Group wants to double Steens wilderness size

By BARBARA CANNADY For the Capital Press


BURNS, Ore. – A group that wants to ban public land grazing in Oregon is asking the federal government to expand Steens Mountain wilderness areas by more than 325,000 acres.

Oregon Natural Desert Association filed its petition with U.S. Bureau of Land Management in January.

Some members of the Steens Mountain Advisory Council don’t like the proposal, which will get at review March 3 when the council meets in Burns.

Steens is a mountain 60 miles long and 30 miles wide created by a north-south fault in the Earth’s crust that tilted the eastern flank several thousand feet above the Alvord Desert. The crest, 9,733 feet above sea level, is the highest point in Eastern Oregon. At high elevations glaciers carved spectacular gorges and canyons. Uplands have been grazed by domestic livestock since the early 1870s. The mountain’s north flank is 60 miles south of Burns in Harney County.

A 2001 law created a 425,000-acre cooperative management area and designated 174,600 acres as wilderness without any livestock grazing. ONDA’s Bill Marlette said this week that most areas covered by the petition have been on his organization’s lists since 1992.

ONDA used volunteers to complete the extensive review of the areas during the summer of 2002. BLM is required to consider the detailed petition. The agency would then decide if there should be additions to existing wilderness study areas. Final wilderness designation requires an act of Congress.

The advisory committee and BLM are two years into working on management plans for the cooperative area designated in the Steens law.

Advisory committee member Cindy Wetzel, owner of private property in the cooperative area, said the ONDA petition will divert BLM staff members from working on the plan.

“It really puts the public’s plan on hold,” she said. “I also think that the BLM will have to weigh heavily the Steens Act’s mandate that historic and current uses continue.”

BLM’s Matt Obradovich, a wildlife specialist, told a January advisory council meeting he believes the areas covered by the petition can be studied, then staff can return to agreed-on projects that don’t conflict with wilderness study area limitations.

Manager Stacy Davies of the Roaring Springs Ranch said the result could be elimination of most projects the advisory council has already agreed upon.

ONDA wildlands coordinator Brent Fenty told the council his group doesn’t want to derail Steens planning efforts, but merely to participate in the process.


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