Sand Dunes Wilderness Study Area

Wilderness Study Area

The Sand Dunes Wilderness Study Area (WSA) (OR-1-24) is located in Lake County, 9 miles northeast of the small town of Christmas Valley, Oregon and about 70 miles southeast of Bend, Oregon. It is approximately 30 miles north of Oregon Highway 31, and 30 miles west of U.S. Highway 395. The WSA contains 16,040 acres of BLM land and one parcel of split-estate land totaling 400 acres.

Low standard roads define the boundaries on the north and east, a powerline right-of-way on the west, and legal land subdivisions on the south. Much of the land outside the area is public  land managed by the BLM and is used primarily for recreation and grazing.

The majority of the WSA is characterized by unstabilized sand dunes, which rise to a maximum height of about 60 feet. Pockets of vegetation exist between the dunes and surrounding ephemeral seeps. Sparse grasses grow on the dunes in late summer, and some juniper trees occur on the northern and eastern margin of the dunes near the boundaries. The area between the dunes and the north boundary road supports extensive areas of salt-grass and greasewood cover. A portion of the WSA inside the Lost Forest contains sagebrush, juniper and ponderosa pine. There is no perennial water in the area.

A portion of the Lost Forest Research Natural Area (RNA) is within the WSA. The boundary road of the WSA separates this portion of the RNA from the remainder of the RNA. The RNA was designated in 1972 for research purposes and receives special management, including withdrawal from mineral entry. The RNA is within a “limited” road vehicle designation with vehicles restricted to roads or trails posted as open to travel. The sand dunes are “open” to vehicles equipped for travel across sand or snow. The Lost Forest consists of a disjunct stand of ponderosa pine occurring in a climate lower in rainfall than that normally associated with this vegetation community. The sand dunes, the sandy soils within the Lost Forest, and associated vegetation represent a complex and unique ecosystem.

All Research Natural Areas and Primitive Areas in existence at the time of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) were designated as Instant Study Areas (ISA). They were so named because the deadline for completion of the wilderness study was accelerated from the 1991 reporting date for the remaining wilderness study areas to be identified in inventories. The BLM Oregon State Director’s 1979 report on the Lost Forest Instant Study Area concluded that the Lost Forest ISA did not have wilderness characteristics and should not be recommended for wilderness designation. The report did conclude that the portion of the Lost Forest RNA/ISA within the Sand Dunes WSA should be incorporated for further study with the Sand Dunes WSA. A portion of the WSA includes pan of the Fossil Lake paleontologic area vehicle closure, which continues to the west, outside the WSA. Some 4,160 acres of the WSA are within this fenced vehicle closure area.

The WSA was studied under Section 603 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and was included in the Final Oregon Wilderness Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) filed in February 1990.

OR/WA Wilderness Study Areas Flickr album
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Leave No Trace

Please follow the regulations in place for this area, and use Leave No Trace techniques when visiting to ensure protection of its unique natural and experiential qualities. How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (e.g. eastern Oregon vs. western Oregon). Visit to learn more about the principles listed below and how they apply.

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors