Known by the Northern Paiute as Tse’tse’ede, the Steens is both a historic homeland and an unparalleled treasure in Oregon’s high desert. The largest fault block mountain in North America, Steens stands sentinel over the mystical Alvord Desert and thousands of square miles of the sagebrush sea. It is a landscape that has endured for millennia, and this year we are celebrating the twentieth anniversary of a particularly important moment in time— the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act — that secured a future for this magical place.
Steens is a wonder to behold. The mountain is blanketed in a gorgeous mosaic of western juniper and mountain mahogany, mixed with mountain big sagebrush and groves of quaking aspen, and yielding to meadows of wildflowers and native grasses at the highest elevations. This diversity of habitats is a haven for wildlife, including iconic pronghorn antelope, charismatic Greater Sage-grouse, restored California bighorn sheep, spectacular Great Basin redband trout, dozens of migratory bird species, and incredible numbers of raptors that nest on rocky cliffs and soar on seasonal thermals along 50 miles at Steens’ crest.
Such a special place deserves special protection and in 2000, ONDA and other stakeholders worked with the Oregon Congressional delegation to forge the nation’s first and only “Cooperative Management and Protection Area.” The Steens act is a model for legislating protections for landscapes important to wildlife and watersheds, as well as local communities and economies. The legislation protected nearly a half-million acres from incompatible land use and development and designated more than 170,000 acres of Wilderness and over 40 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers on the mountain.
In the years since, ONDA members have defended the mountain from poorly sited wind turbines, off-road vehicles and other threats and rolled up their sleeves to remove obsolete barbed wire and conduct arduous and long-deferred trail maintenance.
Taken together, permanent protections, legal vigilance and hands-on stewardship have restored wildlands and supported wildlife to thrive on Steens, with the added benefit of providing endless opportunities for nature observation and recreation for more than 100,000 visitors annually. You may have a favorite Steens memory of your own. Standing at the rim of Kiger Gorge, descending the trail to Wildhorse Lake, wandering the rolling sagebrush grasslands, catching sight of a Golden Eagle, or looking out over four states from Steens summit. And, thanks to you, people can continue to enjoy this mountain’s rich past and breath-taking views for decades to come.