Malheur and the Surrounding Landscape

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, located in Harney County in Southeastern Oregon is one of the most important refuges for birds in North America, providing habitat for more than 300 avian species. Each year hundreds of thousands of waterfowl and tens of thousands of shorebirds pass through Malheur.

The 187,757-acre refuge hosts up to half the world’s population of Ross’s Geese, 20 percent of the world’s population of White-faced Ibises, the largest population of Sandhill Cranes of any refuge in the west, and a variety of other globally and continentally important avian populations.

Threats to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Even with its immense ecological, Malheur faces very real challenges. Malheur Lake which once produced as many as 180,000 waterfowl each year, currently produces less than 10,000 due to habitat destruction by invasive carp. Invasive weeds such as Reed Canary Grass and Perennial Pepperweed have infested Malheur meadows. The ecological value of critically important farm and ranchlands surrounding Malheur is imperiled by changing irrigation practices. Cattle grazing on the refuge has long been a source of contention.  New threats and controversies are emerging such as oversubscribed groundwater and a resurgent movement to privatize public lands.

Portland Audubon’s Work to Protect and Restore Malheur NWR

Malheur has been a priority for Portland Audubon dating back to our founding. Concerned about decimation of waterbird populations by plume hunters and rapid conversion of  wildlife habitat for ranching, Portland Audubon (then Oregon Audubon) founder, William Finley successfully lobbied President Theodore Roosevelt to designate Malheur Lake as one of the first wildlife refuges in the Western US in 1908. In 1935, Finley and Portland Audubon would successfully lobby the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to add the 35,000-acre Blitzen Valley to the refuge.

Today, the restoration of Malheur and the surrounding landscape remains one of Portland Audubon’s highest priorities. Once considered one the most conflicted landscapes in the west, Harney County over the past decade has become nationally renowned for its collaborative approaches to conservation which bring together conservation groups, ranchers, local state and federal agencies, the Burns-Paiute Tribe and others to develop innovative solutions to complex environmental issues. Portland Audubon was a charter member of these collaborative efforts and continues to invest deeply in developing and implementing collaborative conservation initiative both on the refuge and on the surrounding landscape.

Portland Audubon volunteers take part in a restoration day at Benson Pond on the refuge.

How You Can Help

  • Become a Portland Audubon Activist to support legislation, funding and policy goals to support the refuge.
  • Take an Portland Audubon tour of the refuge and lean about its amazing history, wildlife and collaborative conservation efforts.
  • Join a Portland Audubon volunteer work party and get hands-on experience helping restore the refuge and the surrounding landscape.
  • Request a presentation for your group on Malheur


Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director,
Teresa Wicks, Eastern Oregon Field Coordinator,