Fork lands in Oregon is absolutely the right thing to do,”said Susan Jane Brown, Wildlands Program Director with the Western Environmental Law Center. “I’m grateful for Senator Merkley’s leadership and for the cooperation by many interests to advance this critically important legislation for one of our nation’s most spectacular wild rivers.” 

“The Oregon Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers continues to stand with the sportsmen and women of Oregon for the protection of the wild lands and waters of the State,” said Justin Gindlesperger, SW Regional Director Oregon Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “The expansion of the Smith River National Recreation Area establishes an essential safeguard to the watershed of the Smith River so future generations can experience a remarkable and truly wild landscape here in Southern Oregon. We appreciate and fully support the effort to protect such a valuable resource.” 

“I’ve paddled the North Fork of the Smith in Oregon as well as Baldface Creek and can attest to their distinct values,” said Zach Collier, Owner/Outfitter of Northwest Rafting Company. “We fully support any legislation that promotes the permanent protection of these rivers. The North Fork watershed is uniquely special to the world and should be protected as such.” 

“The Wild Rivers Coast and rivers like the Smith are legendary among anglers for their steelhead and salmon fisheries,” said Dean Finnerty, NW Regional Director, Angler’s Conservation Project, Trout Unlimited. “This region supports a robust sport fishing economy that is vitally important for many rural communities. Sen. Merkley’s bi-partisan Smith River Recreation Area Additions Act is a sensible and timely way to honor the sporting heritage of this region and to conserve the cold, clean, fish-filled waters that are the hallmark of this part of America.” 

“The Smith River deserves complete protection because state lines are arbitrary to a river,” said Will Volpert, Indigo Creek Outfitters. “Oregon is lucky to have a piece of the Smith, as it is truly one of the most majestic and beautiful river systems anywhere. It is a place like no other—with canyon colors beyond vibrant and a terrain that begs to be explored yet is rugged enough to hold most adventurers back. Every time I visit the Smith, it feels like I’m the first person to visit the river canyon in all of history—and that’s a pretty special feeling.” 

“Oregon’s North Fork Smith watershed is a botanical treasure and should have always been a part of the Smith River National Recreation Area,” said Joseph Vaile, Climate Director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “We thank Senator Merkley for introducing this legislation that will also designate many of the North Fork Smith River’s cold-water tributaries as Wild & Scenic. Anyone who has had a chance to explore the remote, primitive backcountry of Oregon’s North Fork Smith headwaters knows that it is one of the most spectacular rivers in the world.” 

“The upper reaches of the Smith River watershed provide exceptional and unique opportunities for backcountry recreation,” said Thomas O’Keefe, the Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director for American Whitewater. “We appreciate the leadership of Senator Merkley to expand the Smith River National Recreation Area to include the headwaters in Oregon. The area is characterized by rare hydrologic and botanical resources that the legislation appropriately recognizes. The extension of Wild and Scenic designation to the tributaries of the North Fork Smith will further protect one of the west coast’s last free-flowing rivers and a special place for all who enjoy wild rivers.” 

“The North Fork Smith River and its tributaries are a cornerstone of the most ecologically important unprotected landscape in the American West,” said David Moryc, Senior Director of Wild and Scenic Rivers for American Rivers. “We greatly appreciate Senator Merkley’s leadership to protect some of the wildest rivers and most pristine waters in the state for future generations.” 

“Expanding the Smith River National Recreation Area to include the North Fork of the Smith is completely aligned with the stewardship and conservation values embraced by West Coast fishermen,” said Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations Executive Director, Mike Conroy. “The Smith is one of our last great undammed rivers, making it a crown jewel of the salmon coast. We appreciate Senator Merkley’s leadership in securing this important protection for the Smith River.” 

“We have been working to protect the North Fork Smith River’s wild headwaters—keeping its water pristine, protecting fish species’ habitats, and ensuring clean drinking water and outdoor recreation for local communities,” said Alyssa Babin, founder of Wild and Scenic Rivers in Brookings, Oregon. “We thank Senator Merkley for his leadership in introducing this bill, and his partnership in working to protect this important watershed.” 

“The expansion of the Smith River National Recreation Area completes a conservation effort initiated over thirty years ago,” said Grant Werschkull, Co-Executive Director for Smith River Alliance. “This action is vitally important to downstream communities and the Smith River as a stronghold for Pacific salmon species.” 

“The Smith River is recognized as one of the premier salmon strongholds on the West Coast,” said Guido Rahr, President and CEO of the Wild Salmon Center. “We’re grateful to Senators Merkley and Wyden for this investment in wild salmon and the coastal communities that depend on them. Protecting the Smith’s cold, clean flows across the entire watershed will secure this place for people and fish for generations to come.” 

“Senator Merkley’s pathbreaking legislation has the potential to conserve Oregon’s portion of the incomparable Smith River watershed in Southwest Oregon for this and future generations,” said Andy Kerr with The Larch Company. “We hope that Congress promptly considers and passes the bill into law.” 

Merkley and Wyden were joined in the introduction by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Alex Padilla (D-CA). 

The full text of the legislation is available here. 

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Supporters

Senator Jeff Merkley, Oregon

Senator Ron Wyden, Oregon

Senator Dianne Feinstein, California

Senator Alex Padilla, California

David Brock Smith, Oregon State Representative for Curry, Coos, Douglas and Josephine Counties

Court Boice, Curry County Commissioner

American Rivers

American Whitewater

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

Big Rock Sports

California Trout

California Sportfishing Protection Alliance

Conservation Alliance

Del Norte Chamber of Commerce

Elk Valley Rancheria

EPIC

Fishawk River Company

Friends of the River

Indigo Creek Outfitters

KS Wild

Native Trout Society

Northwest Rafting Company

League of Women Voters of Oregon

O.A.R.S.

Orange Torpedo Raft Trips

Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association

Redwood Rides

Redwood region Audubon Society

Smith River Alliance

Steelhead on the Spey Guide Service

Southeast Tours, LLC

Sundance Kayak School

The Pew Charitable Trusts

The Wilderness Society

The Larch Company

Trout Unlimited

Western Environmental Law Center

Wild and Scenic Rivers

Wild and Scenic Rivers Coalition

Wild Rivers Water Rights

Wild Salmon Center