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An Iron Curtain across the West
Michael O'Hearn
November 06, 1961
Oregon just opened up a mountain, but a big part of the choice public land in the West is still closed to the outdoorsmen who own it
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November 06, 1961

An Iron Curtain Across The West

Oregon just opened up a mountain, but a big part of the choice public land in the West is still closed to the outdoorsmen who own it

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For Oregonians these Bureau meetings had two important results. First, Russell E. Getty, state director of the Bureau, persuaded his bosses in Washington to reclassify all public acreage in the Steens as "balanced multiple-use" land. This did not newly open the area—technically it was already open. But it did place recreational use of the land on an equal footing with grazing, and it meant that Land Management men were empowered to prevent its domination by any special-interest activity, in this case, sheep and cattle.

The other result was the formation of a large and genial group of hunters and game officers called the Steens Mountain Resource Committee, which managed to talk the biggest single landholder in the Steens, the Allied Land and Livestock Co., into opening up 70,000 acres. In return, the committee guaranteed to protect livestock by marking certain plots off limits to hunters; Allied holds its cattle in these plots during the season. Another big ranch, the Alvord, agreed to keep gates unlocked and to allow hunters to use their private feeder roads, and even to permit some hunting on private land. In the midst of all this, Getty was able to squeeze $145,000 out of his meager federal budget to improve and extend the main public access roads the hunters used this month to reach the top of Steens Mountain.

Meanwhile, the Oregon Fish and Game commissions, which had helped persuade Allied to open up, bought acreage around one of the lakes, stocked the lake with rainbows and browns and turned it into a summer attraction for fishermen. As a special dividend for future hunters, they also transplanted a nucleus of 11 wild bighorn sheep from the Hart Mountain Refuge into Steens.

Last season, the first under the new program of enlightened access, 3,454 hunters took 2,738 deer, more than double the kill recorded three years before. In addition to deer hunters and more than 5,000 fishermen, 600 bird shooters and 5,000 campers made use of the area in the 1960 season. This past summer the numbers were even higher, and in the deer season just closed the take of animals would have surpassed 1960 had it not been for the drought that pushed the deer into remote canyons.

There is still one big landowner holding out in Steens—Rex Clemens, a lumberman, whose 9,000-acre spread on the West slope controls handy access to perhaps 70,000 acres of public domain. For that matter, there are stubborn men holding out all over the West. "We've got some unmanageable hunters and some hard-nosed ranchers," says Wildlife Superintendent John Scharff, "and they'll never resolve their differences." But for hundreds of thousands of others, the success on Steens Mountain has shown the way toward opening up immense tracts of choice public land, not only to Westerners but to outdoorsmen all over the country. "With the jets and a few hundred dollars," says John McKean, operations chief for the Oregon Game Commission, "these areas are now as accessible to someone in New York as to the locals."

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