Merkley, Wyden Introduce Bill to Support Oregon Conservation, Economic Development

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today introduced the Sutton Mountain and Painted Hills Area Wildfire Resiliency, Preservation, and Economic Enhancement Act, legislation that would establish a Sutton Mountain National Monument on tens of thousands of acres of public lands surrounding the iconic Painted Hills and popular recreational areas, including Sutton Mountain, Pat’s Cabin, Priest Hole, Gable Creek, Sand Mountain and Dead Dog.

The proposal, which was developed in close collaboration with the Wheeler County community, would create new economic opportunities and provide permanent protections for public lands in the area—not only enhancing the recreational value to the Wheeler community, but also improving wildfire management across the region.

“With this legislation, we’ll make sure the public will be able to experience some of Oregon’s most incredible landmarks for generations to come, while also creating jobs and economic opportunities in the county right now,” Merkley said. “I thank local community members for their years of partnership as we’ve worked to develop this proposal, and I will continue to do everything I can to be a strong federal partner and put these plans into action.”

“Our state’s natural treasures inspire awe from Oregonians and visitors alike while underpinning a strong recreation economy that generates jobs and small business growth statewide,” Wyden said. “The Wheeler County community deserves huge praise for working together on this proposal that would preserve these world-renowned public lands while providing added wildfire protections, and I look forward to getting this legislation across the finish line.”

By creating a new national monument around Sutton Mountain and the Painted Hills, the legislation ensures their preservation for generations to come, and would put these incredible destinations more prominently on-the-map for outdoors lovers in Oregon and across America. The rocky ridges, high plateaus, rolling grasslands and riverine habitats at Sutton Mountain host herds of mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk, and California bighorn sheep; support myriad species of birds, including the iconic golden eagle; and feature expansive meadows of desert wildflowers. Bridge Creek and its tributaries, which flow through the area and have benefited from years of collaborative stream habitat restoration, are designated critical habitat for threatened steelhead trout.

“I’ve lived in Mitchell for 20 years, and I’ve always wanted to focus on ways to bring people to our community, to help keep our school open, bring potentially living wage jobs, housing, economic development and recreational opportunities to Mitchell,” said Sutton Mountain working group Vice Chairman Levi Horn. “Our community has worked for years, with many local and federal stakeholders as well as others to develop a vision for how the proposal to protect Sutton Mountain and convey the Golden Triangle to the City of Mitchell will improve our economic future, this legislation is our opportunity.”

“Our members in the outdoor recreation, beverage, and financial services sectors understand that conservation earns both economic and quality of life returns for all Oregonians,” said Shoren Brown, Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy at the Conservation Alliance. “This legislation is a boon to businesses who depend on wild public lands and recreational opportunities in order to create jobs and grow Oregon’s economy. We appreciate Senator Merkley working to benefit the entire region with this bill.”

“Pew commends Senator Merkley and all of the stakeholders for their hard work in developing this legislation,” said John Seebach, a senior manager at The Pew Charitable Trusts. “We support the conservation in this bill and look forward to working with the senator and our local partners to help see it enacted into law.”

“We are thrilled to see this proposal to protect and conserve Sutton Mountain as one of the jewels of the John Day region,” Ryan Houston, Executive Director of Oregon Natural Desert Association. “We look forward to continuing to work with Senators Merkley and Wyden, as well as the many stakeholders involved, to advance conservation in this important part of Oregon’s high desert.” 

“The John Day River is a stronghold for wild salmon and wild steelhead resilience and strength in the Columbia Basin,” said David Moskowitz, Executive Director of Conservation Angler. “Sutton Mountain and Bridge Creek are one of the natural engines producing wild steelhead abundance in this amazing watershed.”

“As an avid sportsmen who’s spent more than a decade hunting elk, deer, and chukar in almost every nook and cranny of Sutton Mountain,” said Michael O’Casey, Oregon/Washington Field Representative, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, “I applaud Senator Merkley for his engagement with the local community and the public on this bill to ensure that hunters and anglers can continue access to this rugged country and to ensure the fish and wildlife that depend on this area continue to have the healthy habitat they need to thrive.”

In addition to establishing the Sutton Mountain National Monument on approximately 66,000 acres of public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (click for map), the bill:

  • Authorizes local land exchanges to consolidate public lands ownership in the region and conveys approximately 1,300 acres to the City of Mitchell for public recreation and local development in support of a vibrant economic future for the community and Wheeler County;
  • Protects all land located inside the national monument by permanently withdrawing them from new mining claims;
  • Requires development of a wildfire risk assessment and a comprehensive monument management plan that will include wildfire mitigation and transportation management components;
  • Continues to allow grazing, important to the economy, culture, and heritage of Wheeler County, within the monument.

The legislation is supported by local governments, communities, and stakeholders, including the City of Mitchell, Oregon Natural Desert Association, Conservation Alliance, Pew Charitable Trusts, Conservation Angler, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Oregon Outfitters and Guides Association, and Portland Audubon.