Skip to content
The Owyhee Canyonlands

A model of collaboration in the Owyhee Canyonlands

After decades of stalled progress, an economic development and wilderness protection plan for one of the wildest landscapes in our country has been created by the diverse groups supported by the Owyhee Canyonlands.

Our grant partner, David Moryc of American Rivers, describes this special place and plan:

The Owyhee Canyonlands in southeastern Oregon are perhaps the wildest, most ecologically important unprotected places in the contiguous United States. The region’s public lands are truly exceptional, boasting nearly 2 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands that include sagebrush, trout-filled rivers, life-giving desert springs, spectacular canyons and some of the best remaining habitat for deer, antelope and sage-grouse in Oregon. The canyonlands are also rich with sensitive Native American culturally and spiritually important sites, many of which are connected to over 4,000 spring complexes that dot this mostly arid landscape. These lands are the heart of a larger swath of over four million acres of ecologically and culturally important federal public lands across rural Malheur County.

While this area is rugged and remote, it supports a diversity of people. From time immemorial, the Native American tribes of the Upper Snake River have called the canyonlands home, relying on the richness and sacredness of the land. Today, these Tribes include the Burns Paiute, Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone, the Shoshone-Bannock, Shoshone-Paiute and Paiute members of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs. The vast tracts of public lands are leased to provide for traditional ranching opportunities and essential to the local communities’ way of life and economy. Additionally, the area is becoming a mecca for quiet and motorized recreation.

Unfortunately, this incredible landscape is being threatened by unmanaged recreational use, desecration of Tribal sacred sites, wildfires, invasive species and grazing practices that are not designed to protect the land. These threats are also at the heart of conflicts between users, interest groups and the communities that rely on the area. A lack of dialogue between ranchers, Tribes and the conservation community has bred decades of conflict over public lands management in southeastern Oregon as the health of the landscape has worsened.

American Rivers and its partners along with the Upper Snake River Tribes and local ranchers have established an unprecedented collaboration to secure public support for the large-scale, durable economic development and Wilderness protections for over 1.2 million acres of high-value public land and water resources managed by the BLM in Malheur County. U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have introduced the Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee Act that reflects the work of the collaborative.