Andy Kerr

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

Bighorn Wilderness (Proposed)

Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 99-100.

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The largest concentration of bighorn sheep in Oregon.

Location: Lake County, 15 miles northeast of Plush

Size: 496 square miles (317,642 acres) 

Terrain: Precipitous fault scarps, deep canyons, rolling hills, and wetlands

Elevation Range: 4,460-8,900 feet

Managing Agencies: Lakeview District BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service

Agency Wilderness Status: 20,390-acre FWS Poker Jim Ridge wilderness study area recommended; 14,800-acre BLM wilderness study area-9,800 acres recommended

Recreation Maps: Southeast and Northeast Quarters, South and North Halves Lakeview Resource Area, Lakeview District BLMThe wilderness proposal consists of three units: Orejana Canyon, Poker Jim Ridge, and Warner Peak. It is also part of the Oregon Biodiversity Project's Hart Moun- tain Conservation Opportunity Area. (See also Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Additions.)

Evidence of prehistoric human use around the lakes, along the rims, and across the flats can be observed.

Orejana Canyon Unit

The BLM's Wilderness Report, a document not renowned for eloquence, noted:

The incised canyon meandering through high elevation table lands, with the large boulders along the rim suggest not only naturalness, but a massive display of nature's grandness. The Island stands open and wild, free of human encroachment, symbolic of a once grander landscape now reduced in scale across the W est to determined remnants. [1]

Orejana Rim merges into Poker Jim Ridge, which merges into Hart Mountain farther to the south. All define the eastern edge of the Warner Valley. An ancient lakeshore can be seen along all three rims.

Geologically of interest are Orejana Canyon, Orejana Rim (especially the huge boulder piles at its base), and an exceptionally clear flow of obsidian.

One hundred bighorn sheep from Hart Mountain move down into the Orejana area in winter, as do mule deer and pronghorn. Raptors include golden eagle, red-tailed hawk, and great horned owl. Large numbers of passerine birds and sage grouse can also be seen.

Poker JimRidge Unit

Two striking features stand out in this unit: the towering rim and the dramatic floor below. Poker Jim Ridge is as raw and rough a rim as you can find and is primarily on the Hart Mountain Refuge. It would get more attention if it were not next to the even more dramatic Hart Mountain to the south.

The second feature is a portion of the Warner Lakes (Flagstaff Lake on the south to Bluejoint Lake on the north). (See the Campbell Lake exploration in Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Additions).

Warner Peak Unit

Hart Mountain is a classic Basin and Range fault-block mountain that rises several thousand feet above the Warner Lakes. From the precipitous rim, the mountain slopes upward to Warner Peak and then gently downward and always eastward for 20 miles (through the Pronghorn Wilderness) to the Catlow Valley.

This unit is primarily on the Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge and includes Warner Peak, the highest bump on Hart Mountain. Western juniper are scattered across many areas, sometimes being dense enough to be woodland. On Hart Mountain, vast and gorgeous stands of mountain mahogany and quak- ing aspen are common. In the steep canyons on the face of Hart Mountain, scat- tered old ponderosa pine can be found. Dry meadows are quite common as well.

Because of overhunting, livestock grazing, and diseases from domestic sheep, California bighorn sheep were extirpated from the state by 1915. They were re- introduced into the refuge from British Columbia in 1954. The very healthy population in this unit serves as the primary source for reintroductions elsewhere in Oregon.

1. Wilderness Study Report. Portland, Ore.: USDI Bureau of Land Manage- ment, 1991, 52.