The Smith River is a large watershed encompassing nearly 720 square miles, including about 630 in Del Norte County and the remaining in southern Oregon. The river flows into the Pacific Ocean just four miles south of the California/Oregon border. The five main tributaries of the river are Rowdy Creek, Mill Creek, and the North Fork, South Fork, and Middle Fork of the Smith River. The large, free-flowing river—without a single dam along its mainstem—makes it especially prized among conservationists and is considered one of the crown jewels of the National Wild and Scenic River program. Over 80% over the watershed is owned and managed by federal agencies. Dominant land uses are agriculture, timber harvest, and recreation, particularly within the Smith River National Recreation Area.
The Smith River represents some of California’s the best remaining habitat for anadromous fish. Despite good habitat, populations are still at risk. Coho salmon in the basin are state and federally listed as threatened; steelhead and Chinook salmon are not listed species. Preventing the extinction of coho salmon means restoring some habitat attributes within the Smith River watershed that are in poor condition and maintaining the conditions that encourage coho salmon survival.