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Siskiyou Wild Rivers: Native Salmon and Steelhead

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Few things are more evocative of the Pacific Northwest than the sight of a Chinook salmon leaping a waterfall on the way to its ancestral spawning grounds.

"In the Northwest, a river without a salmon is a body without a soul." 
Timothy Egan, The New York Times

Native salmon and steelhead are iconic representatives of the wild rivers of the Pacific Northwest, but these living icons are increasingly threatened today. Throughout the western United States, once-thriving salmon populations are crashing, painting an ominous picture of the future survival of native fish species in western rivers. Today we have an urgent need to protect the river systems that still harbor wild populations of these fish. The Siskiyou Wild Rivers Area is just such a place.

For thousands of years, the rich fisheries of the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area sustained Native American communities throughout the region. Today these rivers and streams still support viable and robust populations of naturally reproducing coho salmon, fall Chinook salmon, winter steelhead, green sturgeon and Pacific lamprey. In fact, the five Wild and Scenic Rivers of the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area and their tributaries contain over 620 miles of salmon and steelhead streams.


Because there are no high dams in the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area, salmon and steelhead still have access to much of their historic range – a rare situation in western rivers. The area is home to five Wild & Scenic Rivers – the Rogue, Illinois, Chetco, Elk and North Fork Smith – and these rivers are renowned for their clean, clear water.


Despite the obvious importance of protecting remaining salmon and steelhead habitat in the western United States, the rivers of the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area – and the fish populations they harbor – are in jeopardy. Recently, the Wild & Scenic Rogue River had the dubious distinction of being named the second most endangered river in the country in American Rivers’ 2008 edition of America’s Most Endangered Rivers. The report cites logging and road building activities associated with BLM’s proposed Kelsey-Whisky Project as a major threat to salmon and steelhead habitat in the tributaries that feed the lower Rogue River. And if that weren’t enough, mining interests have proposed suction-dredge operations at the headwaters of one of the most pristine salmon-bearing streams in the Pacific Northwest – the Wild and Scenic Chetco River.


  • Only one Oregon river – the Columbia – produces more salmon than the Rogue River.
  • The Illinois River basin is one of the largest river basins on the West Coast that sustains viable populations of native salmon and steelhead runs with no hatchery fish supplementation.
  • Public lands in the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area are a major producer of winter steelhead, with tens of thousands of returning adults each year.