The winds of change are blowing through the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, the newest addition to the fully protected wild lands of Oregon. It's been just over a year since the Wilderness Act took effect, protecting forever this high desert jewel of 30,000 acres, so near to, but yet so far from, the metropolitan area of Bend.
The center of the Badlands Wilderness is located about 14 miles from the center of Bend, but the contrast is startling, once you head out on the trails, or off trail, to some of the unusual volcanic formations and lava flows that prolifically stud the landscape. As you hike farther from the trailheads that surround the Badlands on the north, south and east sides, solitude, serenity and silence offer a respite from the noise of the small city we Bendites call home. Out here in the wilderness, surrounded by thousand-year-old juniper trees, you can hear and see the feathered and four-footed inhabitants that call the Badlands home.
Not so long ago, the sounds often heard were the noise of vehicles and ATVs, driving through and along the trails, but relatively recently, the trails were closed administratively by the Bureau of Land Management, following discussions with some of the far-sighted cattle-grazing permit holders of the Badlands, who saw the benefits to the community of the creation of a wilderness so close to Bend. Further, public input from the community gave positive assertion to its permanent protection, which culminated in the signing of the legislation designating Oregon Badlands Wilderness.
You can hear, sometimes, the winds blowing through the junipers, as you hike into the stillness of the Badlands. This is a physical sound, but perhaps the winds of change are also blowing metaphorically through the differing communities that make up the high deserts and mountains of Oregon east of the Cascades. For on the horizons of these beautiful and often stunning landscapes, there are other Wilderness areas in the process of being created.
This is a result of these disparate communities of ranchers, permit holders, private landholders, conservation-minded associations and groups, such as the Oregon Natural Desert Association, seemingly negotiating in a new spirit of cooperation and compromise to give back to nature, and to restore some of these landscapes that have been subject to human activities.
While we perhaps cannot immediately transform these areas (most of them part of the National Landscape Conservation System, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year) to their once natural, pristine state, a start can be made with volunteer organizations that have recently sprung up over the American West. Their missions, in general and in symbiosis with the National Landscape Conservation System, are to preserve, protect and restore their adopted and nationally significant landscapes, which are recognized for their outstanding cultural, ecological and scientific values.
The Friends of Oregon Badlands Wilderness did make such a start, two years before the Wilderness Act took full effect in creating the Badlands Wilderness.
Working in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management, the Friends are engaged in the community through education and restoration projects while at the same time deepening their connection with the landscape, building support for wilderness and the National Landscape Conservation System, which is the nation's newest, permanently protected collection of public lands - 28 million acres of nationally significant landscapes.
Last year The Friends of Oregon Badlands Wilderness gave 1,650 volunteer hours to the Badlands Wilderness. Removing obsolete barbed-wire fences, providing outreach programs and presentations to schools, installing and repairing signs, providing boundary and trail patrols and trailhead maintenance are just some of the volunteer activities that contribute and enhance visits to this remarkable area.
As you walk and hike in the solitude, you might indeed hear and see the wind blowing through the grand old junipers and, while in the silence, reflect on the metaphorical winds of change, creating more wilderness landscapes for you and your children and grandchildren to enjoy.
David Eddleston is a long time ONDA volunteer and president of the Friends of Oregon Badlands Wilderness. He lives in Bend.