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Study: Owyhee Canyonlands "Connective Tissue" of Lands in Ore.

The Owyhee Canyonlands are sometimes called the Grand Canyon of Oregon. (Bureau of Land Management)
The Owyhee Canyonlands are sometimes called the Grand Canyon of Oregon. (Bureau of Land Management)
May 20, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. - The Owyhee Canyonlands are the "connective tissue" for surrounding land in the West, according to a new study.

Researchers with Conservation Science Partners compared the southeastern area of Oregon with Bureau of Land Management and other lands across the West and found the Owyhee to be one of the most biologically diverse and ecologically intact in the region.

Conservation Science Partners president Brett Dickson, chief scientist of the report, said his team studied the area at a landscape level and found a high degree of what he called "naturalness."

"This notion of landscape naturalness is basically the inverse, if you will, of the level of human impact," he said.

The report concluded that there's "particularly high conservation value" to the 2.5 million acres of Owyhee Canyonlands because of its overall importance to the area. The canyonlands so far have maintained this preservation without permanent protections, although Dickson said local proposals for resource extractions could threaten it.

The Owyhee Canyonlands also has one of the darkest night skies in the West because of its remoteness. Christine Albano, who also worked on the study, said the lack of development in the area is quite astonishing given its size.

"It's one of the most intact landscapes that are 2.5-million acres in size," she said, "and that's even comparing it to areas like Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon."

Combining his group's study with other local research, Dickson said, the Owyhees' uniqueness becomes apparent.

"The Owyhees have, I think, close to two dozen endemic plants, so found nowhere else on the planet," he said. "And so, when you couple those local-scale values with the landscape ecological importance that we identified, I think it makes a really strong case for protection."

The area also contains some of the most intact sagebrush habitat for the greater sage-grouse.

The study is online at csp-inc.org.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR