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Chetco River Sub-basin

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Chetco Aerial
Chetco River, photo USFS

The Chetco River is located entirely within Curry County, just south of the Rogue River basin.  The Chetco starts at 3,200 feet in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness at the intersection of the Oregon Coast Range, and the Klamath Mountains.  Fifty six miles long, the Chetco drains an area of approximately 352 square miles, emptying into the Ocean between the towns of Brookings and Harbor, just north of the California border.

The Chetco basin contains greater wildlife diversity than anywhere else in Oregon, including a broad variety of bird species, large mammals and rare endemic flowers.  The watershed is home to the world’s most northern Redwood grove, and Kalmiopsis leachiana, the rare flowering plant found only in the Siskiyou Mountains and namesake of the wilderness area.  Steelhead, Chinook and Coho salmon all make their home here, in addition to Cutthroat Trout and Pacific Lamprey.  Over 97% of the watershed is forested.

Map of the Chetco Sub-basin
The Chetco Sub-basin

Despite the federal Wild and Scenic designation on the upper 45 miles of the river, there are current gold mining claims inside and outside of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness that threaten water quality and native fish populations that still thrive there.  In addition, the lower 11 miles of river are mined for gravel.  The Oregon DEQ has identified 15 streams and rivers as water quality limited in the Chetco Basin, noting problems with temperature, bacteria, nutrients, flow, cyanobacteria and sedimentation. According to DEQ there are over a hundred miles of streams and rivers in the Chetco Basin that violate water quality standards.

Like the Rogue, the largest landowner in the basin is the Federal government.  The U.S. Forest Service owns 78%, the BLM 5%, 16% is under private ownership, and 1% is owned by Brookings, Harbor, and the State of Oregon.  While the watershed is sparsely populated, the 14,000 residents of Brookings and Harbor get their drinking water directly from the river.

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