There’s green in the high desert: The Owyhee Canyonlands uplands provide critical habitat for animals such as elk, mule deer and pronghorn antelope.
Photo by Mark Lisk

A unique, intact landscape

Due to the area’s lack of paved roads, low population density and remoteness, the Owyhee Canyonlands encompass one of the largest remaining expanses of high-quality sagebrush steppe habitat in the West. These intact plant communities are increasingly rare and critically important for wildlife, which need large expanses to preserve their genetic diversity and to adapt to changing climate conditions. In addition, the area’s complex history of volcanism have fashioned a uniquely beautiful landscape with many soil types and microhabitats where a vast number of species thrive.

The Owyhee Canyonlands is a stronghold for the Greater sage-grouse, which is being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has pinpointed the Owyhee Canyonlands as one of six areas in the nation critical to the bird’s survival.
Photo by Kevin Smith

Home to more than 200 species

The Owyhee Canyonlands is home to more than 200 wildlife species. Golden eagles, red-tailed hawks and other raptors soar above while swallows swoop among canyon walls. Redband trout and other fish delight anglers in rivers, while 14 species of bats dance through the air at dusk. Big game animals flourish here too, including elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and the largest herd of California bighorn sheep in the nation.

One of the most imperiled and important species tied to the sagebrush steppe ecosystem of the Owyhee Canyonlands is the Greater sage-grouse. An indicator species for overall ecosystem health, sage-grouse rely on vast expanses of unfragmented sagebrush for cover, diet, nesting and mating grounds. The Owyhee Canyonlands has been identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as one of six key strongholds for the Greater sage-grouse in the West. Thus, the degree to which this area is protected from development and fragmentation will be critical to the bird’s survival, as well as to the other species that live there.

This bloom, called Packard’s blazing star, grows nowhere else in the world but the Owyhee Canyonlands. It’s one of dozens of plants that live in Owyhee country.
Photo by Stu Garrett

Wild and rare blooms

The distinctive hydrology, geology and soils of the Owyhee create a beautiful, swaying understory of bluebunch wheatgrass, Idaho fescue and squirreltail. Other herbaceous plants add dashes of color in the spring when wildflowers abound. The unique soils create havens for larkspur, biscuitroot, phlox, penstemon and sagebrush buttercup. It is estimated that there are at least 28 species of plants that are found nowhere else in the world save the Owyhee, including Packard’s blazing star and the Owyhee clover.