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High Desert Areas of Concern

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Three Areas of Key Concern


Lupine on South Steens - by Borden Beck

There are currently three areas that are very important to the High Desert Committee. These areas are of key concern because there are either protected, but need some watch dogging, or they have been tagged for future protection. The three areas of importance include John Day River Basin, Steens Mountain/Pueblo Mountains, and the Owyhee Canyonlands.

“Steens Mountain is an Oregon crown jewel. It is phenomenal country…”

—Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Steens Mountain/Pueblo Mountains

Steens Mountain is a fault block mountain found in the southeastern part of Oregon. Although it is often confused with a mountain range, Steens is considered a single mountain. It stretches fifty miles and its highest peak is 9,725 ft.

Steens was renamed after the US Army Major Enoch Steen, who drove off the Paiute tribe from the mountain. There are several plant species common to Steens Mountain, and only Steens Mountain. These plants include Steens paintbrush, moss gentian, Steens Mountain penstemon, Steens Mountain Thistle, a dwarf blue lupine and Cusick’s buckwheat.

The protection of Steens Mountain began in 2000 and consists of wilderness study areas, cattle free areas and mining free areas. This protection came in the form of the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act of 2000. Steens Mountain Wilderness encompasses 170,025 acres and most importantly has 98,859 acres that are cattle free.

John Day River Basin

John Day River is a tributary of the Columbia River that is found in northeast Oregon and runs 281 miles. John Day River was named after John Day who was an explorer from the Astor Expedition, which was an overland expedition to the mouth of the Columbia river. Day wandered lost through the area that is now named after him during the winter of 1811-1812.

John Day River is nestled inside of the John Day River Basin and is often used as a rafting river, as well as a great place to camp along. In 1988 the United States Congress designated 147.5 miles of the John Day River as National Wild and Scenic River. The river furnishes habitat for wild spring chinook salmon, anadromous steelhead, redband trout, bull trout, and westslope cutthroat trout.

There is also the opportunity to at see the John Day Fossil Beds, a national monument that has a nearly complete record of plants and animals spanning more than 40 of the 65 million years of the Cenozoic Era (the age of the mammals and flowering plants).

Also within the John Day River Basin, and the national monument, are the Painted Hills, which are best views in the late afternoon. These hills are constantly changing colors, but are often shades of yellow, gold, blacks, and reds.

Owyhee Canyonlands

Nearly 14 million years ago, geological forces began to form what today is known as the Owyhee Canyonlands region. This rugged and majestic place is found in the southeast corner of Oregon and spills into both Idaho and Nevada. The Owyhee Canyonlands, known as the ‘Grand Canyon’ of Oregon, are a mosaic of more than 3 million acres of land comprising the largest unprotected roadless area in the lower 48 states. It also comprises over 700,000 acres of potential wilderness and 288 miles of wild and scenic rivers.

The Owyhee Canyonlands is characterized by stunning broad landscapes, jagged rock formations, sagebrush steppe, and subtle but striking displays of desert colors. Whether viewing soaring eagles and honeycomb like rock configurations, rafting down the river, or hiking narrow canyons, the opportunity for solitude and connection with the wild is truly outstanding. In the Owyhee Canyonlands you enter a world of immense possibility, and unlimited natural beauty. The Owyhee region is home to many different types of plants and animals including species that are only found in this region, which means that they can easily become endangered or extinct if not protected.