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

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.’“

“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.”

“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 and Staff Attorney 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 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.