The Siskiyou Wild Rivers Ecosystem
The Ecosystem in a Unique Landscape:
Formed when an ancient seafloor collided with the western edge of the North American continent, the Siskiyou Mountains rose as wild rivers cut through them. After 100 million years, the result is a tangle of peaks, knife-like ridges, and steep river canyons that connect the Cascade and Coast Range mountains. A distinguishing geological feature of this area is the Josephine ophiolite - the largest formation of exposed serpentine rock in North America. Formed as ancient seafloor it was scraped off by the continental shelf, (like frosting on a knife dragged across a chocolate cake), it is the largest such formation in North America. Its serpentine rock supports scores of rare plant species, native bunch grasses, Jeffrey pine savannas and unique wetlands, known as serpentine fens. Within the area there are twenty-seven areas noted for their botanical values.
Having hosted flowering plants for over 50 million years, the soils of Siskiyou Wild Rivers support a globally-significant community of rare wildflowers and plants. Fens of carnivorous cobra plants, Jeffrey pine savannas, and the unique Redrock Rainforest are just a few of the botanical wonders in the area. Fire-enriched Klamath-Siskiyou forests contain over 1,800 plants species - 131 of which exist nowhere else on earth. It is no wonder that scientists consider the Klamath-Siskiyou one of the most important ecosystems on the planet.
"I was in the lead where I usually walk…when suddenly I beheld a small patch of beautiful low-growing deep rose colored plants and because of its beauty I started running toward it and dropped to my knees…I had never seen anything so beautiful before."
— Lilla Leach, a pioneering botanist on her discovery in 1930 of the endemic Kalmiopsis leachiana, the oldest living member of the azalea and rhododendron family.
Treasured Wild Lands
At the heart of Siskiyou Wild Rivers is the Kalmiopsis Wildlands, a remote, rugged and roadless mountain stronghold. At over 400,000 acres, it is the largest complex of wilderness and unprotected roadless areas on the Pacific Coast from Canada to Mexico. These unspoiled lands are not only sanctuaries for solitude - they are also refuges for wildlife and natural processes that depend on large landscapes to survive. These last unprotected wildlands contain whole watersheds and vast forests. It is easy to see that the Siskiyou is one of the few remaining places where there are wild watersheds for fish.
Simply look at a map of Oregon and you'll see that most of the coast range lands are privately owned. Private ownership means that pretty much the entire landscape has been logged at least once. In fact, other than the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, there is no other large wildland so close to the coast in the Pacific Northwest.
Wild Rivers, Wild Fish
Siskiyou Wild Rivers has more National Wild & Scenic Rivers than any other area of comparable size in the country. These rivers, their tributaries and headwaters contain some of the most valuable wild salmon and trout habitat in the contiguous United States and are a critical refuge for native wild fish populations at risk of extinction. They also provide excellent drinking water for local communities and offer world-class fishing, boating, and hiking opportunities.
Amazingly, the entire Illinois River basin is free of fish hatchery programs, ensuring that the fish here are of native genetic stock. The Siskiyou Wild Rivers is one of the few remaining places where a refuge for Pacific salmon can be successfully established.
A Fire-Dependent Landscape
Natural fires have been key contributors to the health, diversity and beauty of the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area for millennia. Returning every 10 to 150 years, forest fires recycle nutrients, create a diversity of forest types, renew fire-dependent species and provide burned trees critical to salmon and wildlife habitat.
Hence, wild fire is an essential ingredient to the biological health of our Siskiyou forests. Logging has taken its toll on the biological integrity, diversity and resilience of our Siskiyou ecosystem. Fire suppression has also, but in a more subtle way, had an impact.