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On Anniversary of Wilderness Act, Push to Protect Owyhee Canyonlands

The Owyhee Canyonlands of southeast Oregon is one of the largest intact landscapes in the West. (Greg Shine/Bureau of Land Management)
The Owyhee Canyonlands of southeast Oregon is one of the largest intact landscapes in the West. (Greg Shine/Bureau of Land Management)
September 3, 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. -- President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law on this day in 1964.

In Oregon, there's a push to use that law to protect the unique Owyhee Canyonlands as wilderness.

The Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee Act would designate more than one million acres as wilderness and protect more than 14 miles of the Owyhee River as wild and scenic. It also would protect grazing and land-use laws.

Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, said the area is one of the largest intact landscapes left in the West.

"It's a remarkable place for star viewing and for hunters, fishers, visitors, rafters, hikers, campers," Hamilton said. "This is a remarkable place that remains unprotected."

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden introduced the bill in November.

Wyden brought together local ranchers, business owners, conservation groups and others to help craft the bill.

Hamilton said we need to take care of places like the Owyhee Canyonlands so we can take care of ourselves.

"One of the things we've learned from this COVID experience that we're all in together is how much we need to get outdoors and how much we need to recharge ourselves in these special places," Hamilton said.

About 500,000 acres of the Owyhee landscape across the border in Idaho already is designated wilderness.

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Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR