Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Boardman Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge

Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 172-173.

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The Navy is abandoning its bombing range, which contains one of the best remaining blocks of native grasslands on the Columbia Plateau.

Location: Morrow County, 3 miles south of Boardman

Size: 74 square miles (47,627 acres)

Terrain: Flat prairie to gentle valleys

Elevation Range: 395-971 feet

Managing Agencies: U.S. Navy (present); Fish and Wildlife Service (proposed)

Recreation Map: Hermiston, OR-W A, 1:100,000 topographic (BLM surface management edition best;
otherwise get USGS edition)

The practice of livestock grazing is more damaging to nature under the jurisdic- tion of the U.S. Department of the Interior than is practice bombing by the U.S. Department of Defense. It would be worse than livestock if live ordnance were used (but only by degrees). The dummy ordnance used sometimes caused range fires, which are beneficial to the grassland, as they mimic natural wildfires that have historically been suppressed.

From 1943, when the U.S. Army Air Force took charge (the navy took over in 1960), until 1963, no livestock grazing occurred on the bombing range. Since then, lands outside the core "octagon" have been leased to local ranchers. Com- petitive bids have reached $18 per animal-unit month (BLM charges $1.35), and the navy does nothing for the ranchers, making them haul their own water, maintain fences, and so forth. It makes perfect sense, really—the Department of Defense, renowned for $200 hammers and $400 toilet seats, doesn't consider the livestock industry its constituency.

In 1978, a research natural area was established, including lands at ground-zero of the bombing range, totaling 5,176 acres.

Despite the rusted military tanks, fake towns (both targets for jets from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Puget Sound), service roads, and widely littered plastic bullets, the bombing range contains some of the largest and best remnants of native grassland and shrub steppe left on the Columbia Plateau of Oregon.

Despite the relative lack of habitat diversity, the area is abundant with sage- brush steppe wildlife species. Forty-three bird, thirty-two plant, fourteen mammal, six reptile, and one amphibian species are known to inhabit the range, including the at-risk Washington ground squirrel, western burrowing owl, grasshopper spar- row, Robinson's onion, Laurence's milk-vetch, and gray cryptantha.

The range also contains some of the best desert crust (see Natural History chapter) remaining anywhere.
Badger, bobcat, and the ubiquitous coyote are the top predators. The area is thick with long-billed curlews. Bald eagles can be seen at the northern end of the range near the Columbia River. Also on the north end are spectacular white sand dunes.

While controlled by the Navy, some of the land actually belongs to BLM. When it will be declared military surplus is unsure.

The Oregon Biodiversity Project has identified the bombing range, the adjacent Boeing state lands lease, and the state's Willow Creek Wildlife Management Area as Boardman—Willow Creek Conservation Opportunity Area and urges that "long-term protection and management of these native habitats for biodiversity values should be a top conservation priority in this ecoregion." [1]

Pronghorn reintroduction is likely quite feasible, and the establishment of a Boardman Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge (managed by the U.S. Fish and Wild- life Service) would provide part of an important ecological linkage between the heart of the Oregon Desert and the Washington portion of the Columbia Basin, including the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

What To Do

No exploration is described, as the area is closed to the public. Trespassers may be shot.

Oregon Biodiversity Project. Oregon's Living Landscape. Portland, Ore.: Defenders of Wildlife, 1998, 188.