State report illustrates threat to the Owyhee Canyonlands

News Release


CONTACT: David Moryc, Senior Director, American Rivers: (503) 827-8648,


State report illustrates threats to the Owyhee Canyonlands

Report IDs high potential for future mining in Malheur County

Malheur County contains high potential for mining uranium, lithium, gold and silver, diatomite, bentonite and zeolite, according to a new report issued this week by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI).

The report details mineral potential in the counties of eastern and southern Oregon. The commodities examined were considered based on development potential under current economic conditions, the report says, and Malheur County is listed as having high development potential for six commodities. Bentonite and zeolite, the report says, are different but have some similar uses, including pet litter and feed additives. Diatomite is used as an inert filler.

It also underscores the need to permanently protect the Owyhee Canyonlands, public lands that a recent scientific study found are considered among the most ecologically significant in the lower 48. Ninety-five percent of this pristine 2.5-million-acre area lacks any form of lasting protection.

“This report confirms that the threats to the Owyhee country are real and that the actions of Senators Wyden and Merkley and Representative Blumenauer to work to protect the area show significant foresight,” says David Moryc, an Oregon-based director for American Rivers. “With 70 percent of Oregonians supporting permanent protection of the Owyhee Canyonlands, people across the political spectrum agree that its rivers are priceless and no place for industrial mining.”

Threats are already clawing at the edges of Oregon’s Owyhee. According to the Vale District of the Bureau of Land Management, there are more than 170,000 acres of active natural gas leases in Malheur County, just outside the Owyhee. Mining proposals for gold and uranium are in motion at the edges of the Owyhee and large areas of the Owyhee remain open to new mining proposals. A project creating an alternate route to Interstate 5 and the proposed Boardman-Hemingway Transmission line also have the potential to impact the area.

“We’re facing a recipe for roads, lights and industrial noise,” says Ryan Meek, who has hunted his entire life in the Owyhee. “We need to safeguard the Owyhee so time-honored traditions such as hunting and fishing still exist there for future generations. The Owyhee is a very fragile ecosystem.”

Scientists in a recent ecological study called Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands one of the most important large, intact areas left in the Lower 48. It provides connected habitat for more than 300 wildlife species, which is particularly critical for the future in the face of climate change. The area is home to golden eagles, pronghorn antelope, elk, the imperiled Greater sage-grouse and one of the largest herds of California bighorn sheep in the nation.

Permanent protection of the Owyhee would allow traditional uses such as ranching to continue and would be good for the local economy, with the potential to double recreation and tourism-related spending, a recent study found.

“Outdoor recreation is an important economic driver,” says John Sterling, executive director of The Conservation Alliance, which represents outdoor industry companies. “The Owyhee offers world-class whitewater paddling, rugged and remote backpacking and hiking, and ample room for exploration, all of which attracts visitors to southeastern Oregon. Unwise development that carves up the Owyhee Canyonlands would damage its economic potential.”

A diverse coalition of more than 150 business owners, veterans, faith leaders, sportsmen and 35,000 others from Oregon and beyond are working to protect the Owyhee Canyonlands. Conservation efforts in the region have been ongoing for decades, and Idaho’s portion of the Owyhee country was permanently protected in 2009. Learn more about this spectacular area at