John Day Ecological Province





John Day Province encompasses the rugged north-central segment of Oregon. It covers about 7 million acres mainly in Grant, Wheeler, Jefferson, Wasco, Crook, and Harney counties. Small segments are in Umatilla, Morrow, and Deschutes counties. Mutton Mountains in the northeast corner of Warm Springs Indian Reservation and Willowdale are in the northwest part of the province. Madras, Culver, and Prineville are in the western part, and Austin and Prairie City are in the eastern extent of the province. Antelope, Fossil, Spray, and Monument are in the northern extent. John Day Province adjoins High Desert Province to the south in the vicinity of Burns and Hines. The entire John Day Province is in Oregon.



John Day Province includes virtually the entire watersheds of Crooked River and of the Middle Fork, mainstem, and South Fork of John Day River. Upper North Fork John Day River is in Blue Mountain Province. The middle reach of Deschutes River from above Billy Chinook Lake north to about the railroad siding at Nena, which is 6 to 7 miles upriver from Maupin, is in John Day Province. The upper watersheds of Silver Creek, Silvies River, and Malheur River are in John Day Province.

Physiographically, John Day Province consists of extensive areas of steeply and intricately dissected hills interspersed with buttes and plateaus. The hills are mainly geologically eroded ancient lacustrine materials; the plateaus and buttes are capped with igneous or tuffaceous rock (Fig. 25). The Ochoco Mountains are the higher elevation areas within John Day Province. Although they are contiguous to the Blue Mountains and similar in vegetation, they are significantly different from an ecological standpoint, including soil–plant relationships and management implications.

Figure 25: Geologically eroded ancient lacustrine materials capped with basaltic or tuffaceous rock typify John Day Province, Oregon

John Day Province is rugged topography. Elevations range from about 1,000 feet near the railroad siding of Nena on Deschutes River to about 7,360 feet at Fields Peak in the Ochoco Mountains southwest of Mt. Vernon in Grant County. (The Strawberry Mountain group above about 5,000 feet elevation is in Blue Mountain Province.) The Middle Fork and mainstem John Day River thread through long, deep valleys and canyons surrounded by mountains, buttes, and plateaus. The spectacular topography of John Day Province presumably resulted from terrific folding, faulting, and volcanic action, plus geologic erosion of thick sedimentary deposits and tuffaceous materials that are related to geologic formations—such as John Day, Clarno, Mascall, and Rattlesnake—some of which are noted for containing plant and animal fossils. 9 Multiple basalt flows are exposed in some canyons, such as near Picture Rock Gorge near Dayville, and rhyolite buttes and hills occur in various locations, such as south of Ashwood in Jefferson County.

John Day Province is typified by extensively exposed ancient sediments and tuffaceous materials representing various geologic formations. A cursory observation of the sideslopes of buttes, hills, and mountains reveals the surface is covered by basalt stones and rocks. This has been construed to mean that the soil mantle overlies basalt bedrock. Sometimes this is true. However, a more thorough investigation by digging a soil pit almost always reveals that the underlying material consists of ancient, nonstony sedimentary materials. Numerous roadcuts substantiate this fact. On top of buttes and some plateaus, the underlying material is basalt bedrock.

The widespread feature of a very stony soil mantle overlying thick beds of nonstony fine-texture sedimentary or tuffaceous materials supports the view that, originally, much of John Day Province was capped by a continuous flow of basalt overlying thick beds of sedimentary materials. Subsequently, geologic folding, faulting, and volcanic action fragmented the basalt cap, thus exposing the underlying sedimentary materials to geologic erosion. As fine-texture underlying materials eroded, the basalt cap was undercut and fractured into stones and rocks which formed the surface colluvium now lying on sideslopes. Some basalt caps remain, some are gone, but the surface layers of hilly sideslopes are usually very stony.

Some horizontally layered rock formations in John Day Province look like basalt escarpments from a distance but are actually flows of tuffaceous materials that resemble basalt only in their outward physical features. Basalt escarpments, being hard rock, show angular protruding edges; tuffaceous escarpments, being relatively soft materials, appear smooth and have rounded edges due to weathering. A good example is just north of Burns where Highway 395 traverses Devine canyon. The canyon escarpment nearest Burns is tuffaceous material; farther north, at higher elevation, the escarpment is basalt.

Hills formed through geologic erosion of ancient sedimentary or tuffaceous materials in John Day Province can be identified by their rounded tops. In contrast, hills on which part of the original basalt cap still exists are flat-topped buttes or plateaus. Round-top hills are a distinguishing feature of John Day Province (Fig. 26).

Figure 26: General view of John Day Province showing round-top hills, remnants of basalt flows, and exposed ancient sediments



Physiographically, the John Day Province consists of extensive areas of steeply and intricately dissected hills interspersed with isolated buttes, extensive plateaus, and large and small valleys. The hills, which usually are round-topped because of geologic erosion, generally are at lower elevations than surrounding butte tops and plateaus. These hills consist mainly of ancient sedimentary and tuffaceous materials. Buttes and plateaus normally are capped by remnants of the igneous or tuffaceous materials that probably capped much of the thick underlying sediments in this province. Soils in the province are directly related to these different geologic formations; they are the parent materials in which the soils have formed.

For example, gray-brown Simas soils are representative of south-facing slopes, and black Tub soils are representative of north-facing slopes in hilly areas where clayey ancient materials constitute the landscape. Some areas of Tub soils have been dry-farmed. The Day soils represent areas of red clay that have been exposed sporadically within the ancient materials. According to Baldwin, 9 these red clay sediments are the base component of the John Day geological formation. The formation’s other components are a middle greenish layer and a top layer that is buff or white (Fig. 25). Soils on steep north-facing slopes in the hilly area, such as the Curant series, appear to be primarily aeolian materials. Probably they accumulated in this topographic position as prevailing winds redistributed volcanic ash and other geologically recent silty materials, forming deposits like snowdrifts on lee slopes.

Basaltic and tuffaceous formations are widespread throughout the province. Soils related to these areas are generally very stony and shallow to moderately deep over basalt bedrock or tuffaceous hardpans. Anatone, Madras, Lamonta, Era, and Agency soil series represent this group. The soil Rockly, which represents the scabland ecological site in John Day Province, has a clayey, very shallow, very stony profile. Its counterpart in Columbia Basin Province, Bakeoven, has a loamy, very shallow, very stony profile. In areas where soils formed in shaley parent materials, Venator and Utley soils are representative.62

From the mainstem John Day River southeast of Prairie City, the sloping terrace that extends from the river south to the footslopes of Strawberry Mountain group and west to John Day and Canyon City is the Oxbow soil, named after the Oxbow Ranch. It is a black clayey soil derived from ancient sediments that overlie a cemented hardpan. This area is a good example of a remnant of an ancient lakeshore terrace. It is probably the only area of Oxbow soil in Oregon. Native vegetation was an Idaho fescue/low sagebrush plant community which, coupled with its blackish soil that often connotes strong organic content, suggests that this area has a moist, cool environment due to its being close to and north from the Strawberry Mountain group.

In higher-elevation Ochoco Mountains, soils in natural shrub–grassland openings are related to ancient sediments. However, some surface soils in these openings contain aeolian silty materials which overlay the clayey subsoils derived from sedimentary materials. The Marsden soil in Bear Valley represents this situation. Pine- and fir-forested soils geomorphically related to ancient sediments are represented by the Hankins soil series. Other pine- and fir-forested soils that show evidence of aeolian materials in surface layers overlying clay sediments include Kahler and Boardtree. Pine- and fir-forested soils lying above basalt bedrock are represented by the Yawkey soil, and those lying over shale bedrock are represented by Laycock soil.

