NEWS RELEASE: New proposal would permanently protect 2.5 million acres of Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands

News Release


CONTACT: Brent Fenty, Oregon Natural Desert Association, 541-330-2638 | David Moryc, American Rivers, 503-827-8648 | Matt Keller, The Wilderness Society, 970-946-0906

 New proposal would permanently protect 2.5 million acres of Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands

Wilderness, wild rivers, wildlife habitat to be protected 

Roughly 2.5 million acres of Oregon’s most stunning, ecologically significant public lands would be protected for future generations under a proposal put forward Wednesday by a coalition of local, regional and national organizations.

The Owyhee Coalition’s proposal would offer permanent protection to the Owyhee Canyonlands in southeastern Oregon, designating approximately 2 million acres as wilderness within a 2.5-million-acre National Conservation Area. It would also safeguard over 50 miles of waterways in the Owyhee as federally designated wild & scenic rivers.

An area larger than Yellowstone National Park with just three paved roads crossing it, 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 a rich array of wildlife, including native redband trout and one of the largest herds of California bighorn sheep in the nation. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently identified the southern reaches of the Owyhee as one of the six most important areas in the nation for the survival of the imperiled Greater sage-grouse.

From plants found nowhere else on Earth to more than 500 known archeological sites to geological grandeur straight out of the Southwest, the Owyhee Canyonlands is unparalleled, 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.”

The proposal would keep open significant roads within the Owyhee and allow traditional uses such as grazing to continue. More information is available at HERE.

The Owyhee Canyonlands has netted significant attention as of late: In July, Portland-based KEEN Footwear launched the Live Monumental campaign, highlighting the Owyhee and four other places deserving lasting protection. The effort will gather 100,000 petition signatures urging President Barack Obama, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and U.S. Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack to designate more than 3 million acres across the country as national monuments.

“Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands has long been nationally recognized as one of the most significant, intact parts of the sagebrush sea that we have left,” said Sara Barth, Pacific and Southeast Senior Regional Director with The Wilderness Society.

David Moryc, Senior Director of the River Protection Program for conservation group American Rivers, said everyone has a stake in maintaining the pristine waters flowing through the Owyhee, which journey into the Snake and Columbia rivers before ultimately reaching the Pacific.

“The Owyhee Canyonlands is home to one of the highest concentrations of nationally outstanding Wild and Scenic Rivers in the country,” Moryc said. “These ribbons of life in the sagebrush country support redband trout, mule deer, California Bighorn sheep, antelope, and chukar.”

The Owyhee Coalition has begun discussing the proposal with landowners and officials, and will continue to confer about important resources and land uses in the Owyhee in the coming months.

“I’ve lived in the Owyhee country my whole life,” said Tim Davis, an Ontario native who heads up a local group called Friends of the Owyhee. “I have five children, and I want to make sure they can experience this place as I have and the rest of my family has for generations.”

Walt Van Dyke, a longtime Ontario resident, retired wildlife biologist and avid hunter, said he feels the Owyhee Canyonlands definitely need protection in some form – there are several wildlife species dependent on it.

“We’re fortunate that the Owyhee hasn’t been fragmented in Oregon, like so many other areas of the country,” he said. “This high desert country is more fragile than you’d think. And I don’t think we can rely on remoteness to keep the sort of impacts we don’t want from happening here.”

The Owyhee Coalition consists of local, regional and national groups that recognize the conservation, recreation and economic values of the Owyhee Canyonlands. Members include American Rivers, American Whitewater, Conservation Lands Foundation, Mazamas, Oregon Natural Desert Association, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society. Learn more at