Southeast Oregon Resource Management Plan

Devin Dahlgren   Website

Desert Planning: The Southeast Oregon Resource Management Plan

This spring, you have a once-in-a-generation chance to help improve and protect the land, water and wildlife on almost 5 million acres of Oregon’s desert public lands.

The Bureau of Land Management will be seeking input from the public on the Southeast Oregon Resource Management Plan Amendment (SEORMP), a process that will impact how our lands are used for generations to come. YOU have the opportunity to help protect habitat of the imperiled sage-grouse, determine where Off-Road Vehicles can and cannot travel, and protect wild desert places to camp, hike and bird.

The process will create the blueprint for how nearly 5 million acres in Southeastern Oregon are managed, including beloved places in the Owyhee Canyonlands like Leslie Gulch, Three Forks and Birch Creek. This is one of the best opportunities we have to protect the things we care about on public land in Southeast Oregon.

This blog takes a close look at the main issues that will be addressed in the SEORMP process. It will provide readers with the background information needed to provide substantive input on the SEORMP. Set up in question and answer format, the three natural resource management issues covered in this planning process are discussed in detail below.


Lands with Wilderness Characteristics

Management of Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWC) is one of the three main issues the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will address in the SEORMP process. The SEORMP will establish how the BLM manages wilderness values in LWC areas.

What are LWCs?

Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWC) are areas that have been inventoried and found to have the characteristics essential to wilderness as described in the 1964 Wilderness Act. However, LWC areas are not designated protected areas like wilderness or wilderness study areas. Instead, the management of these areas will be determined by this Resource Management Plan.

What characteristics define wilderness? 

According to the Wilderness Act, wilderness quality lands must possess:

  1. Sufficient size – generally 5,000 acres or larger (or smaller if adjacent to an existing WSA or Wilderness area).
  2. Naturalness – affected primarily by the forces of nature.
  3. Provide outstanding opportunities for either solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation.
  4. Additionally, units may also possess supplemental values, such as cultural resources or wildlife

What protection do wilderness values in LWC units have?

Unlike wilderness or wilderness study areas, the BLM is not required by the Wilderness Act to preserve wilderness values in LWC units. The BLM can, however, choose to manage LWC units to retain their wilderness values through a Resource Management Plan.

What does ONDA see as the most important information to convey to the BLM?

ONDA supports the adoption of management practices that preserve and protect wilderness values in LWC units. Selecting a resource management plan alternative that protects wilderness values in LWC units also provides protection for important wildlife habitats, limits fragmentation of the sagebrush steppe ecosystem, and increases opportunities for quiet recreation such as hunting, fishing, hiking, backpacking and wildlife watching.

Off-Road Vehicle and Travel Management

The use of Off-highway vehicles (OHV) is another one of the three main issues the BLM will address in this planning process. The SEORMP will establish where, when and how OHV’s are allowed to operate on BLM lands.

What does the current management of OHV use on BLM lands look like?

The BLM is required to classify all lands within a planning district into one of three OHV designations: open, closed, or limited. Below are the definitions of each designation as described by the federal governments Code of Federal Regulations (43 CFR 8340.0-5).

  1. Open: An open area is where all types of vehicle use are permitted at all times in the area, subject to operating regulation and vehicle standards.
  2. Limited: A limited area is where there are restrictions at certain times, in certain areas and/or to certain vehicular use. Generally, these restrictions fall into one of the following categories: number of vehicles, types of vehicles, time or season of use, permitted or licensed use only, use only on existing roads and trails, use only on designated roads and trails.
  3. Closed: A closed area is where off-road vehicle use is prohibited.

Where can OHV’s currently operate?

Currently very little of the lands in the planning area are closed to OHV travel. The majority of the lands either fall into the “limited” or “open” categories described above. Recent changes were implemented in 2015 to protect Sage-grouse habitat in the Approved Resource Management Plan Amendment, also known as the Sage-grouse plan. The Sage-grouse plan, limits OHV travel to existing routes in areas identified as critical sage-grouse habitat. However, large areas outside of sage-grouse habitat are still open to cross-country OHV travel. And with the current administration, the fate of the changes made as part of the Sage-grouse plans remains unclear.

