Natural Features and Perspectives
In the Great Basin country of southeast Oregon, Steens Mountain rises as the exemplar of high-desert splendor. Visitors to Steens Mountain quickly deplete their store of superlatives: stunning, awesome, staggering, inspiring. It is all of these. For 30 miles, the east rim of this fault-block mountain range towers a vertical mile above the Alvord Desert Basin. Unique geology and climatic conditions contribute to its exceptional ecological diversity and abundant wildlife.
Atop the mountain, views are breathtaking in all directions. Surrounding desert landscapes contrast with deep, glacial gorges. The diversity of vegetation ranges from harsh desert scrub, sagebrush and junipers to shimmering groves of aspen, cottonwoods, and mountain mahogany and alpine bunch grass high on the mountains. There are vibrant meadows of alpine
wildflowers here and plant species and subspecies found nowhere else, among them the Steens Mountain paintbrush and thistle.
Visitors to Steens Mountain can expect to see hawks, falcons, golden eagles, long eared owls, and even an occasional goshawk. Bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk and pronghorn are common. Because Steens is on the northern limit of the Great Basin, it has creatures not usually found in Oregon such as collared and leopard lizards, Skinner's sulphur butterfly, and the kit fox. Especially on its western slopes, the area provides important habitat for the troubled sage grouse. The Donner and Blitzen Creeks support populations of wild, native redband trout. Other fish species include the Malheur mottled sculpin and the Lahontan cutthroat trout, which was introduced in the 1970s"Steens Mountain is an Oregon crown jewel. It is phenomenal country..."
Representative Ron Wyden
During the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Steens Mountain was one of the Northwest Territory's most amazing wild places. Even as long as 12,000 years ago, humans were drawn to the area, as evidenced by pictographs and petroglyphs from ancestors of today's Burns Paiute Tribe.
Fortunately, the beauty of the Steens Mountain wilderness remains largely intact. In 2000, Congress took a large step towards protecting the Steens Mountain landscape with the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act. The Act designates a 425,500-acre Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area, to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to conserve, protect, and manage the long-term ecological integrity of the Steens Mountain for future and present generations. It also created a Steens Mountain Advisory Council. The Act also protects 169,465 acres of Steens Mountain as wilderness, and specifies that nearly 100,000 acres within the wilderness area will be free of cattle, the first such wilderness area ever. It designates three new Wild and Scenic Rivers (Wildhorse Creek, Little Wildhorse Creek, and Kiger Creek), adds new segments to existing Wild and Scenic Rivers, and creates the first ever Redband Trout Reserve. Additionally, the Act designates 900,000 acres of Federal land off-limits to mineral and geothermal extraction.
Although a part of Steens Mountain is now managed for ecological values, areas in the region are still threatened by off-road vehicle disturbance and livestock grazing on lands unsuitable for grazing. The Bureau of Land Management now faces the task of formulating a responsible management plan for Steens Mountain. The plan, which is due by 2004, will determine the future of an area set aside by Congress to protect great natural beauty in a diverse landscape.