Soils of the pine- and fir-forested area of John Day Province differ from those in Blue Mountain Province. John Day pine- and fir-forested soils contain more clay, especially in subsoils, and normally are underlain by fine-texture sediments or tuffaceous materials. In contrast, Blue Mountain pine- and fir-forested soils are silt loam in texture and normally occur over buried aeolian soils or basalt bedrock. Casual observation commonly equates these two forested areas as being the same because they produce the same tree species. However, from an ecological and total ecosystem management standpoint, they are significantly dissimilar in ways described later, in the section on vegetation.

Early soil surveys71, 82 recorded areas of Hall Ranch, Klicker, and Tolo soils in the pine- or fir-forested areas within John Day Province. The type locations of these soils is in Blue Mountain Province, and areas mapped at that time as these soils in John Day Province were thought to resemble these Blue Mountain soils. However, it should be noted that, in the era of general soil surveys, the soil scientists of Soil Conservation Service were not authorized to map soils in national forests; areas were examined incidental to cross-country travel. Consequently, soil mapping in pine- or fir-forested areas was based on sketchy data. Furthermore, in later years, formal soil correlation studies revealed significant differences between the pine- or fir-forested soils of John Day Province and those in Blue Mountain Province. For example, the Tolo soil, which typifies Blue Mountain Province, is typically about 30 inches of silt loam volcanic ash over a buried nonashy aeolian silt loam soil that also is about 30 inches or more thick. Tolo soils occur primarily on high-elevation plateaus and north-facing slopes in Blue Mountain Province.

A former soil scientist at Oregon State University, Ellis Knox, was a key observer of differences between John Day Tolo soils and Blue Mountain Tolo soils and once suggested that the name of the John Day Tolo be changed to Tolocho, i.e., Tolo in the Ochocos (personal communication to author). Unfortunately, the soil correlation team did not adopt this excellent suggestion. However, to correct the situation, two soil series representing ashy soils in the pine- or fir-forested area of John Day Province were established subsequently. Boardtree soils consist of about 30 inches of ashy gravelly loam over buried clay that is related to ancient sediments; Yawkey soils consist of ashy gravelly loam and clay loam layers over very gravelly clay underlain by basalt bedrock at 40 to 60 inches.

In view of the source of aeolian ash in which Tolo soils were formed, i.e., the Mazama eruption, and the very widespread geographic distribution of this deposit, it is reasonable to expect to find some genuine Tolo soils on higher elevation forested areas, especially on north exposures, in John Day Province. For example, north-facing slopes on Rudio Mountain west of Fox Valley closely resemble similar sites in Blue Mountain Province in terms of soil and vegetation. However, no test was made regarding the clay content of subsoils, which is a differentiating characteristic of John Day Province.

The fine-texture upland soils of John Day Province are highly susceptible to water erosion. Consequently, colluvial and alluvial soils occur along drainages as bottomlands and as upland fans and terraces. Kimberly, Courtrock, and Dayville are loamy soils underlain by sand and gravel; they are along streams such as John Day River. Loamy soils, such as Hack series, occur on alluvial fans and terraces. Damon is a black clayey soil typical of meadows in cold valleys such as Bear Valley and Silvies Valley south of Canyon City.



Based on 15 official weather stations, which represent a cross-section of John Day Province, the average annual precipitation for the province is about 13.3 inches. Of that, about 28% falls during the herbaceous native-plant growing season, April through June. November through March precipitation is about 53% of the annual total. Average January maximum and minimum temperatures are 38.9 and 18.4°F, respectively. Average April through June maximum and minimum temperatures are 68.1 and 36.2°F, respectively.

A precipitation map53 shows 25 to 30 inches annual precipitation in the Ochoco Mountains south of Mitchell and about the same in the mountains east of Seneca and around the footslopes below about 5,000 feet elevation on the Strawberry range. The area above 5,000 feet elevation in Strawberry range, which receives over 35 inches annual precipitation, is in Blue Mountain Province. Other mountainous areas in John Day Province average about 15 to 20 inches; lower elevation areas average between 10 and 15 inches annual precipitation.



