Protecting the Oregon Owyhee Canyonlands

Photo: Brian Grossenbacher
Protecting the Oregon Owyhee Canyonlands
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

Oregon’s Owyhee region is a 4.6-million-acre expanse of public lands that is among the most remote in the Lower 48 states. More than 200 species of wildlife live amongst the vast expanse of sagebrush and bunchgrass and the region has also long been recognized by hunters, anglers, rafters, and recreationists of all types as a place to get lost in wild country . In the Intermountain West, changing precipitation patterns, reduced mountain snowpack, more frequent fires, and an increase in invasive species are affecting habitats that fish and wildlife species depend on. In addition to a warming climate, increasing development and unmanaged recreational pressures threaten ecosystem health.

Since 2019, Senator Wyden has introduced several iterations of The Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee Act with the intention of protecting this landscape. The most recent version, introduced in June 2023, would designate more than one million acres as Wilderness, and includes provisions to restore ecosystems within the region and improve grazing flexibility and management for permittees. With the leadership of Senator Wyden and strong support from a diverse group of stakeholders, the bill passed out of Committee in December 2023 with bipartisan and unanimous support. For the first time, the bill now awaits a potential end-of-session public lands package and a vote by the full Senate floor.