June 2, 2023- Looking out across the landscape, the Kalmiopsis Wilderness of southwest Oregon feels rugged and harsh, and since the entire wilderness area burned in the 2002 Biscuit Fire, it is a stark portrait of the ongoing change of natural processes. With one of the most complex geological areas in the country, full of uplifted and contorted ancient ocean floor and volcanic intrusions, the Kalmiopsis has always told the story of change, recording the marching of time across millennia. Within its deep, rough canyons and craggy ridges, the last few decades have also seen more rapid change as the ecosystem rebounds from fire.
Today we’re celebrating the start of a new chapter for 60 acres deep in the heart of the Kalmiopsis. In 2018 the Trust purchased the last remaining private inholding in the wilderness area. The property sits on the Little Chetco River, and up until the Trust’s purchase of it, was an active dredge mining operation. Most recently it was run as a destination for recreational gold mining trips, complete with cabins and dredging equipment flown in by helicopter, to house a steady stream of visitors as they tried their hand at gold mining. The impact of this kind of development reaches beyond property lines though, with sediment washing downstream in Coho Salmon spawning grounds, and wildlife pushed out of historic migration routes.
Acquiring the property was only the first step in protecting it. The Trust then undertook restoring the property to its wilderness character, no small feat in this remote and rugged location.
With the property successfully restored, we recently transferred it to public ownership, completing the wilderness area 54 years after it was first established. In this next chapter, this wild place will continue to change, but now that change will take place in nature’s timeframe, once again governed by natural processes, not imposed by human development.