Andy Kerr

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

Sheep Mountain Wilderness (Proposed)

Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 165-166.

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A wildlife wonderland known of by few and visited by fewer.

Location: Baker County, 4 miles south of Homestead

Size: 15 square miles (9,769 acres)

Terrain: A large plateau surrounded by steep slopes

Elevation Range: 1,830-4,935 feet

Managing Agency: Vale District BLM

Agency Wilderness Status: 7,040-acre BLM wilderness study area; 7,040 acres recommended

Recreation Map: North Half Wallowa-Whitman National Forest

There are many surprises, most pleasant, in the area.

Sheep Mountain (4,310 feet), though a prominent feature from within and without the area, is not the highest point. The plateau to the west and south is higher.

The bighorn sheep, which often winter on the lower slopes near the river, are the Rocky Mountain subspecies, not the California subspecies common to most of the desert.

There is sagebrush, but the large native grouse here is not the sage grouse but the Columbian sharp-tailed, which had been extirpated from Oregon. Reintroduction efforts are underway.

A designed and constructed (mostly cairns) 3-mile hiking trail actually ex- ists on Oregon BLM desert lands.
Black Canyon Creek has a pristine riparian zone, as cliffs have prevented invasion by livestock. Steep slopes elsewhere have discouraged livestock from munching riparian zones. Well-developed woody species are common.

The only unpleasant surprise is a small radio repeater building atop the plateau. However, it is small and painted a neutral color.

The Snake River Canyon is thought to be a center of evolution for many groups of species that link the Pacific Northwest with such far-off and different places as the Mojave Desert. Rare plant species include Cusick's camas (Cammasia Cusickii), thyme-leafed buckwheat (Eriogonum thymoides), and swamp onion (Allium madidum).

The grassy slopes to the south and west are stands of Idaho fescue and bluebunch wheatgrass. Old-growth ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir are found in the flatter areas of steep draws. On the top of the plateau, big sagebrush, squaw currant, snowberry, buckwheat, and bluebunch wheatgrass dominate.

Other notable wildlife species include elk, mule deer, black bear, cougar, bob- cat, red-tailed hawk, kestrel, numerous kinds of songbirds, and blue grouse. Two bald eagle wintering roosts are located in the area, supporting approximately seventy-five individuals.

Undeveloped private lands adjacent to Pine Creek should be acquired and added to the area. BLM is recommending acquiring a 200-acre inholding if the seller is willing.