Owyhee Canyonlands Ecologically Important | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Owyhee Canyonlands Ecologically Important

Submitted by Brett Dickson, Conservation Science Partners

A study commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trust, a nonprofit think tank found that Southeastern Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands are one of the most ecologically important unprotected places in the western United States. Safeguarding the area “presents a significant opportunity to conserve key elements of native biodiversity and ecological function within this region,” according to a scientific study released today by the nonprofit Conservation Science Partners.

The report, “A landscape-level assessment of conservation features and values in the proposed Owyhee Canyonlands National Conservation Area (OCNCA),” evaluated nine landscape-level indicators of habitat connectivity and integrity, biodiversity, resilience to climate change, and remoteness in determining the ecological importance of the Owyhees. The assessment compares OCNCA with similar-sized areas to all Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in the West, as well as to all lands (public and private) across the 11 western states.

“Our goal was to analyze the proposed 2.5-million acre Owyhee Canyonlands National Conservation Area from an ecological perspective, and to place its value in context relative to other large landscapes in the West,” said Dr. Brett Dickson, chief scientist at Conservation Science Partners. “We found that lands in the Owyhee proposal are among the most ecologically diverse, intact, and well-connected in the West, which indicates these lands have particularly high conservation value.”

Among the key findings of the report: 

The OCNCA is part of a complex of well-connected habitats for species like mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and bighorn sheep, and are critical for facilitating wildlife movement, both locally and regionally;

The OCNCA would interconnect more than a million acres of wilderness study areas, enhancing the effectiveness of these areas for wildlife migration under future climate change conditions;

The OCNCA includes one of the most remote and ecologically intact unprotected landscapes that remain in the West. In addition to its relatively low levels of human modification, the OCNCA has one of the darkest night skies of any equivalently sized area in the western region.

The OCNCA lands are home to numerous rare and endemic species and a diversity of unique vegetation types and geologies, which all contribute to its regionally high biodiversity conservation value.

The study also noted that the OCNCA would enhance the protection of semi-desert sagebrush vegetation types, which are underrepresented in the current protected areas network. Importantly, the area contains some of the most intact, contiguous sagebrush habitat remaining in the range of the greater sage-grouse. 

Click here to download the assessment.


Founded in 2012, CSP is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit scientific collective established to provide advanced quantitative research and planning services for conservation-oriented projects. CSP connects the best minds in conservation science to solve environmental problems in a comprehensive, flexible, and service-oriented manner. To learn more, visit www.csp-inc.org.

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