|Kalmiopsis Wilderness - Tim Palmer|
Congress passed the landmark Wilderness Act on September 3, 1964 to protect areas of America’s unique natural heritage for future generations. The stark and rugged upper watershed of the Chetco River in southwest Oregon was one of the original Wilderness Areas designated in the Act.
The Kalmiopsis Wilderness has been a remarkable asset for the Chetco watershed. Its rugged, roadless backcountry has protected the river's headwaters and has also safeguarded many miles of pristine, low gradient salmon spawning and rearing habitat for 50 years.
Many may take these values of the wilderness for granted because it’s just there, quietly doing its "work" --functioning as a dynamic but intact ecosystem.
But make no mistake, the wilderness is a crucial part to keeping the Chetco River wild and pure and its salmon runs strong. We realize this even more as major nickel mining threats mount just outside the wilderness in remarkable watersheds that flow at its edge. (For more on mining threats at the headwaters of the Smith River at Baldface Creek and at the headwaters of the Illinois River at Rough and Ready Creek.
Just this year, the Siskiyou Mountain Club has completed the project of reopening the trans-Kalmiopsis Wilderness trail, which had been damaged and closed by the Biscuit fire more than ten years ago. The newly open trail system will hopefully give more people the opportunity to experience the rugged mountain country of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and also the Chetco as it flows brilliant and clear in its remote canyon.
But even if we don’t go there to experience the stark beauty of the great outdoors, the wilderness is still sharing with all of us its gifts of clean water and fish.
For more about the intrinsic values of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, check out this great Op Ed by author and photographer Tim Palmer in the Medford Mail Tribune: Wilderness for Kalmiopsis has Served us Well.