By Associated Press • 

Wilderness plan around Painted Hills wins support

BEND — A proposed federal wilderness area encircling Oregon's Painted Hills has won the backing of local leaders, but a lot more needs to happen for it to be created.

The Wheeler County Court and the city of Mitchell recently voted to support the Sutton Mountain Wilderness. The federal designation of a wilderness, however, requires an act of Congress and approval by the president.

The proposed wilderness would cover nearly 60,000 acres around and in the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, The Bend Bulletin reported.

“It is an area with amazing views, vistas, it has really important wildlife habitat, (for) mule deer and Rocky Mountain elk, and because of the geology of the area it has some rare plants that aren't found anywhere else in the world,” said Brent Fenty, executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association.

The proposal has the attention of Oregon's two senators, but they have yet to introduce legislation that would lead to its creation.

“Our office has been impressed with the strong show of local community support for this proposal and (is) consequently considering it for legislative action,” Courtney Warner Crowell, spokeswoman for Sen. Jeff Merkley.

In recent years, Congress has designated few new wildernesses. The 112th Congress, which served from 2011 to 2013, did not designate any and the 113th Congress has designated just one.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management took over supervision of the area on and around Sutton Mountain in a land exchange in 1992, Lisa Clark, spokeswoman for the BLM in Prineville, wrote in an email. The exchange consolidated holdings out of what had been a patchwork of public and private land, with the BLM stewardship including mainly rocky slopes.

Much of the land, public and private, had been grazed by sheep until about 1950, when cattle became the livestock of choice.

As part of the proposal, the BLM would transfer about 2,000 acres to sparsely populated Wheeler County, which the county could use for an airstrip, an RV campground, a police training facility or other purposes. County officials refer to the land as the “Golden Triangle.”

“This proposal really is in the best interests of local residents,” Wheeler County Judge Chris Perry said. “It will create economic opportunities through tourism and visitation to the new wilderness and through using the Golden Triangle to develop local services.”

Web Design & Web Development by LVSYS