Andy Kerr

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

South Fork John Day Wilderness (Proposed)

Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 168-169.

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Stark natural beauty with a great diversity of vegetation from large conifers to tiny flowers.

Location: Grant County, 4 miles South of Dayville

Size: 120 square miles (76,588 acres)

Terrain: Steep rocky slopes and rims with more gentle foothills

Elevation Range: 2,520-6,987 feet

Managing Agencies: Prineville District BLM, Malheur and Ochoco National Forests, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Agency Wilderness Status: 9,395-acre BLM wilderness study area; 0 acres recommended

Recreation Map: South Half, Upper John Day River, Prineville District BLM

Like the multi-unit North Fork John Day Wilderness, this proposed counterpart in the South Fork Basin is comprised of several wilderness units. The Spanish Peak and Murderers Creek units contain both forest and desert lands. The remaining units are primarily forested and are not further described here.

The open and rocky terrain makes for a highly scenic and varied landscape.

The area is a great place to view, photograph, and/or hunt charismatic megafauna. It is pronghorn summer range, mule deer and elk winter range, and year-round bighorn sheep range—all of it crucial habitat.

Other wildlife of note includes sage grouse, heaver, mink, weasel, raccoon, black bear, cougar, and bobcat. Numerous raptors and songbirds are common because of the diverse habitat. The spotted bat, perhaps America's rarest mammal, is found here.

The upper reaches of the area are Forest Service lands, while BLM and Oregon Fish and Wildlife control the lower reaches. The Phillip W. Schneider (formerly known as the Murderers Creek) Wildlife Management Area was established to protect deer winter range but obviously has additional key values.

The upper slopes are forested with ponderosa pine, mountain mahogany (south faces), and Douglas-fir and grand fir (north faces). In the open areas below rims, sagebrush and grass are found. Downslope the vegetation changes to sagebrush and grassland communities. Western juniper occurs throughout. The South Fork John Day milk-vetch (Astragalus diaphanus var. diurnus) occurs only in loose and exposed soils and riparian habitats. Hardwood riparian communities are found in the lowest reaches of the many tributary streams to the South Fork John Day River, a unit of the national wild and scenic rivers system.

The Oregon Biodiversity Project's South Fork John Day Conservation Opportunity Area was recognized because of the critical habitat for anadromous fish (fish that ascend rivers from the sea to breed—here, salmon and steelhead) and redband trout. The lower elevations are actually in the Lava Plains ecoregion.

The BLM's rationale for not recommending wilderness designation:

Although the study area contains a number of wilderness values, including naturalness, outstanding opportunities for solitude and recreation, as well as scenic and wildlife values, the benefits of preserving those values are outweighed by the benefits of developing the area's resources through intensive management practices. [1]

They want to seed exotic species for another sixty animal-unit months of livestock and to log an average of fifteen truckloads annually.

1. Wilderness Study Report. Portland, Ore.: USDI Bureau of Land Management, 1991, 360.