Malhuer Lake Wilderness (Proposed)
Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 128-129.
Sporadically Oregon's largest lake.
Location: Harney County, 25 miles south of Burns
Size: 144 square miles (92,303 acres)
Terrain: Sand dunes and low hills and flats surrounding the lakes
Elevation Range: 4,093-4,145 feet
Managing Agency: Fish and Wildlife Service
Recreation Map: Northeast and Northwest Quarters, North Half Burns District BLM
The proposed wilderness includes two units: the "normal" Malheur Lake (see Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Additions) and Harney Lake.
Malheur Lake is a shallow alkaline marsh with dense growth of submerged and emergent aquatic plants. Sandy peninsulas and islands are common and are covered with greasewood and big sagebrush.
Scientists describe Harney Lake as a "large, shallow, intermittent, internally drained alkaline lake, remnant of a large Pleistocene lake, with alkali desert and sagebrush steppe vegetation, cold and hot springs, marshlands, sand dunes and abundant avifauna."
Harney Lake is sometimes dry with white alkali salt flats. Other times it becomes part of Malheur Lake. Historically, the "normal" Malheur Lake had periods of attempted farming and ranching (it got wet). Harney Lake was too harsh all the time to even try.
In particular, the sand dunes around Harney Lake are important western snowy plover habitat (see Lake Abert National Wildlife Refuge). The lake and immediate surroundings are a research natural area.
Waterfowl, shorebirds, and other avian species abound. White pelicans, Caspian terns, and gulls nest on the islands in Malheur Lake when water is present to keep away predators. Over 320 species of birds have been recorded since the refuge was established.
An ongoing management challenge is the exotic carp that were introduced into the lake system. The aliens churn up the lake bottom and reduce the productivity of the system for native species.
No exploration is given, as both Harney and Malheur Lakes are closed to the public save for a short duck hunting event on the north side of Malheur Lake. It wouldn't he any fun to be there then, unless you are hunting ducks.
Records of aboriginal settlement and use in the area date back nine thou- sand years. The closures are to protect wildlife and habitat and also to prevent the loss of archaeological resources. It is a federal offense to disturb or collect such resources. The feds frequently fly over looking for looters.