Andy Kerr

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

Shilfting Sand Dunes Wilderness (Proposed)

Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 143-145.

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The most unique addition possible to Oregon's wilderness system.

Location: Lake County, 15 miles east-northeast of Christmas Valley

Size: 25 square miles (16,518 acres)

Terrain: Mostly open sand and flats with a few minor hills

Elevation Range: 4,290-4,478 feet

Managing Agencies: Lakeview District BLM (present); National Park Service (proposed)

Agency Wilderness Status: 16,440-acre BLM wilderness study area; 0 acres recommended

Recreation Map: Northwest and Northeast Quarters, Lake- view Resource Area, Lakeview District BLM

Some ecosystems don't get any respect.

The area contains the largest inland moving sand dune system in Oregon, and possibly the Pacific Northwest. The dunes—because of the resulting hydro- logic and soil conditions—are critical to the preservation of the adjacent Lost Forest, a disjunct stand of ponderosa pine, in a place where low rainfall alone would normally prohibit any forest from growing. (See Lost Forest–Shifting Sand Dunes National Monument.

The proposed wilderness is more than just open sand. Because of the edge effect created between the sand, sagebrush, and forest, the area is excellent wildlife habitat. Predators with limited range in the desert, such as the cougar and bob- cat, are found here. So too is the badger. Small mammals include the black-tailed mountain hare (jackrabbit), pygmy rabbit, least and yellow pine chipmunks, Townsend's and golden-mantled ground squirrels, and the northern grasshopper mouse. Bird species include the American avocet, sage thrasher, sapsucker, mountain bluebird, prairie falcon, and golden eagle. A large number of reptile species are also present.

Wildflower species include the sand lily, hairy evening primrose, paintbrush, and specklepod milk-vetch.

The seemingly endless combinations of form and light are remarkable. The solitude is outstanding. The shifting sand dunes encourages contemplation— when the all-terrain vehicles are not roaring around you.

Only small portions of this dunes system are closed to vehicles. Aestheti- cally and geologically, they are the least interesting. The most spectacular dunes are open to—and sometimes crawling with—off-road vehicles. Eight thousand people visit the sand dunes annually, the large majority of whom do so with an engine roaring in their ears.

Despite legal restrictions, vehicles routinely violate the Lost Forest Research Natural Area and other vehicle closures.

The dunes cover both paleontological and archaeological sites that can be uncovered by the wind. On such occasions, because of the motorized use, no protection exists for the fossil beds and lithic sites.