Go tell it on the mountain

  • Steens Mountain

    Map by Diane Sylvain
  • Near summit of Steens Mountain

    Ancil Nance photo
  • Clinton's Land Legacy logo

  • Bruce Babbitt

    Ed Marston photo
  • Borax Hot Springs in the Alvord Desert

    Stephen Trimble photo
  • Big Indian Gorge on Steens Mountain

    Stephen Trimble photo
 

Page 4

The ranchers also have the support of Gov. John Kitzhaber, who's expected to help shepherd any new designation. "It's not a rational position to talk about buying out the ranchers," says Peter Green, senior natural resources aide for Kitzhaber. "I don't see that as a realistic or necessary solution."

But the council members have to do more than agree among themselves. Any legislation that includes grazing is sure to draw criticism from hardline environmentalists, and they're aware of their political power.

"If environmentalists don't hail it as a great thing, if we say, 'This is crap,' then the administration doesn't get as many points," says Andy Kerr, who represents The Wilderness Society on the Steens Mountain issue. "Babbitt is trying to take livestock grazing off the table, but we're not going to let him."

At what price?

Many people in Oregon question what may be gained - or lost - by a new classification for the Steens. Locals fear the "Yosemite syndrome" may lead to more visitors, more paved roads, more law enforcement, and less primitive character for this relatively unknown place. And if ranchers and private property owners are angry with the results of Babbitt's proposal, barbed-wire fences and no-trespassing signs could go up on private land in a hurry.

Cindy Witzel runs Steens Mountain Packers with her husband, John, who grew up on a ranch in the Steens. They guide summer horseback riding trips, elk-hunting trips, bird-hunting trips and backcountry ski adventures. "Yeah, we stand to gain, but it'll change this area forever," Witzel says. "We'd rather see no designation."

Even the liberal Register-Guard in Eugene and The Oregonian in Portland have editorialized against Babbitt's plan.

"Solitude is Steens Mountain's most fragile feature," the Register-Guard editorial said. "A caravan of RVs making its dusty way from Fish Lake Road to the summit will have a greater effect on Steens Mountain than a herd of cattle in Kiger Gorge."

Although Babbitt says his proposal for the Steens "really isn't about legacy," history judges Interior secretaries by the national treasures they protect from the long arm of development - and the controversies they brave to do it. Think of Stewart Udall and Cecil Andrus; they made their mark with a bevy of national parks, wilderness areas and monuments, all of which faced local opposition.

"If you look back at nearly every national monument in this country," says Kerr, "the locals fought it and hated the idea, but they were rolled by the greater national interest."

Babbitt believes this bitterness can be avoided. By giving locals a chance to chart the future of the Steens and other areas around the West, he hopes to convince them that new, tougher protections are necessary. If his approach works, he could leave a different - some might say happier - legacy than his predecessors. And if it doesn't? Unless he wants his proposals to vanish like the clouds on Steens Mountain, he'll have to be willing to take the heat.

"The future is coming at us," he says. "We have to get out ahead of the game and protect these areas before it's too late."

Idaho writer Stephen Stuebner has camped, hiked and hot-springed in the Steens Mountain area since 1981.

The following sidebar articles accompany this feature story:

- One proposal nearly runs aground

- Babbitt looks for support on his home turf

- The secretary's must-do list for Western lands

... plus several sidebars in which stakeholders share their views in their own words, available in the "Sidebar" section of this online issue.

You can contact ...

* Bureau of Land Management, Burns district, 541/573-4400;

* Southeast Oregon Resource Advisory Council (RAC), Mike Golden, chairman, 541/504-1475;

* Friends of Steens Mountain, Fred Otley, chairman, 541/493-2702;

* Oregon Natural Desert Association, Bill Marlett, executive director, 541/330-2638;

* Sierra Club, Oregon chapter, 503/239-8478.

High Country News Classifieds
  • MEMBERSHIP DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Membership Director Job Title: Membership Director Supervisor: Executive Director Classification: Full-time exempt Location: Boise, ID Job Overview Winter Wildlands Alliance is seeking a...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • STEWARDSHIP SPECIALIST
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks experienced person to manage its 133 conservation easements in south-central Colorado.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors LOCATION: Ashland, OR POSTING CLOSES: March...
  • ARIZONA CONSERVATION CORPS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Arizona Conservation Corps is seeking a Program Director in Flagstaff or Tucson
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • NEW MEXICO PROPERTY - SILVER CITY
    20 acres, $80,000. Owner financing, well, driveway, fencing possible, very private, sensible covenants, broker owned. Contact - 575-534-7955 or [email protected]
  • GRANT WRITER
    "We all love this place we call Montana. We believe that land and water and air are not ours to despoil, but ours to steward...
  • COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    ABOUT US: "This thriving citizens organization exemplifies the ideal of public involvement in public processes." - Billings Gazette At Northern Plains, we believe that true...
  • ST. LAWRENCE UNIVERSITY - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR IN THE OUTDOOR PROGRAM
    To view the complete position description please visit: http://employment.stlawu.edu. St. Lawrence University is an Equal Opportunity Employer.
  • TRAIL CREW & ASSISTANT TRAIL CREW LEADERS
    SEEKING TALENTED TRAIL WORK LEADERS The Pacific Crest Trail Association, headquartered in Sacramento, California is dedicated to protecting, preserving and promoting the Pacific Crest National...
  • SEASONAL SAN JUAN RANGERS
    Seeking experienced crew members to patrol Colorado's most iconic mountain wilderness.
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • DEVELOPMENT AND ADVOCACY DIRECTOR
    Provide stewardship and protection for the Great Burn wildlands along the Montana-Idaho stateline. This position is based in Missoula, MT, where a river runs through...
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • WILDERNESS CONSERVATION CORPS - OREGON
    The Siskiyou Mountain Club is hiring interns for the 2020 Field Season. Interns utilize non-mechanized tools to complete trail restoration and maintenance while gaining job...
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.