Umpqua Watersheds
Wild Umpqua Wilderness Proposal
Youth Campout 2010 - Twin Lakes
Newly discovered waterfall on Wright Creek in the Cougar Bluffs
backcountry area. Photo by Dave Stone

The Umpqua River has enchanted hunters, anglers, wild life enthusiasts and recreational hikers since the first roads were punched into her ravines, leaving the memory of glistening waters and towering forests as some of their most prized memories. Writer and outdoorsman, Zane Grey loved this river and visited her glowing waters from 1932 on, calling it, “the green-rushing, singing Umpqua”. The Umpqua’s heavy shouldered-steelhead remained the best he’d ever fished.

Unfortunately very little of the Umpqua watershed enjoys permanent protection as Wilderness. Despite the noticeable lack of protected areas, there remain numerous places that deserve additional protection. As Zane Grey once noted, “The people of Oregon and, more especially, those who live on or near the Umpqua, are as a whole, deaf and dumb and blind to the marvelous good of this river, and if they do not wake, its virtue and beauty and health will be lost to them”.

This proposed Wild Umpqua Wilderness links key wild backcountry areas within the Umpqua River system. It is critical that we protect wildlife corridors and watersheds in order to provide essential resiliency as we face an uncertain future of global climate change.

Physical Description

The proposed Wild Umpqua Wilderness is located in southwestern Oregon, at the juncture of the southern end of the western and high Cascade Mountains and the northern edge of the “Klamath Knot”, a geologic area that combines the Siskiyous and Klamath formations extending into California. This region is considered one of the world’s most biologically diverse areas. The proposed Wilderness includes several areas that remain part of the original uncut forests, within the Umpqua watershed, all part of the Umpqua National Forest.

The Wild and Scenic North Umpqua River springs out of Lake Maidu in the Cascades near Mt. Thielsen, (also called the “Lightening Rod of the Cascades”, at 9,187 ft. elevation). The volcanic pumice and thick beds of conifer humus filter the cold water and give it the flavor and appearance of evergreen. The North Umpqua then roars through canyons of columnar basalt flowing westward for 108 miles before joining the South Umpqua River a few miles northwest of Roseburg. With a drainage area of 1,308 square miles, the “mainstem” of the Umpqua follows another 100-plus undulating miles, before it enters with solemn magnificence into the Pacific, near the city of Reedsport, for a total journey of 211 miles.

The South Umpqua River starts its journey from the many springs and aquifers in the Rogue Umpqua Divide Wilderness. It passes through a remote canyon, then downstream in a confluence with two forks, Black Rock and Castle Rock. The South Umpqua River here immediately gains the presence and muscle of a formidable river. The South Umpqua River watershed is 141, 575 acres. Its tributaries border the Rogue National Forest to the south.

A Tour of the Wild Umpqua Wilderness
Youth Campout 2010 - Twin Lakes
Bulldog Creek, a vital source of cold water during summer month
for steelhead. Photo by Robin Wisdom

Traveling east on Highway 138, after entering the rough, green swathed canyon where the North Umpqua River rushes over boulders and lodged trees, are two very accessible natural treasures, Cougar Bluffs and Williams Creek. Both of these rare gems have trails through old growth forests along the Wild and Scenic North Umpqua River. Recently a hidden 80-foot waterfall in Cougar Bluffs was rediscovered on Wright Creek.