According to the 1936 State of Oregon Forest Type Map54 which predates extensive logging activities, nearly half the entire John Day Province was covered by pine, fir, and mixed pine–fir forests. About 40% was nonforested with primarily sagebrush-grassland in lower elevations. A surprisingly small proportion of the province, probably less than 10%, was occupied by stands of western juniper during that era. The lack of western juniper is particularly noticeable in the John Day River drainage where only scattered stands existed in the late 1930s. The upper Crooked River drainage east of Paulina also had only scattered stands of juniper.

In the southwest part of John Day Province in the vicinity of Prineville, juniper stands occupied a high proportion of the landscape. They extended east up the Crooked River to about Paulina. Preponderance of juniper around Prineville and lower Crooked River in John Day Province likely is due to the huge seed source provided by junipers that blanketed the nearby pumice-soil area (Mazama Province) from Redmond to Bend and east to about Hampton. Unpublished field studies of juniper stand structure and age classes on these pumice soils helped formulate the concept that western juniper is a climax species on pumice soils in this particular area. Growth-ring counts of huge junipers, some about 3 feet in diameter and most of which were hollow, indicated such trees were hundreds of years old. All age classes were represented in the stand, which indicates the likelihood of stand perpetuation over time, i.e., climax species.40

In the 1960s, Larry Haverfield, an SCS range conservationist, and Bill Anderson observed that the stand of juniper north of the mainstem John Day River was increasing rapidly over the landscape at that time. Likely it had originated from the stand of old juniper growing on rocky ridges several miles to the north. In this study, growth rings on all trees along a transect from the river north to the forest boundary, which was essentially the top of the main ridge, showed increasing age classes from the river to the ridgetop. The study also showed that this expansion of junipers had begun about the early 1900s. The very old juniper, the seedstock, grew on rocky ridgetops where they likely were protected somewhat from wildfire because of lack of surface fuel.

The spread of juniper in the mainstem John Day River valley near Dayville also was documented by a sequence of photos spanning several decades. This set of photos has been used to illustrate the juniper problem in John Day Province. Bill Farrell, then Grant County Extension agent, obtained the first old photo, which was taken in 1920, from a local person. He and E. W. Anderson, then range conservationist for Soil Conservation Service, located the approximate point from which the original photo was taken, and they took photos in 1945, 1956, and 1965 (Fig. 27-a - 27-d).

Figure 27-s: This photo and the three following, taken over a 45-year period, document the spread of western juniper in the mainstream John Day River valley near Dayville. This photo was taken in 1920 by a local person.

Figure 27-b: Taken in 1945 by E.W. Anderson and W. Farrell; the latter was the Grant County Extension agent at that time

Figure 27-c: Taken in 1956 by E.W. Anderson and W. Farrell

Figure 27-d: Taken in 1965 by E.W. Anderson and W. Farrell

The major increase of western juniper in John Day Province has been on lower-elevation soils, such as Tub and Simas, that are geomorphically related to the clayey ancient sediments of the Clarno Formation. One explanation for this phenomenon is that western juniper has an affinity for calcium; the clayey ancient sediments usually are calcareous.

The affinity of western juniper for calcium can be demonstrated by measuring the pH of litter and surface soils under the canopy of a large juniper and then comparing it with the pH of surface soil material away from the juniper canopy. The pH is higher under the canopy, apparently because juniper roots extract calcium from the soil in a very wide radius from each tree and subsequent leaf-fall deposits calcium on the surface under the tree.

The calcareousness of soils formed in ancient sediments of John Day Province can be demonstrated by dropping some diluted hydrochloric acid on a bare, dry surface of Tub or Simas soil in summer after surface-soil moisture has evaporated. The soil surface will effervesce.

These are basic ecological relationships that augment the more common, but only partial, explanation for the spread of juniper, which is that too much fire control has been practiced over the years. Prolonged grazing which severely uses herbaceous ground cover, reducing wildfire’s ability to travel, likely is a significant factor in this complex biological equation. As juniper increase in density, thereby totally dominating the biological situation, solving these problems becomes more difficult and expensive.

