People from around the state and nation have focused their attention on the Illinois Valley Watershed because of the many natural resource concerns here. The primary concern is the threatened listing of the coho salmon and steelhead trout under the Endangered Species Act. Another concern is the native plant population that has been identified as containing the highest sensitive plant species in the Rogue Basin.
Elevations approximately range from nearly 7,000 feet in the Siskiyou cold snow zone to 2,000 feet in the valleys. Steep slopes, sharp divides and rugged terrain are typical, especially in the headwater and lower canyon areas. Most slopes range between 11 and 60 percent, with the exception of the broad alluvial fan in the Cave Junction area, where most of the basin population resides and has dramatically increased in the last 45 years.
Most of the interior valleys are Bureau of Land Management and privately-owned forestland, while the majority of the watershed is US Forest Service land. The primary commercial land uses are timber production with some range, agriculture and recreational land. Many jobs in the area are tied to these activities. Current mining claims include: shale/hard rock, aggregate/sand and gravel, and clay quarries along with placer gold, lode gold and nickel activities.
Watershed health is an important issue in the study indicated by water quality. Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality has listed stream segments as water quality limited for temperature. In addition, there has been a loss of habitat and water quantity. These are important issues for fish rearing and mortality rates. The wild coho, steelhead, cutthroat, chinook and resident trout populations have declined, placing coho on the endangered species list as being threatened. Temperatures above 68 degrees Fahrenheit can jeopardize salmonids. Average daily maximums of 82.1 degrees Fahrenheit have been documented in several reaches in the Illinois Valley Watershed.
The goals of the Illinois Valley Watershed Council are to:
- Improve water quality and quantity for all beneficial uses in the watershed.
- Expand assistance to agricultural producers, ranchers and resource users in the watershed.
- Assist woodland owners with conservation plans that include watershed health objectives.
- Provide educational opportunities and informational programs to schools and the community.
- Expand the role of participation by local, State and Federal agencies along with foundations and organizations as partners.