Oregon Natural Desert Association is one step closer to permanent protection in the John Day Basin.
Conservation Alliance grantee, Oregon Natural Desert Association, has cleared an important hurdle and move one step closer to securing protection for a proposal wilderness area in the John Day Basin with the endorsement of two local governments. When successful, this wilderness proposal will protect roughly 58,000 acres of public land known for spectacular scenery and prime wildlife habitat.
The Wheeler County Court and the Mitchell City Council have both voted unanimously to support a wilderness designation for Sutton Mountain, which neighbors the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in the John Day River Basin.
In casting their supporting votes, local officials cited the economic benefits of the proposal, which also includes transferring a 1,959-acre Bureau of Land Management-owned parcel to Wheeler County. Mitchell, considered the gateway city to Sutton Mountain, endorsed the proposal last week in a 6-0 vote. The Wheeler County Court followed suit this week. With the two key endorsements, wilderness advocates and local stakeholders are optimistic that the proposal will earn the support of the Oregon congressional delegation.
The proposed land transfer, an area near Mitchell known as the Golden Triangle, was at one time private land that is currently administered by the Bureau of Land Management. The parcel contains a historic homestead and was in the past used for agricultural purposes.
“This proposal really is in the best interests of local residents,” Wheeler County Judge Chris Perry said. “It will create economic opportunities through tourism and visitation to the new wilderness. The majority of area residents I’ve heard from are in favor of this plan, and they agree that it will breathe new life into a tired horse.”
“People come to Mitchell already to see the wonder of the Painted Hills,” said Mitchell City Councilor Kerrie Shortt, referring to Travel Oregon’s inclusion of the Painted Hills in its Seven Wonders of Oregon campaign. “But we believe they’ll stay longer when they realize Sutton Mountain is also worth a visit.”
With its see-for-miles vistas, deep canyons and fascinating geology, Sutton Mountain is a gem of the John Day River Basin worth knowing, said Brent Fenty, ONDA’s executive director. It also features prime habitat for elk, mule deer and raptors, as well as plants found nowhere else in the world.
“We’re proud to be part of a collaborative proposal that would respond to the needs of Wheeler County residents and protect one of the most important areas of Oregon’s high desert,” Fenty said.
ONDA will continue working with Wheeler County, the City of Mitchell and other stakeholders to pursue legislation for the proposal.