Senator Wyden Releases a New Version of the River Democracy Act, but Leaves the Best of the Applegate Out!
For the past three years Applegate Siskiyou Alliance (ASA) and others across Oregon have been working with Senator Wyden’s staff to nominate streams for protection as new Wild and Scenic River segments. This public nomination process led to the River Democracy Act, federal legislation that would protect thousands of miles of rivers and streams in Oregon watersheds as new Wild and Scenic Rivers.
ASA proposed streams for designation across the Applegate River watershed and Senator Wyden’s original version of the River Democracy Act included approximately 154 miles of streams in the Applegate River watershed, including the headwaters of the Applegate River in northern California.
Unfortunately, Senator Wyden recently released a revision of the River Democracy Act that dramatically reduced the stream miles proposed for Wild and Scenic River designation in the Applegate River Watershed. This included a reduction from 154 stream miles in the Applegate to 62.7 miles. This nearly 60% reduction in stream miles proposed for protection in the Applegate River watershed was the largest in the state on a watershed by watershed basis.
Much of this unfortunate reduction came by dropping tributary streams on the Little Applegate River, Palmer Creek, Star Gulch, Carberry Creek, Mule Creek, and Pipe Fork, while the mainstem of each stream remains proposed for Wild and Scenic River protection. Tragically, still more reductions came by removing all Applegate River streams located just over the border in northern California, including the Middle Fork Applegate River, Butte Fork Applegate River, Cook and Green Creek, Whisky Creek, Elliott Creek and many others.
Clearly a political decision, these headwaters streams, although located in northern California, are by far the wildest and most scenic in our region. They also support the most intact habitats, with the most significant stream flows, the most popular recreation areas, the biggest stands of old-growth forest, and the largest, most spectacular wildlands surrounding the Red Buttes Wilderness Area. Despite being the heart of our proposal and the most worthy streams in the Applegate River watershed, these streams are unfortunately no longer proposed for protection in Senator Wyden’s legislation.
On a more positive note, this new version of the River Democracy Act did expand proposed protections in two important Applegate River watersheds. Although not included in the original legislation, the newest version extends protections to 5.5 miles of Silver Fork Elliott Creek, below Dutchman Peak in a deep forested canyon. It also includes an additional 5.5 miles on Slate Creek, in a beautiful red rock canyon filled with rare plants, Port Orford-cedar groves, old-growth mixed conifer forests, twisted Jeffrey pine woodlands and the Applegate River’s only population of the carnivorous cobra lily (Darlingtonia californica) west of Wilderville, Oregon.
Although ASA will continue to support the River Democracy Act and we are appreciative of the important streams still included in the legislation, we will also continue to vigorously advocate for the biggest, wildest, most worthy streams in our region at the headwaters of the river in California. This includes the Middle Fork Applegate River, Butte Fork Applegate River, Cook and Green Creek, lower Whisky Creek and Elliott Creek. It also includes upper Whisky Creek in Oregon near Whisky Peak, upper Pipe Fork on the northern slope of Big Sugarloaf Peak above the Williams Valley, as well as two additional tributaries of Carberry Creek including O’Brien Creek and Brush Creek.
Please sign our petition and support this effort to appropriately protect the headwaters of the Applegate River in California and other worthy streams throughout the watershed. Better yet, send a personal letter to Senator Wyden letting him know your love for the headwaters of the Applegate River, your relationship to these places, and your desire to protect more worthy streams in the Applegate River watershed. Please specifically ask him to include the Middle Fork Applegate River, Butte Fork Applegate River, Cook and Green Creek, lower Whisky Creek, Elliott Creek, upper Pipe Fork, Brush Creek, and O’Brien Creek.