What are some of ONDA’s concerns with OHV use on public lands?

The number of OHV users on public lands has dramatically increased in recent years.  This increase in users has corresponded with advancements in technology that allow motorized recreationist to explore increasingly more remote areas. The Council on Environmental Quality stated in a 1979 report that ORVs (Off-Road Vehicles) have “damaged every kind of ecosystem found in the United States.” 1 Fast forward nearly four decades and the impacts and number of users have only grown. When not properly managed, OHVs can fragment wildlife habitat, impact soils and plant species, increase erosion and spread invasive species.

What does ONDA see as the most important information to convey to the BLM?

ONDA supports restricting OHV use to designated routes, eliminating cross-country travel and protecting intact wildlife habitat. By restricting OHVs to designated routes, the BLM can limit impacts to healthy ecosystems while still allowing for a rich experience for motorized recreationists. As noted in BLM’s guidance to field offices in 2007, “continued designation of large areas that remain open to unregulated “cross-country travel” is not a practical management strategy.” ONDA supports this guidance and its implementation in the Southeast Oregon Resource Management Plan.

Livestock Grazing

Livestock grazing is the final issue the BLM will address in this planning process. The SEORMP will establish where livestock grazing occurs and what tools are available to manage grazing.

What lands are authorized for grazing?

Under BLM’s multiple-use policy, grazing is one of many land uses the agency manages for. Currently, 98% of the SEORMP planning area is available for grazing.

What is an AUM?

An AUM stands for “Animal Unit Month” and is the amount of forage that one cow-calf pair, one horse, or five sheep eat in one month.  AUMs are the unit of measure used to determine the number of livestock that are allowed to graze within an allotment, also known as the stocking rate.

How is livestock grazing structured on the landscape?

Lands authorized for grazing are broken up by allotments. Each allotment is a discrete region available to grazing and is typically further divided into pastures.  Each allotment has its own management plan that, among other things, allocates the number of permitted AUMs, seasons of use and establishes a grazing management system. Resource Management Plans authorize whether allotments are open to grazing and determine the tools available to land managers in managing grazing on the landscape.

What are some of the questions BLM will consider during the planning process in regards to livestock grazing?

The BLM will consider management alternatives that analyze whether, where, how and in what manner grazing will take place on the landscape.  Among others, the BLM will examine management alternatives that analyze: voluntary grazing permit relinquishment processes; the identification of areas no longer available for grazing use; and closure of allotments or pastures where land health standards (used to achieve desired ecological conditions) are not being met due to livestock grazing.

What does ONDA see as the most important information to convey to the BLM?

ONDA supports the establishment of both a mechanism for voluntary grazing permit relinquishment and a process that identifies areas no longer available for grazing. Currently, the BLM does not have the ability to permanently retire grazing permits in the planning area, limiting the agency’s ability to protect sensitive ecological resources and maintain the important balance of the agencies multiple-use mandate.

Ready to take action?
Get involved with the SEORMP and make your voice heard during this once-in-a-generation planning process:


Owyhee Canyon Swallows Sparrows and Rushing Water

Owyhee Canyon Swallows Sparrows and Rushing Water


Far from Big Macs

Far from Big Macs

There is a point in the Owyhee region, in northwestern Nevada, that is, at 115 miles away, as far away as you can get from a McDonalds in the U.S.



Bonnie Olin, 2017 Volunteer of the Year

Bonnie Olin, 2017 Volunteer of the Year

“If you spend enough time in the wild, it will change you. So it was for me in Oregon’s high desert, especially in the Owyhee Canyonlands.” To support ONDA, Bonnie says, is to strive to protect the very values of Oregon’s high desert that are critical to the human experience: quiet and connectedness with nature. “Oregon’s desert,” she says, “broadens your understanding of your relationship to all living things.”

1 The Wilderness Society, 2016. Achieving Compliance with the Executive Order “Minimization Criteria” for Off-Road Vehicle Use on Federal Public Lands: Background, Case Studies, and Recommendations.