Continuing up the Wild and Scenic North Umpqua River, the Steamboat Creek area is recognized for its excellent salmon and steelhead spawning and rearing habitat. It is a Tier 1, key watershed for the North Umpqua and has been a candidate for Wild and Scenic status. Some of the most valuable tributaries stem from this intact forest above Steamboat Creek. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife considers City, Cedar, Big Bend, and Canton Creeks and their supporting forested slopes, very important for spawning habitat. This is where a majority of the North Umpqua’s wild summer steelhead spawns. Steamboat Creek and its tributaries are, by virtue of their remarkable values, obvious candidates for wilderness protection. “The wild population of summer steelhead is only one of three in Oregon and nine in the entire Western United States.1”

Youth Campout 2010 - Twin Lakes
Just beneath where Big Bend Creek meets Steamboat Creek, visitors can
find Summer Steelhead, an endangered species . Photo by Robin Wisdom

The Fairview, Canton Creek and Bulldog Rock areas connect to the Steamboat watershed and are vital coldwater contributors to the health and productivity of this drainage. Big Bend Creek drains the Bulldog Rock watershed and is a major contributor of cold water that helps sustain summer steelhead through the hot months of summer, providing the steelhead refuge in the Big Bend pool of Steamboat Creek. In addition to their fish and watershed values these unroaded backcountry areas provide important elk habitat with mountain seeps and wetlands, large moss-bearded mountain hemlock and Douglas fir, alpine and grand fir.

Fifty-two miles up the North Umpqua Wild and Scenic Byway from Roseburg, is the trailhead for Twin Lakes in the Calf Copeland backcountry. These popular lakes are spectacularly beautiful and the trail around them is an easy hike. Because of the swimming, hiking, and camping opportunities, these lakes are a popular summer destination. Outstanding scenery along the trails and abundant wildlife attract hunters and photographers to the area.

Twin Lakes in the Calf Copeland backcountry is a popular area for
recreation for steelhead. Photo by Robin Wisdom

The beautiful and famous Tokatee Hot Springs and Lemolo waterfall along the meandering North Umpqua Trail farther up river, entices many visitors. A natural continuation of these attractions is found in the bordering Dread and Terror Ridge. Native Americans used fire to maintain and enrich their food supply of huckleberries and elk forage in the Dread and Terror. Over the subsequent years, a thorny variety of ceanothus has formed massive hedges along some of the slopes, and given rise to this area’s fierce name.

Upstream from the Dread and Terror Ridge, you’ll come to the headwaters of the North Umpqua River in the High Cascades. The source of the North Umpqua River is Maidu Lake. Lemolo Lake, Kelsay Valley, Spring River, all located near Mount Thielsen, become tributaries to the North Umpqua River. Much of this high volcanic area functions as pumice-covered aquifers, providing some of the cleanest, clearest waters in the Northwest and accounts for the relative health of the native salmon and steelhead populations. They also provide clean drinking water for much of the watershed’s populations in Glide, Winchester, Roseburg and their outlying areas. These high elevation areas are also known to contain habitat suitable for the threatened wolverine and fisher. Right next doors glistens Diamond Lake, a famous recreation area and productive rainbow trout fishery that neighbors Crater Lake National Park and the Pacific Crest Trail.

Seven miles west of the Mount Thielsen Wilderness is Mount Bailey. Mt. Bailey is also known as “Medicine Mountain”. On Mount Bailey one can visit abundant waterfalls, dozens of trails and some of the most magnificent ancient forests remaining in the Pacific Northwest. Ancient forests and stunning geologic features left by the eruption of Mount Mazama form the basis for this diverse area. Although part of the Wild Umpqua Wilderness proposal, Mount Bailey is also a candidate for a national monument. The boundaries of a proposed national monument for Mount Bailey fall within the Diamond Lake Ranger District of the Umpqua National Forest, and the Sherwood Butte area on the Rogue River National Forest. Through its size and linkages between the adjacent wildernesses, this proposed national monument would continue to provide critical connectivity for many large-ranging and old growth dependent species – including 20 species of conservation concern. Early proposals for Crater Lake National Park included parts of this area in recognition of its outstanding beauty and ecological value.

Waterfalls at Headwaters of Castle Rock. Photo by Dave Stone

After visiting the remaining unroaded gems of the North Umpqua River watershed, we enter the Rogue Umpqua Divide Wilderness, which is to the South Umpqua watershed what the High Cascades are for the North Umpqua, — its source and headwaters. Unfortunately only a small part of the headwaters has been permanently protected as wilderness.