Both basaltic and rhyolitic igneous formations are in John Day Province; basalt is by far the more prominent. Rhyolite is light in color, even pinkish; basalt is dark in color. Chemically, rhyolite is acidic; basalt is basic. It is not known whether the chemistry of soils formed in each of these materials is ecologically significant. However, casual observation not supported by data indicates there might be an ecological significance. For example, observations of soils formed in rhyolite indicate that they tend to be more clayey than soils formed in basaltic materials. Also, Idaho fescue seems to be better adapted to clayey rhyolitic soils than is bluebunch wheatgrass, provided of course that the effective environment of the site is suitable for growth of Idaho fescue.

In northeastern Jefferson County south of Ashwood is a large area of rhyolitic parent material known as Blizzard Ridge. The Prag soil series formed in these rhyolitic parent materials.62 In July 1959 the extensive rhyolitic area on Blizzard Ridge contained no juniper; however, on the adjacent hilly ancient sediments—calcareous Tub and Simas soils—juniper were profuse. Prag, Tub, and Simas series all are clayey soils.

Since the affinity of western juniper for calcium in the soil has been verified, the question now is whether the absence of western juniper on soils derived from rhyolitic parent materials is due to the acidic nature of rhyolite.

Another example of how different plant communities might be related to rhyolitic and basalt parent materials occurs near Mitchell in Wheeler County. White Butte, which is likely a rhyolitic volcanic cone, and Black Butte, which is likely a basaltic volcanic cone, produce different plant communities. Western juniper is prominent on Black Butte but not on White Butte.

Soil–plant relationship studies of ecological sites in John Day Province indicate that nearly all nonforested sites originally were natural shrub–grasslands, i.e., having 10% or more canopy cover of shrubs. However, steep north-facing slopes in John Day Province nonforested areas likely are natural grasslands on which Idaho fescue very strongly dominated the plant community. A variety of shrub species occur sparsely (less than 10% canopy cover collectively) on these steep north-facing sites in spite of the strong competition from dense Idaho fescue. These shrubs include bitterbrush, wax currant, rose, low Oregon-grape, buckwheats, green rabbitbrush, and common snowberry.

On lower-elevation, more arid natural shrub–grassland sites in John Day Province, the canopy cover of shrubs includes big sagebrush, bitterbrush, gray horsebrush, gray and green rabbitbrushes, buckwheats, wax currant, low sagebrush, and broom snakeweed. On higher-elevation, more moist natural shrub-grassland sites, the shrub component additionally includes such species as rose, low Oregon-grape, common snowberry, serviceberry, and green rabbitbrush.

The natural shrub–grassland site locally called scabland, which is mainly on very shallow, very stony ridgetops, occurs in John Day Province as well as in Columbia Basin and Blue Mountain provinces. The major shrub on scabland in John Day Province is low sagebrush but is rigid sagebrush on scabland in Columbia Basin and Blue Mountain provinces. On some plateaus and ridges in John Day Province is a unique land pattern locally called biscuit scabland. For an explanation of the origin of this land pattern, refer to the section on Columbia Basin Ecological Province; there, biscuit scabland is prominent and widespread.

The widespread occurrence of basin wildrye on small colluvial fans, terraces, and pockets of colluvial soil scattered over the landscape in hilly ancient sediments is typical for John Day Province. Erosion and local deposition of fine materials creates these pockets or stringers of deeper colluvial soils where basin wildrye becomes established (Fig. 28). Basin wildrye also dominates on floodplains and fans along intermittent and small perennial streams. Prominent perennial streams, such as Bear Creek near Seneca, typically produce wet-meadow vegetation, sometimes interspersed with patches of dry-meadow vegetation on high spots, and usually with a dry-meadow fringe around the perimeter where the meadow adjoins the uplands.

Figure 28: A managed natural shrub-grassland on which basin wildrye (the light-color vegetation) is growing in colluvial soils on uplands near Waterman Flat, Wheeler Country, in John Day Province, Oregon

Natural stands of coniferous trees occupied about half the area in John Day Province in 1936. These stands constituted five generalized plant communities which have management implications.

1. Western juniper with an understory of bunchgrasses such as bluebunch wheatgrass, Idaho fescue, Sandberg bluegrass, Thurber needlegrass, basin wildrye; a wide variety of perennial forbs; shrubs such as bitterbrush, big sagebrush, gray horsebrush, and green rabbitbrush; and juniper reproduction.

2. Ponderosa pine with an understory of bunchgrasses such as Idaho fescue, bluebunch wheatgrass, Wheeler bluegrass, Thurber needlegrass, prairie junegrass, and sedge; many perennial forbs; a wide variety of shrubs such as bitterbrush, mountain and common snowberry, wax currant, low Oregon-grape, curlleaf mountain-mahogany, and wax currant; an occasional western juniper; and pine reproduction.

3. Ponderosa pine with an understory dominated by sedge and a wide variety of grasses such as big, Kentucky, Wheeler, and Sandberg bluegrasses, Idaho fescue, mountain brome, prairie junegrass, pinegrass; many perennial forbs; shrubs such as bitterbrush, mountain and common snowberry, snowbrush, willow, and wax currant; and pine reproduction.

4. Ponderosa pine/Douglas-fir/grand fir with a midstory of saplings and pole-size trees; a dense cover of sedge with some big, Kentucky, Sandberg, and Wheeler bluegrasses, pinegrass, prairie junegrass, and other bunchgrasses; shade-tolerant forbs such as arnica, woollyweed, green lupine, pearleverlasting, strawberry; shrubs such as bitterbrush, common snowberry, spirea, willow, and low Oregon-grape; and reproduction of all tree species.

5. Douglas-fir/grand fir/ponderosa pine, usually on north-facing slopes above 3,500 feet elevation, with abundant saplings and pole-size trees; a sparse understory of shade-tolerant grasses, forbs, and shrubs; and reproduction of all tree species although ponderosa pine is sparse.

The different kinds of soil that help differentiate John Day Province forested areas from Blue Mountain Province forested areas are reflected in significant differences in site-specific plant communities. For example, John Day Province has natural juniper stands but Blue Mountain Province does not. Ponderosa pine/bunchgrass ecological sites are in both provinces, and based on superficial observation they resemble each other—pine trees, grasses, forbs, and shrubs. However, field studies of this ecological site in both provinces reveal significant differences in the species that constitute the plant community of the site. In John Day Province, the following species regularly occur on the pine–bunchgrass site but are rarely, if ever, found on this site in Blue Mountain Province: Wheeler bluegrass, Thurber needlegrass, mountain snowberry, curlleaf mahogany, green rabbitbrush, big sagebrush, and western juniper. On the other hand, the following species regularly occur on the pine–bunchgrass site in Blue Mountain Province but are rarely, if ever, found on this site in John Day Province: onespike oatgrass, threadleaf sedge, huckleberry, mockorange, and herbaceous sage.

Even greater differences occur on the ponderosa pine–sedge ecological site in each of these provinces. For example: the following species regularly occur on this site in John Day Province but rarely, if ever, occur on this site in Blue Mountain Province: basin wildrye, Wheeler bluegrass, mountain snowberry, curlleaf mahogany, green rabbitbrush, big sagebrush, and western juniper. The following species regularly occur in Blue Mountain Province on this site but rarely, if ever, occur on this site in John Day Province: slender wheatgrass, timber oatgrass, western fescue, Columbia needlegrass, threadleaf sedge, blue wildrye, slender hairgrass, deerbrush, elderberry, spirea, huckleberry, ninebark, serviceberry, dogbane, syringa, chokecherry, bittercherry, oceanspray, bearberry, and herbaceous sage.

Generally, John Day Province pine/fir plant communities consist of fewer species than those in Blue Mountain Province. This might be related to the soils and climate of the two provinces. Average precipitation for John Day Province is significantly lower than for Blue Mountain Province, and the percentage of annual precipitation that falls during the growing season of perennial herbaceous species also is lower (see the section on climate in each province description).

