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Letter Calls for Reconsideration of OR Desert Plan

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Friday, May 21, 2021   

VALE, Ore. - A letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland urges her to preserve 1.2 million acres of southeastern Oregon, including parts of the Owyhee Canyonlands and "Sagebrush Sea."

The area was identified as having wilderness characteristics by the local resource advisory council and the Bureau of Land Management district office, in an update to the region's Resource Management Plan. But in 2019, the Trump administration advanced a plan that didn't protect any of the land.

Julie Weikel, a retired large animal veterinarian and southeastern Oregon resident who was on the advisory council, said even some Oregonians aren't aware of how special the landscape is.

"Those who do meet it, or have met it in the 25 years or so that I've been showing it to some select people," said Weikel, "are astonished that we have something so grandiose, right here in the southeast corner of our state."

The roughly 1,400 people and groups that signed the letter want the BLM to reexamine the resource plan before signing off on it. The Trump administration had said other management alternatives would be more costly for the agency.

Jim Hammett, a retired superintendent of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, says the BLM under the former president didn't weigh recreation and conservation as highly as other interests.

"They were mostly interested in maximizing commodity uses," said Hammett. "Grazing, you know, any future for mining, electrical transmission lines, that sort of thing. And that became the focus of the preferred alternative."

Hammett said the sagebrush habitat of southeastern Oregon has been devastated by wildfires and invasive species and, while those factors can't be fully controlled, a revised plan that does more to protect the landscape is something the BLM can control.

The letter to Haaland starts off by thanking for her for committing the agency to preserving 30% of the nation's land and water by 2030. Weikel noted protecting this landscape in southeastern Oregon could play a role.

"We're talking a huge chunk that could go a long ways to satisfying the requirements of the '30 by 30,'" said Weikel.

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




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