In the South Umpqua River drainage, the Forest Service’s Wild and Scenic River analysis details the fisheries’ values for the Jackson Creek, Black Rock Fork, Castle Rock, and Fish Lake Creek watersheds, judging them to be of "outstandingly remarkable” value. Additionally, Castle Rock and Fish Lake Creek, contiguous with the Rogue Umpqua Divide Wilderness, have been determined to have "outstandingly remarkable scenic values” as well. Consequently, all the systems studied are considered eligible for inclusion into the Wild and Scenic River System, as well as being key features in this wilderness proposal2. Most importantly however, the cold, clear water these tributaries bring into the South Umpqua River is vital to offset the cumulative effects of past land-use activities such as road building, clear-cutting and mining. While, the South Umpqua River is judged to have equally "outstandingly remarkable" fisheries, prehistoric, wildlife and traditional use values, the South Umpqua River suffers from optimal temperatures and turbidity. Fortunately, the contribution of cold, clear water from Donegan Prairie, Quartz Creek, Dumont Creek and Straight Creek help to offset some of the degradation affecting the river’s health. In terms of safeguarding the vitality of the South Umpqua River, these areas are critical for our Umpqua Wilderness proposal. For as much praise that has been given to the South Umpqua River’s beauty and remarkable values, sadly, it is also a river in trouble.

Last Creek, is one of the largest wild area in the South Umpqua River watershed proposed for wilderness designation. This popular area has a trail that leads to the top of Vision Mountain, a 5000-foot butte overlooking spectacular backcountry. Where millions of anadromous fish once returned, there are now only several hundred returning each year. Protecting the forests of Last Creek is of critical importance in the effort to maintain these populations. Many of the watershed’s tributaries, including Boulder Creek, a tributary of the South Umpqua River, contribute cold, clean water for spring chinook, winter steelhead and Threatened coho spawning and rearing habitat.

Physical and Biological Attributes


The proposed Umpqua Wilderness exemplifies the transitional nature of the southern Cascade Range and the northern Klamath Siskiyou region. Flora common to both come together to form some of the most unique landscapes along the entire range.

Amongst a mosaic of meadows, balds, bluffs and rock outcroppings are showcased mixed coniferous forests and deciduous woodlands. These forests are composed predominately of Douglas-fir, with ponderosa pine, sugar pine, white pine, incense cedar, western red cedar, mountain and western hemlock, and many species of true firs. These forests may also include Pacific madrone, big leaf maple, golden chinquapin, Oregon myrtle and canyon live oak. Following is a list of a few of the plant species you’ll find throughout the Umpqua in varying numbers:

Douglas Fir Tree in the Williams Creek area
Photo by Bob Hoehne

Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas-fir)
Abies grandis (grand fir)
Tsuga heterophylla (western hemlock)
Calocedrus decurrens (incense cedar)
Thuja plicata (western red cedar)
Pinus lambertiana (sugar pine)
Berberis nervosa (Dwarf Oregon grape)
Gaultheria shallon (salal)
Oxalis oregana (Oregon wood sorrel, Redwood sorrel)
Polystichum munitum (sword fern)
Linnaea borealis (twinflower)
Rhododendron macrophyllum (Pacific rhododendron, western rhododendron)
Quercus kelloggii (California black oak)
Quercus garryana (Oregon white oak)
Acer circinatum (vine maple)
Rhus diversiloba (poison oak)
Castanopsis chrysophylla (golden chinquapin)
Lithocarpus densiflorus (tanoak)
Arctostaphylos pungens (manzanita)

Approximately 55% of the North Umpqua drainage contains Douglas-fir with approximately 25% in mountain hemlock, western hemlock, and other species compromising the rest. Much of the headwaters such as the Medicine Mountain (Mount Bailey) and the upper watersheds are predominately mountain hemlock, at 70 %. The Bulldog Rock area also has on its north facing slopes, Pacific silver fir (Abies amabilis) and Alaska yellow cedar, both rare this far south in the Cascades. Twin Lakes also has a small stand of Alaskan yellow cedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis), along with the alpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa), noble fir (Abies procera), and hemlock. Douglas-fir dominates the South Umpqua drainage, and sugar pine, ponderosa pine, white fir, incense cedar ,western red cedar and western hemlock, can be found interspersed where site conditions favor their growth. On the south facing slopes one can find deciduous woodlands and meadow mosaics that are often populated with California black oak Oregon white oak, and Pacific madrone.

Kalmiopsis fragans, a rare flower found that only grows on breccia tuft
rock outcrops like those found in the Last Creek area.
Photo by Susan Applegate

Our official Oregon Flower, the Oregon Grape, (Mahonia aquifolium) also known by pioneers as "yellow root" for its dyer’s quality stain and prized by the Umpqua’s indigenous people, as a powerful medicinal plant, is found throughout the Umpqua. The creeping Oregon grape, (M. repens) and Cascade, or dwarf Oregon-Grape, (M. nervosa) are prevalent in the both the north and south Umpqua watersheds.

The Limpy Rock area shares many rare and sensitive plant species with the Klamath eco-region. Limpy Rock was established as a Research Natural Area in 1979 because of the abundance of special interest plant species found here. Both Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga mensiesii) and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), provide the majority of the high canopy, with Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii), incense-cedar (Calocedrus kurz), golden chinkuapin (Castanopsis chrysophylla), grand fir (Abies grandis), ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana) taking a lesser role. Many rare, threatened or endangered plant species are found in the Limpy Rock area. Some of these include: spleenwort (Asplenium septentrionale), milk vetch (Astragalus umbraticus), fairy slipper (Calypso bulbosa), ghost orchid (Eburophyton austinae), fawnlily (Erythronium citrinum), gnome plant (Hemitomes congestum), Panther lily (Lilium pardalinum) and the extremely rare Umpqua kalmiopsis, (Kalmiopsis fragrans Meinke & Kaye).

850-year old Douglas Fir saved from logging by citizen
protests in 1996

Flat Rock is the only remaining completely wild area in the Little River drainage, and cradles the very headwaters of Little River. Here one can experience the beauty of the rare Umpqua mariposa lily, (Calochortus umpquaensis) found on the Serpentine soils. This delicate mariposa lily species was first discovered in the Umpqua, and is not a common plant. It finds a haven and habitat suitable to its existence in a few sites within the Umpqua National Forest.

The Last Creek area, is one of only fifteen sites on earth where one can see the rare and beautiful “Kalmiopsis fragrans” species growing. It is a “vibrantly beautiful flowering shrub that has rose to red colored flowers and long draping vegetative shoots with small ovate leathery leaves. It grows only on breccia tuft rock outcrops made of an ancient geology high in silicaceous materials."( bakedapple/

This steep and rugged ancient forest has the documented 850- year-old Douglas fir whose ragged branches ascend the heavens. It was once slated for logging yet was saved in 1996 through citizen protest. Botanists from near and far have been drawn to the Umpqua by the beauty and abundance of botanical treasures found here.


Industrial uses within the Umpqua National Forest conflict with the needs of fish and wildlife. A large portion of the Umpqua is dedicated to timber production, which impacts the sustainable habitat requirements of most wildlife, including salmon spawning habitat as well as endangered species like the Northern spotted owl. Approximately 41% of the Forest is designated as Matrix or Adaptive Management Area land allocations, where the majority of commercial timber sales are planned. Logging or removing timber from other land allocations, including the Late Successional Reserve and Riparian Reserves (44%), may also occur. Wilderness protection for the Umpqua River would ensure that the last best habitat is protected for wildlife that so desperately needs it.