It also should be noted that the herbaceous understory of pine/sedge and pine/Douglas-fir/sedge ecological sites in John Day Province is strongly dominated by sedge, whereas the herbaceous understory of equivalent ecological sites in Blue Mountain Province is strongly dominated by pinegrass. This situation also might be related to soils and climates of the two provinces.



Management Implications

The geomorphology of many soils in John Day Province is related to ancient sedimentary and tuffaceous formations. These soils are finely textured (clayey), very sticky when wet, and highly susceptible to erosion by precipitation. They frost heave in winter and spring and crack open in summer when denuded of vegetation, which presents serious problems of resource stability and potential for natural rehabilitation.

Except for the irrigated areas, such as around Prineville and Madras, cropland agriculture is limited to narrow irrigated valleys, most of which are devoted to producing livestock forages. The general lack of local winter feed restricts management options of lower-elevation rangelands that have been used historically for spring turn-out and/or winter grazing.

Based on a few near-relict areas located during soil and site studies, the clayey soils of John Day Province generally are quite productive when a good stand of healthy perennial grasses is present. The wide variety of perennial grasses, forbs, and shrubs documented as growing on these calcareous fine-texture soils in John Day Province suggests that the original shrub–grasslands of this province probably were some of the best if not the best rangelands in Oregon for species diversity. The original potential of these sites certainly has been lost or seriously diminished by irremediable changes in soil and/or site. However, potential for recovering some vegetation cover exists and is worth considering if practical ways can be devised to control soil erosion and noxious plants, especially juniper.

Expansion of western juniper, which now encompasses virtually all calcareous landscapes in John Day Province, is a major problem of resource management. Once established, juniper becomes a vigorous competitor for moisture and nutrients. That the very extensive root system of western juniper is a strong deterrent to rangeland recovery on clayey calcareous soils under known management options has been a central point of concern since the mid-1950s.

During early years of concern over juniper proliferation, it was obvious that juniper had to be eradicated before herbaceous growth could increase. Various eradication methods were tested. Some areas were chained, bulldozed, chain-sawed, burned, and treated with chemicals. The main lesson learned: eradicating juniper isn’t easy. Neither is it always cost-effective. The history of many of these trials was that any increases in herbaceous growth following juniper eradication seemed merely to attract more domestic and wild herbivores to graze which, in turn, aggravated juniper reproduction. Initiating and perpetuating a complete management program was so difficult and expensive that it was accomplished rarely, and then only by certain ranch operators.

Reseeding suitable areas of soils formed in ancient sediments and tuffaceous materials also has been tested with varying degrees of success in John Day Province. The abandoned croplands of Central Oregon Land Utilization Project near Madras, now the Crooked River National Grasslands, are soils having loamy surface layers over clay or tuffaceous hardpans. Soil Conservation Service successfully seeded these, primarily to crested wheatgrass, prior to the early 1950s. Productivity has been more or less maintained over the years by grazing management strategies. These extensive seedings are on plateaus and slopes thought to be arable before the big drought of 1930s. In other locations, Conservation Reserve Program seedings are on soils recently farmed, which contributes to the belief that John Day Province clayey soils can be reseeded on slopes where equipment can operate. However, special attention to grazing management is required to maintain production.

The most extensive need for revegetation in the province is in the huge area of hilly clayey soils, yet the terrain is unsuitable for seeding equipment. However, one project did achieve some success in that kind of terrain. The 1956 Northside Game Range planning project extended from Prairie City west to Picture Rock Gorge below Dayville on the north side of mainstem John Day River. The project demonstrated the feasibility and effectiveness of seeding all or most suitable small areas within a grazing unit and then managing that unit on the basis of those seedings. Collectively, a number of small seedings on flatter land enhanced early forage on a number of ranches in the project. Obviously, perpetuating the effectiveness of this investment requires very specific management of the small seedings.

Historically, John Day Province has been highly touted for its deer and elk antler trophies and superb hunting. It is very likely that there is a relationship between this longstanding reputation and the wide variety of plant species, especially shrubs, which provide high-quality big game habitat, and the calcareous soils as a source of calcium for excellent bone growth.

