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

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today introduced new legislation to expand the Smith River National Recreation Area by 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.

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.

“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 74 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.

“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,” 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.”

“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 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.”

“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.”

“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 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, Noah Oppenheim. “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.”

“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, Sportsmen’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 North Fork Smith is a national treasure, and it always should have been a part of the Smith River National Recreation Area,” said Michael Dotson, executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “We are thankful to Senator Merkley for his leadership in protecting one of the most spectacular rivers in the world.”

“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.” 

“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.”

“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 full text of the legislation is available here.