Pacific Lamprey, one of the oldest species in the fossil record, was
listed as a sensitive species by ODFW in 1993 because of the degradation of its habitat. Photo by Ralph Lampman

Elk, deer, cougar, and bobcat traverse the Umpqua’s forests, meadows, oak woodlands and rock outcroppings. Smaller animals like northern flying squirrels, martins and fishers inhabit hollow or downed trees. Large old fir trees are critical for the life cycle of red tree voles, (essential food source for the Northen spotted owl), who may never touch the ground, their life cycles completed within the structure of the tree. Snags and downed trees are important for the enormous variety of decomposer insects and their prey, such as the Giant Pacific salamander and the red legged frog, both found in the Umpqua. Raptors such as hawks, osprey, peregrine falcons and eagles prefer tall snags for perching. Game fish include anadromous (sea-run) species such as coho, chinook salmon and steelhead trout, while resident rainbow, brown, and Umpqua cutthroat trout that spawn and feed in the upper North and South Umpqua Rivers and their many tributaries.


The proposed areas for the Wild Umpqua Wilderness span the geologic ‘older’ western Cascades whose ages range from 33 to 38 million years old, and the newer, ‘high’ Cascade Range, aged 1.8 to 4 million years old. The volcanic activity in the older western Cascades slowed gradually about 9 million years ago, and shifted eastward to the newer, high Cascade region. Mt. Bailey, is a roadless area that lies in the newer high Cascades and one of the crowning jewels of the wilderness proposal.

As the high Cascade volcanoes died and buried one another, rivers and glaciers carved the Western Zone into much of what we recognize today. The source of the North Umpqua River is Maidu Lake in the High Cascades. The upper portion of this basin was shaped by the volcanic eruption of Mt. Mazama, which formed Crater Lake about 8,000 years ago. The river then passes through the Western Cascades geologic province dominated by the Little Butte Volcanic series. The headwaters of the south fork of the Umpqua River are in the western Cascades about 12 miles southwest of Diamond Lake. The South Umpqua basin is dominated by the Western Cascades geologic province, with some portions of the southern and western edge located within the Klamath Mountain province.


Sketch of natives harvesting camas roots by Captain Lyman, an explorer
and settler of the Umpqua Valley in the 1850’s.
Photo from the Douglas County Museum

Some say "Umpqua" means "Thundering waters", "the sound water makes" or "across the waters", all popular translations for this surviving word of the Umpqua language. A favorite definition is, "one is satisfied" -- as in a full stomach, appropriate due to the natural bounty of the Umpqua.

Ancestors of the Umpqua, Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, Southern Molalla, Kalapuya Yoncalla, lived here before Mt. Mazama erupted forming Crater Lake over 7,000 years ago .The Umpqua River Basin and uplands provided a rich menu for these earliest human inhabitants. Many of the naturally silted, lower gradient stream reaches of the Umpqua River and its tributaries, provided ideal habitat for the Pacific lamprey eel. Native peoples consumed eel both fresh and dried, along with Chinook and Coho Salmon, Steelhead and Umpqua River Cutthroat Trout. These tributaries contained crayfish and fresh water mussels as well. The Indians followed a seasonal round of food resources from lower to higher elevations. They wore the fiber from the western red cedar, pelts from some birds, smaller mammals and buckskin leather clothing. Wintertime found the wood plank and bark lodges full of foods gathered and

Sketch of native grave site with house and canoes by Captain
stored for those meager winter months. Acorn meal, Camas, rice lily root, tarweed seed, Yampa root to name just a few of the many roots, bulbs and plants consumed by the natives, all with viable populations within the Umpqua today. By 1856, most of the native people whose seasonal rounds included foraging and hunting in the Umpqua, had been forcibly moved to Siletz and Grand Ronde reservations in the eastern Willamette Valley and coast range.

