Horse Heaven and Cathedral Rock proposed Wilderness
ONDA is pleased to announce two new proposed wilderness areas, resulting from a partnership with John Day Basin landowners and consolidating BLM lands never-before accessible to the public. You may be a longtime John Day enthusiast scratching your head, but don’t worry— you’re not the only one that hasn’t heard of these two areas—they existed before only as topographical features.
Recently Senators Wyden and Merkley introduced the Cathedral Rock and Horse Heaven Wilderness Act of 2010. Please contact Senators Wyden and Merkley to thank them for supporting more wilderness in the John Day Basin. Click HERE to send a thank you!
Please encourage Representative Walden to support designation for Cathedral Rock and Horse Heaven Wilderness Areas. You can send him an email by clicking HERE.
Click here for a map of Horse Heaven and Cathedral Rock Proposed Wilderness
In 2008 our John Day Coordinator began contacting landowners to better understand their management concerns for designating BLM Wilderness Study Areas as wilderness. Adjacent to the newly designated Spring Basin Wilderness Area, thousands of acres of BLM lands were fragmented across the landscape, as inholdings of Young Life’s Washington Family Ranch. An initial conversation with the ranch manager made clear his concern over these lands—every fall, hunters would trespass through the ranch for access. For both Young Life and ONDA, several issues became central to our discussions: how do we provide the best access to public lands, while addressing trespass on private lands and conserving the land for wildlife? It became clear that consolidating the private and BLM lands was critical to solving long-term management concerns. Wilderness designation provided the protection for fish and wildlife that this untouched and remote area deserves, in perpetuity.
The proposed Cathedral Rock (formerly known as Coffin Rock) and Horse Heaven Wilderness Areas are 8,686 and 8,015 acres, respectively, about 4 miles apart. They encompass dramatic basalt cliffs and rolling hills of juniper, sagebrush and bluebunch wheatgrass. This area has also been identified by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as a Conservation Opportunity Area (BM-03): it contains key habitat for mid-Columbia summer steelhead, pygmy rabbit, Ferruginous Hawk, and is important wintering habitat for deer, elk, and antelope. GAP (Geographic Approach to Planning for Biological Diversity) analysis also identified this important corridor to provide connectivity for a large number of key wildlife species and their habitats. In total, this rugged area is home to 36 sensitive plant and animal species, including spring Chinook salmon, pacific lamprey, Mountain Quail, Yellow-breasted Chat and arrow-leaf thelypody.
The consolidation and protection of BLM lands establishes connectivity and conservation of habitat complexity for these species and facilitates the restoration of riparian, sagebrush, and grassland habitats. It also provides a link to a number of federal and tribal protected lands: Spring Basin Wilderness Area to the north, Pine Creek Conservation to the east, and Pat’s Cabin and Sutton Mountain Wilderness Study Areas to the south. Altogether, this region represents around 100,000 acres of public lands that will have attained the highest level of protection possible, managed for exclusively for fish, wildlife and recreation.
This is an incredible heritage for public lands recreationists. Rafters of the John Day River can attest to the need for more campsites and public access to upland areas that Cathedral Rock will provide. Backcountry hunters will be able to scan the hillsides for elk, deer and game-birds without concern for complex land ownership patterns. Anglers can access nearly 5 miles of the John Day River by land that they could never reach before.
The history of the area also is rich and intriguing: a significant number of archaeological sites, including pithouse villages, stone tool sites and rock-art pictographs, are scattered across the landscape. Beginning in the 19th century, sheepherders heavily occupied the Big Muddy Ranch, causing Wild-West shootouts resulting in a murder conviction at the Prineville courthouse. The ranch is probably best known for its purchase 1980s by the Guru Rajneesh (Osho). Tens of thousands of red-robed devotees grew vegetables and built infrastructure, but ultimately the Rajneeshpuram was disbanded after leaders poisoned a salad bar in The Dalles for political reasons. The modern-day occupant of the ranch, Young Life, has been a huge success as the setting for a memorable camp experience for thousands of children every year.
The recent owners have managed the lands that will become wilderness with a light touch: the thick bunchgrasses are intermittently dotted with junipers, some burned, suggesting recent lightning fires, which reinvigorate the grasses naturally. The few fences that were observed are ready to be rolled up and carried out by ONDA volunteers; most of the wooden posts have broken or burned long ago. The central two-track route through Cathedral Rock is well on its way to natural reclamation by vegetation.
Letters of thanks and encouragement can be sent directly to:
Senator Jeff Merkley
One World Trade Center
121 SW Salmon Suite 1250, Portland, OR 97204
Senator Ron Wyden
700 NE Multnomah Suite 450
Portland, OR 97232
Rep. Greg Walden
843 East Main Street, Ste 400
Medford, OR 97504
Tri Cities Peak Putters
Land Use Coordinator
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