Owyhee Canyonlands: An Oregon treasure in need of protection

In Oregon’s southeastern corner, the 2.5 million acre Owyhee Canyonlands offers a spectacular outdoor experience with its diverse set of natural wonders. And it's in need of protection.

Eric Poulin | Used by permission
The Owyhee Canyonland is "the Grand Canyon of Oregon."

In Oregon’s southeastern corner, the 2.5 million acre Owyhee Canyonlands offers a spectacular outdoor experience with its diverse set of natural wonders: colorful canyon peaks, racing waters and rare wildlife living undisturbed in their natural habitat. These features provide endless recreational opportunities, such as hiking up towering rock formations, walking along lava flows, and kayaking, canoeing or rafting on the Owyhee River as rainbow and redband trout swim alongside.

James Parsons | Used by permission

While exploring, you can take a closer look at the sagebrush steppe, an ecosystem that is home to many types of birds such as golden eagles, burrowing owls and the threatened greater sage grouse. Bristling, green sagebrush is just one of many plants supported by the land’s unique soils. In fact, the Owyhee hosts at least 28 species of plants found nowhere else in the world, such as the Owyhee clover and Packard’s blazing star. Such a complex, one-of-a-kind ecosystem offers critical habitat for a wide variety of wildlife like pronghorn antelope, elk and even one of the largest herds of California bighorn sheep.

Devlin Holloway | Used by permission

One of the best parts of hiking the various canyon peaks? The view you get at the top: an expansive desert interspersed with glistening rivers; countless shades of red rocks sheltering bountiful wildlife; nothing but land and life brushing a glowing horizon. At night, you can stargaze and take in a magnificent view of the sparkling Milky Way galaxy. Scientists say it may become one of the last few places to view the night sky in the lower 48 without light pollution. Such views give you a true sense of awe for your surroundings.

John Aylward | Used by permission
Camping under the stars in the Owyhee Canyon

Now, imagine this land exploited for mining or oil and gas drilling. This is more likely than you would expect because 95% of the Owyhee Canyonlands do not have permanent protection from these destructive practices. There are 170,000 gas leases nearby that threaten habitat fragmentation and noise and light pollution. Additionally, much of the Owyhee Canyonlands are vulnerable to new mining proposals, which could lead to air pollution and contamination of the Owyhee River. That would be a catastrophe for this fragile ecosystem.

That’s why we’re supporting an effort to permanently protect this Oregon treasure.

For years, Senators Wyden and Merkley have introduced legislation that would protect Owyhee Canyonlands, and have a bill currently pending in Congress.

If Congress won’t act soon, we’re urging President Biden to work alongside Senators Wyden and Merkley to establish the Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument before the end of 2024.

We want to show our Senators and President Biden that Oregonians overwhelmingly support this effort. Please sign our petition for permanently protecting the Owyhee Canyonlands and securing its future for generations to come.


Celeste Meiffren-Swango

State Director, Environment Oregon

As director of Environment Oregon, Celeste develops and runs campaigns to win real results for Oregon's environment. She has worked on issues ranging from preventing plastic pollution, stopping global warming, defending clean water, and protecting our beautiful places. Celeste's organizing has helped to reduce kids' exposure to lead in drinking water at childcare facilities in Oregon, encourage transportation electrification, ban single-use plastic grocery bags, defend our bedrock environmental laws and more. She is also the author of the children's book, Myrtle the Turtle, empowering kids to prevent plastic pollution. Celeste lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband and two daughters, where they frequently enjoy the bounty of Oregon's natural beauty.

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