John Day Fossil Beds
Administrative History
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Chapter Five:
LANDS



Acquisitions after 1978

Negotiations for sale of land at Foree could be completed once Congress the 1,000 acre ceiling on fee acquisition in 1978. Bernard O'Rourke had died, so his widow sold 673 acres to the NPS in late 1979. [1] This resulted lifted since in the NPS gaining virtual control of Foree, something which came with a large trailer that could be used for employee housing. [2]

Foree area of the Sheep Rock Unit
Foree area of the Sheep Rock Unit. The shaded area represents Tract 102-03 obtained from O'Rourke in 1978.
(from Burtchard, et al., Archeological Overview and Assessment, 1994)

Finalization of a land exchange with Brooks Resources came in May 1980, and represented something which greatly aided NPS management of the Painted Hills Unit. The company received a deed for 38 acres of formerly NPS land so they could proceed with a water impoundment. [3] They also obtained a clarified easement for access to their land west of the park on an existing road. In return, the NPS acquired land along Bridge Creek and received other compensation. [4] The land consisted of three tracts totaling 83.60 acres in fee and a 200 acre scenic easement. [5] An important part of the agreement centered on Brooks Resources abandoning a stock driveway through the park which previously prevented the NPS from fencing its boundary. Company president William L. Smith granted an easement so as to allow the NPS to hide its boundary fence from the view of park visitors and agreed to provide the government with access to the impounded water so that the picnic area at Painted Hills could be irrigated. [6] The company also gave Wheeler County a scenic easement on its lands along a six mile stretch of road which connects US 26 with the park. [7]

Land exchange with Brooks Resources in the Painted Hills Unit
Land exchange with Brooks Resources in the Painted Hills Unit, 1980.
Tracts 103-04, 103-05, and 103-06 totaling 83.60 acres were obtained by the NPS in fee,
while the 200 acre Tract 103-07 was a scenic easement. The 38 acres in Tract 103-10
was acquired by Brooks Resources in fee simple.
(derived from Burtchard, et al., 1994)

Both the Foree and Painted Hills transactions had been mentioned as priority acquisitions in the monument's general management plan (GMP), as approved in 1979. [8] The GMP, for the most part, lacked further specifics about how the NPS anticipated obtaining other private lands within the monument's boundaries. A land acquisition plan approved in April 1980 provided a first step by separating the perceived importance of private land into three categories. The first made specific reference to Clarno, where the 960 acre Maurer tract contained important paleontological resources such as the nut beds and mammal quarry. A need to have lands representing the fossil-bearing Mascall and Rattlesnake formations under some form of NPS control became the second category. The third simply made reference to fee acquisition or scenic easements being the methods used to form a consolidated land base and more manageable contiguous units. [9] Fee acquisition of a 55 acre parcel at Blue Basin in August 1982, for example, was thereby classed in the third column. This change in ownership at Blue Basin also constituted the only real result from the plan, and represented the last NPS land purchase within the monument's authorized boundaries for more than eight years. [10]

A subsequent land protection plan (LPP) for the monument resulted from a Department of the Interior policy statement regarding use of Land and Water Conservation Fund monies for acquisitions. [11] The plan, as approved in February 1984, focused on identifying options other than fee acquisition of private lands and established specific priorities for obtaining parcels in each of the three units. After placing the park's purpose in context with land ownership and compatibility of uses, the NPS thereby eliminated cooperative agreements and zoning as viable land protection alternatives. After justifying its reliance on scenic easements and fee acquisition, the NPS then placed its emphasis on land exchanges as the recommended means of conveyance. NPS staff reasoned that this approach kept land in production and on tax rolls, while noting they still had 720 acres of land outside the monument's revised boundaries which could be used as "trading stock." [12] Consequently, the NPS priorities (which had not shifted from those delineated by category in 1980) for the Sheep Rock and Clarno units showed almost exclusive reliance upon exchange for future acquisitions. [13]

Recommended land protection measures, 1990
Recommended land protection measures, 1990.
Tract 104-04 in the Clarno Unit is the Maurer parcel containing the nut beds and mammal quarry.
Tract 101-03 in the Sheep Rock Unit represented another high priority for the NPS,
where it sought a combination of fee acquisition and scenic easement around the Mascall Overlook.

The first major amendment to the monument's LPP took place in 1990. Although its priorities shifted very little from the ones of 1984, the NPS modified the recommended means of acquisition from "exchange" to "purchase" or "purchase/exchange" for the 15 tracts it still hoped to obtain. [14] This constituted a belated acknowledgment that, in many instances, purchase represented the most feasible way to protect resources and provide public access. The plan also noted, however, a major land exchange had taken place in the vicinity of Painted Hills whereby BLM obtained lands east of the county road which approaches the unit from US 26. [15] Despite BLM's apparent success, the NPS experienced only frustration in using exchange as an inducement for landowners to part with key tracts in the Clarno and Sheep Rock units even though negotiations began as far back as 1980. [16]

1986 map of the proposed Sutton Mountain Land Exchange
A 1986 map of the proposed Sutton Mountain Land Exchange between Brooks Resources Corporation and
the Bureau of Land Management. Most of the exchange had been completed by 1990 and resulted in
federal ownership of most land adjacent to the Painted Hills Unit.

Even with the LPP recommending purchase as a method of acquisition, land transactions still required the fortuitous combination of willing seller and available funds. Sometimes a perceived threat had to precede acquisition, as in 1990, when some land owners in the Sheep Rock Unit wanted to partition almost 300 acres located a short distance north of the Cant Ranch. [17] As a result, the NPS bought 154 acres from Bob and Virginia Humphreys several months later. [18] This represented the first land acquisition at the monument since 1982, and led to purchase of another 139 acres in scenic easement from the same owners in 1992. [19]

The NPS still wanted to consolidate the Sheep Rock Unit's land base when Ladd's 18 year superintendency ended with his retirement in late 1993. Several key parcels located along the unit's southern edge, as well as tracts that could serve to join Blue Basin with the bulk of existing parkland, have yet to be acquired. [20] In all, the NPS still needed to have some level of control on roughly 1,808 acres in the Sheep Rock Unit while only 50 acres at Painted Hills had not been protected by either fee ownership or easements. [21] More than 989 acres (or roughly half) of the Clarno Unit, however, remained in private hands. The NPS therefore could not consolidate the disjunct federal holdings there until such time that acquisition of the 960 acre Maurer tract takes place. [22]


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Last Updated: 30-Apr-2002