As much a part of our landscape as Mt. Bachelor or the Deschutes River, the wildlife who live here are critical to our sense of place. Central Oregon's rapidly expanding population, recreation activity, and development footprint are putting wildlife such as deer and elk under pressure. We work to protect wildlife habitat by stopping the fragmentation of migration corridors, monitoring the cumulative impacts of development, and protecting natural areas.

The Future of the Ochoco mountains


Central Oregon LandWatch along with the Oregon Hunters Association and other groups challenged a Forest Service decision to carve up the Ochoco National Forest by creating a 137-miles off-road vehicle (ORV) route system. In a victory for public lands, wildlife, and native fish, a federal judge ruled that the Forest Service failed to satisfy its legal obligation to study the environmental impacts of a major new trail system for off-road vehicles, and to ensure that sensitive habitat for elk, wolves, and native fish are protected. Read more about our win.

The proposed Ochoco Summit Trail System Project would have cut through the heart of the Ochoco National Forest, which is east of Prineville and provides habitat for many species, including elk and redband trout. This stunning pine forest also provides for recreational activities like hunting, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, photography, and many more outdoor adventures that visitors and residents enjoy. The most recent data collected by the Forest Service shows that only 3.4% of visitors used an ORV for recreation, yet the proposed ORV routes would have cost at least half a million dollars and cause significant disturbance to all other recreation types.

Beyond impacts to other forest visitors, the proposed ORV route system would have damaged riparian areas, spread invasive species, and cause stress to vulnerable wildlife. The Ochoco National Forest has already seen some of this damage from illegal user-created ORV trails. Because of the large area the ORVs would impact, there is concern that the trail system could have pushed even more elk out of public lands.

Central Oregon LandWatch’s legal challenge to this proposal relied on expert reports and reflected the expertise of its team that includes a retired ODFW Basin Manager, hydrologists, wildlife biologists, and attorneys from the Crag Law Center. We are proud of our victory in defending the Ochoco National Forest for future hunters, hikers, and herds of elk.


Mule deer feeding

Crook County prides itself on its outstanding natural beauty, but protections for natural resources are under siege in the Ochoco Mountains and throughout the county. In the face of these attacks, Central Oregon LandWatch is on the frontlines defending Crook County’s incredible wildlife, open spaces, and peaceful outdoor recreation opportunities.

Thanks to our recent win at LUBA, wildlife are no longer threatened by a Crook County proposal to cut wildlife protections virtually in half throughout most of the county – an area of 2,987 square miles. When the County first proposed these cuts in 2012, Central Oregon LandWatch challenged the plan to the state because the plan would have seriously impacted critical habitat for elk, deer, antelope, and other species across Crook County. 

Crook County’s wildlife finally had their day in court in late 2017.  Central Oregon LandWatch, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development all challenged Crook County’s plan to weaken protections for critical elk, deer, antelope and other wildlife habitat at the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA). 
LUBA ruled in favor of wildlife by agreeing with almost all of LandWatch’s twelve arguments. The LUBA decision, which you can read here, explains that Crook County did not adequately consider the effects of their plan on significant wildlife, and in doing so, failed to comply with the law.

Upper Tumalo Reservoir: The Gateway to the Skyline Forest

The Tumalo Natural Area is a beautiful natural area west of the rural community of Tumalo. Here, the sagebrush and juniper spotted high desert landscape gives way to the green foothills of the Cascades.

As the Gateway to the Skyline Forest, it is a critical connection for the Tumalo Deer Winter Range and contains important habitat for elk, mule deer and other wildlife. Neighbors and visitors enjoy recreational activities such as horse riding, bird watching, and hiking in this area.

In 1988, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) entrusted the Tumalo Irrigation District (TID) with the care of a 930-acre parcel of land known as Bull Flat adjacent to the Upper Tumalo Reservoir. TID received this deed under the condition that the land would remain protected wildlife habitat.

In recent years, TID has neglected its responsibilities toward managing Bull Flat. In fact, it has actively damaged the area by illegally surface mining, including driving hundreds of trucks through the area during the deer winter closure, even after three code violation complaints. It allows year- round motorized vehicle access and has no management plan for the winter feeding area or for the population of threatened Peck’s Milkvetch.

In 1988, ODFW had the foresight to protect this important public resource as a connected and complete natural area. Central Oregon LandWatch believes it should remain protected in this way and we have joined with the Friends of the Tumalo Wildlife Corridor to ask Governor Kate Brown to return the land owned by TID in Bull Flat to its rightful protected status.

Download the Issue Brief here