As a little girl growing up in the desert east of Bend, nothing escaped my inquisitive eye. Everything from the blue summer sky to the warm sand under my bare feet, each unique attribute of my desert world, was observed, touched, smelled, heard, and occasionally tasted. My childhood memories are speckled with the scent of sage leaves crushed between my fingers, the carefree songs of finches and chickadees, the rough feel of juniper bark, and the mesmerizing activity of an anthill. Every blue-bellied lizard and lichen-painted rock told me its story, and I was fortunate enough to be in the right place and time to hear it. The desert molded my childhood life and has a large influence on the person I am today.
Growing up in this environment gave me an opportunity to immerse myself in a diverse desert ecosystem and enjoy the seclusion of a wild area. Right in our backyard is one of the most uniquely wild places in Central Oregon - the Badlands. Just 15 miles east of Bend, it provides the rare opportunity to experience the magic and solitude of an old growth ecosystem in the desert. My parents and I frequently drove the short five miles from our home, eager for an adventure. In the Badlands the past and the present come mysteriously to life as 1,000 year-old juniper trees and 80,000 year-old geologic formations surround Native American pictographs and cultural sites. Rare animals, such as the Sage Grouse and Prairie Falcon, take refuge among the rocks and cliffs within the Badlands' Dry River canyon. Predators like the coyote, bobcat, and Great Horned Owl inhabit the area, as well as deer, elk and antelope that forage in winter on delicate shrubs and grasses. Spring and summer bring the entire spectrum of color with over 100 species of birds and wildflowers. The Badlands provides us with the unique opportunity to observe and appreciate wildlife in isolation from the human world. As Central Oregon continues to grow, that seclusion becomes more and more precious and our wild areas become more at risk.
Things have definitely changed in the 20 years since I was a little girl. As Bend's growth spreads in all directions, our community starts to question just how much we value wild places. We are faced with the question, are we willing to sacrifice sanctuaries of unbelievable beauty and peace for development? How will our decisions about wilderness affect our children and grandchildren? There is no doubt that here in Central Oregon our natural surroundings are what make this area such a wonderful place to raise a family and escape the fast pace of everyday life. When we need rest and rejuvenation, our wild places provide that pristine beauty and quiet. Our children continually learn from these precious outdoor classrooms.
The Badlands Wilderness Study Area (WSA) designation currently prohibits the use of motorized vehicles, preventing off-road vehicle impact, tree cutting, dumping and vandalism. However, this fragile desert ecosystem is not protected from future development, mining and logging, protection that only a federal Wilderness designation can provide. More importantly, the WSA does not provide permanent protection, and the few safeguards associated with it are subject to removal at any time. With this in mind, can we afford to wait, satisfied with the Badlands' minimal protection, and hope that the WSA stays in place? Are wild areas important enough to preserve for the benefit of future generations?
Every child deserves the opportunity to have the desert as his or her sanctuary. Children should have a place they can go to watch a bluebird make her nest, follow a jackrabbit's tracks through the sand, or climb a juniper's twisted trunk. They need a place that will continue to be just as wild when they are twenty, thirty, and forty years old as it was when they first explored its wondrous landscape. That is what the Badlands will provide as Wilderness. Our children are the beneficiaries of Wilderness; now it's up to us to make Wilderness happen and protect the Badlands for good. For more information on how you can help protect the Badlands, please visit www.onda.org.
Katya Spiecker is the Oregon Natural Desert Association's volunteer coordinator for the Badlands. She is a native Central Oregonian who lives in Alfalfa and enjoys hiking "anywhere and everywhere" in Oregon.