The Battle To Protect One Of America’s Last Wild Landscapes – Owyhee Canyonlands

An unlikely alliance of ranchers, Indigenous communities and environmentalists is trying to save the Owyhee Canyonlands. Read full article and see photos on Huffpost by Stephen Robert Miller.

In the Owyhee Canyonlands of southeastern Oregon, the world unfolds at hip height. Sagebrush, the backbone of this high desert landscape, mostly grows only about that tall, and so Brewer’s sparrows and green-tailed towhees spend their time there too. Mule deer and antelope saunter through with heads bowed to nip at tender buds, and circling red-tailed hawks keep their sharp eyes trained for movement in the twigs. Lower down, pygmy rabbits hop, threatened greater sage grouse court mates and complex relationships between soil, water and insects play out discreetly.

A person can stand in the pungent spray of the sagebrush sea and look over an entire universe that rarely rises higher than their elbow. Perhaps that’s why it’s been so overlooked.

Sagebrush-dominated ecosystems spread across more than 250,000 square miles of the American West, from Colorado to California, Washington down to Arizona, and 70% of it is publicly owned. 

Despite this dominance, shrub and grasslands are some of the least-protected ecosystems in the country. Regal forests and snow-capped mountains are disproportionately represented in the nation’s wilderness protection programs, while sagebrush ecosystems have been cut to pieces by roads, developed for homes and fossil fuel extraction, mined, logged and heavily grazed by cattle. Today, sagebrush occupies only half its historic extent.

However, one gem of the sagebrush steppe still exists, largely untouched, in a rugged and remote corner of southeast Oregon. The Owyhee Canyonlands are home to 2.5 million acres of painted hills, basalt cliffs and free-flowing rivers. The area’s remoteness, its few roads and dark night skies have insulated hundreds of Indigenous ancestral sites and some 350 threatened animal and plant species in one of the largest intact landscapes remaining in the West.

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