New National Monument Proposed for Sutton Mountain

Mark Darnell

On November 3, 2021, Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden introduced the Sutton Mountain and Painted Hills Area Wildfire Resiliency Preservation and Economic Enhancement Act in Congress today. This legislation would establish a new Sutton Mountain National Monument to conserve public lands, waters and wildlife in central Oregon.

This 66,000-acre proposal includes iconic Sutton Mountain and the surrounding landscape, encircling the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and connecting these rolling hills and desert creeks to the John Day Wild and Scenic River.

“We are thrilled to see this proposal to protect and conserve Sutton Mountain as one of the jewels of the John Day region,” said Ryan Houston, executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association. “We look forward to continuing to work with Senators Merkley and Wyden, as well as the many stakeholders involved, to advance conservation in this important part of Oregon’s high desert.”

Administered by the Bureau of Land Management, these public lands host herds of California bighorn sheep, mule deer, and Rocky Mountain elk; myriad bird species, including golden eagle; sensitive plants and fields of wildflowers. Sutton Mountain is popular for recreation, cherished for its scenic vistas, and is nationally known for its geologic and paleontological resources. Bridge Creek and its tributaries, which flow through this landscape and have benefitted from years of volunteer restoration, are critical habitat for Middle Columbia River steelhead.

The proposed monument provides for these many values and resources through establishment of two, interconnected management zones: an Upper Unit (38,500 acres), that would preserve opportunities for quiet recreation, solitude and other wilderness values, and a Lower Unit (27,300 acres), where management would focus on restoring ecological health to those public lands. The legislation requires development of a wildfire risk assessment and a comprehensive monument management plan that includes wildfire resiliency and transportation management components.

Sutton Mountain and the surrounding lands came into public ownership in 1992 and the monument proposal represents more than a decade of effort to ensure proper conservation management of this landscape.


Cottonwood Canyon Riparian Soundscape

Cottonwood Canyon Riparian Soundscape


Terry Butler, 2018 Volunteer of the Year

Terry Butler, 2018 Volunteer of the Year

“If I have to pick a favorite place in Oregon’s high desert, it would be Sutton Mountain, but I’m excited about all of the Wilderness Study Areas,” says Terry, adding, “Each is a gem to explore, and I hope they all get protection someday… I love the scale of the physical beauty of the desert.”




Bitteroot blooms on north-facing cliffs in western North America.

The Paiute name for bitteroot is kangedya. Traditional Native American uses of the plant included eating the roots, mixed with berries and meat, and using the roots to treat sore throats.