The Owyhee Canyonlands are getting a new look for protection but this time its on the Oregon side of the border.
This summer a coalition of local, regional and national organizations proposed protecting 2.5 million acres of this stunning, desolate country only a few hours west of Boise.
The proposal would designate 2 million acres as wilderness within a 2.5-million-acre National Conservation Area that includes popular areas like Leslie Gulch and Succor Creek State Park southwest of Homedale. It would also safeguard over 50 miles of waterways in the Owyhee as federally designated wild & scenic rivers.
Already 518,000 acres is protected as wilderness in the Idaho part of this huge area twice the size of Yellowstone National Park. The Oregon side has only three paved roads crossing it.
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The Owyhee Canyonlands is the largest undeveloped, unprotected expanse in the lower 48 states. Its red-rock canyons, pristine rivers and intact sagebrush uplands are home to native redband trout and one of the largest herds of California bighorn sheep in the nation. In The southern reaches of the Owyhee are one of the six most important areas in the nation for the survival of sage-grouse.
“I and other Oregonians should be embarrassed that Idaho protected its part of the Owyhee seven years ago, said Brent Fenty, executive director of the Bend-based Oregon Natural Desert Association.
“We’re urging Oregon’s congressional delegation to take action on behalf of the Owyhee,” he said. “Mining and energy development proposals are popping up around its edges, so the time to safeguard the Owyhee is now.”
Malheur County has weighed in against the proposal expressing tolerance only in protecting about 45,000 acres of wilderness. But there is growing interest and pressure on the Obama administration to protect the area as a national monument using the Antiquities Act of 1908.
The same threat got Idaho interests from all sides to develop their own bill to protect three wilderness areas in the Boulder-White Clouds that was signed by President Obama in August. Fenty said they are working on getting support for their proposal but would welcome a national monument.
The proposal would keep open significant roads within the Owyhee and allow traditional uses such as grazing to continue.