On July 1, 1908, Congress created the Umpqua National Forest. Soon after, the USFS began building trails, constructing bridges and fire look-outs. Allotting and monitoring grazing of livestock by private ranchers also came under the purview of the staff. In 1925, logging and mining began in earnest. By the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps were building bridges, roads and the memorable Crater Lake Lodge.


Fishing, camping, hiking, rafting, and cross-country skiing are common throughout the Umpqua River area.

The Umpqua National Forest affords visitors a wide variety of recreational opportunities. Along the route of the Scenic Byway, one can visit waterfalls and enjoy spectacular views of mountain peaks of the Cascade Range. Along the route, you’ll discover remnants of volcanoes and associated lava flows, experience the thrill of standing beneath ancient trees, or stand atop enormous rock outcroppings and ledges that jut out above the river, or sit in meditation on the beauty of a high mountain lake or the enchantment of a mountain slope dressed in colorful wildflowers.

World-class fishing remains a favorite sport along the Umpqua and hunting within the backcountry continues a long-standing tradition. Anglers come from around the world to fish for summer run steelhead in the North Umpqua River.

Where camping, fishing, boating, swimming, white-water rafting and hiking are popular in the spring and summer, they give way to sledding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. And autumn is a favorite time for mushrooming and enjoying the Umpqua’s spectacular shimmering golden tones. Many find great satisfaction in birding, nature journaling and photography anytime of year, while enjoying the magnificent gifts of solitude and renewal. A Wilderness designation would allow all of the above-mentioned activities to continue sustainably into the future.

Threats to the region

Unroaded areas on the North and South Umpqua Rivers have been cut in half by new road creation since wilderness was last designated on the Umpqua in 1984. The Umpqua’s deteriorating water quality cries out for additional protection of remaining old growth forests and the water supply for much of Douglas County’s population3. Current threats include: liquid natural gas (LNG) pipeline project; the Umpqua National Forest’s Travel Management Plan now in scoping, threatening to open trails, even in Inventoried Roadless Areas to OHV’s motorized traffic; the D-Bug Timber Sale, which proposes clearcutting thousands of acres for biomass fuels and to cut within 938 acres of inventoried roadless areas; as well as the growing threat from new, as well as existing mining claims. As more people are taking up suction dredge mining as a recreational activity, many streams in the Umpqua that host prime salmon and trout habitat are threatened with this highly destructive mining practice. As long as the 1872 Mining Law remains, public lands will continue to be privatized at $2.50 to $5.00 per acre—the same price that was set in 1872 while exacting an enormous price to fish and wildlife habitat, degrading our public forests. To add to the “threat” list, during the summer of 2009, a helicopter tour company requested a permit to fly into the Crater Lake National Park for sight seeing tours.

Logging, mining, road building and off-road vehicles spread infestations of non-native aggressive species into the wild lands. Armenian (Himalayan blackberry, Star, Canada, Bull and Italian thistle, knapweed, Tansy ragwort and Scotch broom are a few of the problem species invading our native wild country.

With this wilderness proposal we will determine the fate and destinies of species— fish, mammal, reptile, insect, plant, fungi— dependant on the ecological integrity of these areas. We have the opportunity to help place these treasures forever off limits to industrial development, and to leave something behind besides clear cuts, silted streams, hillsides scarred by human induced land slides, polluted and poisoned ground water, as evidence of our time upon this earth.

"When we look at Oregon, we think of ourselves as a green state, but only 4 percent is protected as wilderness and only one national park. We have a responsibility to future generations to do better.” Erik Fernandez, Oregon Wild

3 DEQ Executive Summary and Table of Contents (pdf), “Umpqua Basin TMDL”, October 2006. pp.5-10. Retrieved December 4, 2008 from

Special Thanks to Umpqua Watershed’s Wild On Wilderness Committee for their hard work and dedication in putting together the Wild Umpqua Wilderness Proposal