article photo 34339.jpg

Owyhee Canyonlands Legislation Introduced (OR)

Posted: 11/08/2019
By: Thomas O'Keefe

This week's introduction of the Malheur County Community Empowerment for the Owyhee Act (S. 2828) represents a historic move to protect over 1.1 million acres of public lands as wilderness in Malheur County centered around the Owyhee Canyonlands. The legislation also includes protection for an additional 14.7 miles of the Owyhee River as Wild and Scenic.

The Owyhee Canyonlands and the public lands of Malheur County are uniquely rich and wild places that so many Oregonians care deeply about. The collaborative process that Senator Wyden convened to bring people together to better understand each other's interests and find common ground on how to manage public lands in Malheur County was exactly what this landscape needed. We're grateful to Senator Wyden for his strong leadership and to Senator Merkely for co-sponsoring this powerful proposal to protect over 1.1 million acres of public lands as Wilderness in Oregon.

"Whether you are a rancher carrying on your family business in Eastern Oregon, an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys hikes in the Canyonlands, or an environmentalist seeking to protect wildlife habitat, you have a stake in the future of this unique and important landscape in Malheur County," Wyden said. "Conservation is good for everyone, and protecting the Owyhee will only strengthen this important and resilient rural economy."


"The Owyhee River Canyonlands are a perfect example of how Oregon's natural treasures not only delight adventurers, but also support local ranchers and our recreation economies," Merkley said. "This legislation is the result of ranchers, conservationists and leaders coming together with a shared mission to protect this incredible land, and working to preserve the beauty and vitality of Malheur County for generations to come."

For those who have had the chance to experience it, the Owhyee River is a great backcountry whitewater trip with incredible scenery, technical and fun rapids, fascinating geology, and hot springs. It's most popular with rafters, self-support kayakers, pack rafters, and stand up paddle boarders for wilderness adventures during the period of spring snowmelt. 

While the narrow ribbon of the river corridor is protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, much of the surrounding landscape of wild backcountry terrain managed by the Bureau of Land Management has been left unprotected. The wild landscape surrounding the river is incredibly remote, divided by only two paved highways that serve as the entry point for multi-day adventures in the backcountry. 

American Whitewater has been a partner with Oregon Natural Desert Association over the past several years to protect the Owyhee Canyonlands; after years working with diverse interests to find solutions, we are thrilled to have the leadership of Senator Wyden to find the pathway that safeguards this incredible landscape while also supporting local families, economies, and communities.

Thomas O'Keefe

3537 NE 87th St.

Seattle, WA 98115

Phone: 425-417-9012
Full Profile

Associated Projects

Owyhee Conservation

American Whitewater advocates for the protection of the Owyhee Canyonlands.

Read More
Join AW and support river stewardship nationwide!