The Big, Wild 5
Unlike most of North America, the Klamath-Siskiyou region is home to five major wilderness complexes that have mostly survived pressures from development, logging, mining, and road construction. It's our job to protect these special places for the those who come after us and for their value to nature.
The Kalmiopsis Wildlands are some of the most rugged mountains on the West Coast. Serpentine soils, pushed up from the ocean floor by plate tectonics, support unique plant communities that thrive on the metal-laden rock. The Kalmiopsis was the site of some of the first protests against Forest Service ancient forest logging that helped to bring the issue to the national consciousness in the early 1980s. In the 2000s, logging again threatened this wild place and tore apart local communities as the Forest Service insisted on post-fire clearcuttting of Inventoried Roadless Areas following the Biscuit Fire. Currently industrial mining is the largest threat to the Kalmiopsis as mining interests press the Forest Service to approve large-scale nickel strip-mining in the headwaters of the Smith River. But thanks to years of effective advocacy, the Illinois, Checto, and North Fork Smith River ecosystems are still some of the most pristine and beautiful in the world.
The High Siskiyous
Covering three National Forests and providing the headwaters of the East Fork Illinois, the North Fork Smith, as well as the Clear Creek, Dillon Creek, and Blue Creek tributaries to the Klamath, the High Siskiyou Wildlands still contain some of the largest expanses of intact ancient forests in America. These watersheds provide an extreme number of habitats and “transition zones” due to the slopes and elevation changes which support an array of forests. This diversity ensures that the High Siskiyous are a key habitat refuge for species that are now under stress due to climate change. The many different habitat types and transitions allow for species to “drift” to the habitat and climate conditions in which they can thrive. The massive High Siskiyou Wildlands receive ample rain and provide needed clear, cold water for three major river systems, helping to support the downstream salmon and steelhead and local communities.
The Red Buttes and the Siskiyou Crest
While most mountain ranges are oriented along a north and south axis, the Red Buttes and the Siskiyou Crest Range traverse east and west. This geological anomaly means that the Crest provides an essential wildlife habitat corridor linking the Klamath Mountains, the Oregon Coast Range, and the Cascade Mountains. The Siskiyou Crest is the land bridge that prevents wildlife and plant communities from becoming isolated from one another. The Red Buttes Wildlands have been significantly reduced on their northern edge by an explosion of logging and road construction during the boom and bust clearcutting frenzy of past decades. Fortunately, conservation heroes have succeeded in preventing post-fire clearcutting of the extensive forest wildlands on the Klamath River side of the Red Buttes. While the Siskiyou Crest still faces threats from irresponsible cattle grazing in botanical hotspots and Forest Service logging proposals, the wildflower meadows and ancient forests of the area are protected by the thousands who love and value this stunning mountain range.
The Marble Mountains
In addition to the vast old-growth forests and spectacular alpine meadows, the limestone and marble cliffs of the Marble Mountains attract admirers from around the world. Birders, botanists, hunters, hikers, equestrians, backpackers, climbers, and cavers flock to the Marbles. Too often, federal agencies have ignored the world-class ecological and recreational values of this gem. The primary Forest Service action in the Marble Mountains consists of authorizing extensive grazing permits, with impacts to meadows, streams, and water sources. In recent years, several community groups and local tribal governments are working to change the U.S. Forest Service policies around fire in this remote wilderness. The objective: use natural and prescribed fire as a necessary and important part of this fire-dependent forest ecosystem. The Marble Mountains contain hundreds of thousand of acres of untouched forests supporting wild watersheds and wildlife. These forests deliver clean water to salmon streams, including the Wooley and Shackleford Creeks and the Salmon, Scott, and mighty Klamath Rivers.
The Trinity Alps
The largest of the Big 5, the Trinity Alps are a recreational hotspot that bolster local economies while providing endless wildland adventure and an enormous block of wildlife habitat. The lakes, peaks, meadows, forests, and rivers of the Trinity Alps are justifiably famous and popular. Hundreds of miles of trails beckon travelers and ignite the imagination. Just outside protected wilderness, the Trinities are still subject to destructive mining proposals that harm water quality and destroy streamside forests. Backcountry grazing harms some of the world’s most impressive wildflower meadows. Fire management continues to be a challenge for the Forest Service and the public. Fortunately, the Forest Service recognizes that this incredible wildlands complex is an irreplaceable part of our heritage that offers far more in recreation, clean water, biological diversity, and spiritual renewal for all. Far more than what is gained from short-term exploitation for the benefit of a few.
The big, wild five - let's keep them that way...