Andy Kerr

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

Trout Creek Mountains Wilderness (Proposed)

Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 154-156.

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Two ranges of desert mountains with deeply incised canyons and stands of aspen and willow among the sagebrush and plentiful water.

Location: Harney and Malheur Counties, 20 miles east of Fields

Size: 412 square miles (263,799 acres)

Terrain: Gentle plateaus dissected by very steep and rugged canyons Elevation Range: 4,230-8,264 feet

Managing Agencies: Burns and Vale Districts BLM

Agency Wilderness Status: 217,330-acre BLM wilderness study area; 164,070 acres recommended (additional wilderness in Nevada)

Recreation Maps: South Half Jordan Resource Area, Vale District BLM; South Half Burns District BLM

The topography ranges from the nearly flat to the nearly vertical. Rugged and dramatic canyons (often in excess of 1,000 feet), scree and talus slopes, exten- sive spires and badlands, high plateaus, distinctive buttes, and broad valleys all combine to make a terrain that is as diverse as the views are striking.

The area actually consists of two major mountain ranges: Trout Creek Mountains and Oregon Canyon Mountains. Little Whitehorse Creek, which coincidentally and generally parallels the Harney-Malheur county line, separates the ranges.

According to the Oregon Biodiversity Project, "This remote area has a num- ber of features that are priorities for conservation: high-quality streams, woody riparian habitats, and significant aspen and mountain mahogany woodlands. The area also supports a half-dozen at-risk plant species." [1] The diverse array of habitats supports over 225 species of plants.

Tree species include quaking aspen, willow, thin leaf alder, black cottonwood, bittercherry, and common chokecherry. Pockets of curlleaf mountain mahogany abound in higher areas. Western junipers grow below rims.

Plant communities include big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass, low sage- brush/bluebunch wheatgrass, low sagebrush/Idaho fescue, and mountain mahogany types. In the lower and much drier elevations to the west in the Pueblo Valley, desert shrub species predominate, such as shadscale, bud sage, and spiny hopsage. Big sagebrush (sometimes 8 to 10 feet tall) is found in the lower elevations and deeper soils, and dwarf sage is at higher elevations. Also present is the rare three-tip sage (Artemisia tripartita).

"The Trout Creek Mountains include some of the most outstanding and di- verse desert wildlife habitat in Oregon," notes the Oregon Biodiversity Project. "Lahontan cutthroat trout populations represent two of the last genetically pure strains of native trout in the Pacific Northwest." [2]

The Willow/Whitehorse trout is a unique and very endangered species. The Trout Creek Mountains are the northern extent of the range of the Lahontan redside shiner.

When the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Lahontan cutthroat trout as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, it didn't know that some were Oregonians. Native populations exist in the Sage Creek and Line Canyon drainages.

Bighorn sheep were successfully reintroduced into the Oregon Canyon Mountains in 1987. Both mountain ranges provide some of the best-quality mule deer habitat in Malheur County. Pronghorn are also present in large numbers.

Beaver can be found in most streams. The northern kit fox may inhabit the desert scrub in the western edge of the area. Large numbers of sage grouse can be found summering and nesting at the higher elevations and wintering at the lower elevations. Raptors on the large cliff faces are common as are songbirds in riparian areas. Cougar and bobcat—species with restricted ranges in the desert— are notable predators.

Cultural inventories have discovered over one hundred archaeological sites documenting use for the last seven thousand years by Northern Paiute Indians.

The proposal is in two units (Oregon Canyon Mountains and Trout Creek) and includes seven BLM wilderness study areas: Disaster Peak, Fifteenmile Creek, Mahogany Ridge, Oregon Canyon, Red Mountain, Twelvemile Creek, and Willow Creek.

1. Oregon Biodiversity Project. Oregon's Living Landscape. Portland, Ore.: Defenders of Wildlife, 1998, 131.

2. Ibid.