Can we save America’s largest parcel of wild, unprotected public land in the lower 48?

The Owyhee Canyonlands of southeast Oregon spans about 9 million acres along the Owyhee River, which carved the landscape’s dramatic contours over the course of millions of years. It is considered one of America’s most intact stretches of high desert, a type of dry landscape far above sea level that is characterized by stunning geology and diverse wildlife, and contains many culturally significant Shoshone and Paiute tribal sites.

Owyhee’s steep canyons and waves of sagebrush underscore the area’s stark separation from areas of human development (and illustrate the importance of protecting it). The odd and beautiful terrain also features hot springs, volcanic craters and Chalk Basin’s striped layers of lakebed sediment and igneous rock.

Greater sage-grouse and bighorn sheep roam a remote landscape of red-rock canyons and untamed rivers. This is one of the wildest stretches of land in the lower 48 states—but it is increasingly threatened by intrusions like mining and oil and gas operations.

Thankfully, a movement is gaining steam to permanently protect the Owyhee Canyonlands, which is thought to be the largest unprotected, undeveloped wildland in the continental U.S. “Owyhee is a singularly wild landscape offering outdoor recreation opportunities and vital habitat for hundreds of wildlife and plant species,” said The Wilderness Society’s Matt Keller. “We owe it to future generations to ensure that Owyhee is protected permanently and kept as rugged and pristine as possible.”

After years of hard work by The Wilderness Society and local leaders, a chunk of the broader Owyhee Canyonlands ecosystem was protected as wilderness on the Idaho side of the border in 2009. Now it’s time to finish the job.

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