In recent years, research by Lee Eddleman and Rick Miller of Oregon State University has revealed the meteorological, physiological, and ecological implications of the dominance of western juniper and big sagebrush on arid native rangelands, such as in John Day Province.11, 12, 21 The seriousness of this situation has been well publicized. This is an invaluable contribution to the process of determining management options and formulating plans for resource rehabilitation in John Day Province.


Province Demarcation

John Day and Columbia Basin Demarcation

Starting in the northwest extent of John Day Province near the railroad siding of Nena in the Deschutes River canyon, about 7 miles upriver from Maupin, the line of demarcation between John Day and Columbia Basin Provinces runs southeast and south along the east rim of the Deschutes canyon in Wasco County and south into Jefferson County to encompass the small plateau about 2 miles west of Willowdale.83, 86 From this plateau, it meanders northeast to cross Highway 97 in Cow Canyon about 1 mile north of the confluence of Antelope and Trout creeks and then follows the north-side breaks of Antelope Creek to its headwaters. About 2 miles north of Antelope, the abrupt line of demarcation is exposed in a roadcut on Highway 218. The roadcut displays Columbia Basin Province’s basalt cap and silty aeolian soil, which extends to the north, overlying the light-color sedimentary materials that typify John Day Province, which is to the south of this point. The line of demarcation continues northeast along the west-side breaks of John Day River canyon to where the northeast corner of Wasco County and the southeast corner of Sherman County join on the John Day River. The John Day River canyon north of this point is in Columbia Basin Province; south, it is in John Day Province.

From where the line crosses John Day River, it travels south, east, and north along the breaks of a large rocky plateau that juts south into Wheeler County. The plateau is in Columbia Basin Province; the area west, south, and east of the plateau is in John Day Province. The plateau’s southwest corner, which overlooks the area around Clarno, is a good example of an abrupt province boundary which can be viewed from below near Clarno.

The line of demarcation between John Day and Columbia Basin provinces goes east about 3 miles north of Fossil at about 4,000 feet elevation in the vicinity of Cummings Pass. About 3 miles east of the pass, the line between John Day and Columbia Basin provinces becomes the demarcation between John Day and Blue Mountain provinces.

The demarcation line between John Day and Columbia Basin provinces is the general line between soil series such as Simas and Tub, which are very clayey (John Day), and the Condon series, which is an aeolian silt loam (Columbia Basin).

John Day and Blue Mountain Demarcation

From about 3 miles northwest of Kinzua, the line of demarcation between John Day and Blue Mountain provinces continues southeast at about 4,000 feet elevation. In this vicinity is a mixture of those forested soils that typify Blue Mountain Province and those that typify John Day Province. This soil pattern creates a belt of demarcation 2 to 3 miles wide in this particular area.90

Farther east, however, the belt narrows considerably at about 4,000 feet elevation as the line of demarcation follows east along the north breaks of John Day River drainages. Grassy Butte, Potato Hill, Thompson Flat, Buckaroo Flat, and other such plateau points above about 4,000 feet elevation that jut out into the John Day River drainage are in Blue Mountain Province; slopes into the river drainage to the south are in John Day Province.

The adjoinment of these two provinces along this segment of the line is illustrated by an area of biscuit scabland (patterned ground) at Thompson Flat at the south end of Potamus Ridge. Here, the soil profile of a biscuit was 0 to 6 inches silt loam; 6 to 10 inches silty clay loam (these are typical upper-profile textures in Blue Mountain Province); 10 to 20 inches silty clay; and 20 to 30 or more inches clay (these are typical subsoil characteristics of John Day Province). In this biscuit scabland site, the interspersed scabland soil is very shallow and very stony with abundant surface basaltic stones, which is typical for scablands in both Blue Mountain and John Day Provinces.

Geologists have reported that the Blue Mountains of Oregon were, at one time, the north shore of an ancient lake. These thick clay deposits, such as the one at Thompson Flat at about 4,000 feet elevation along the line of demarcation, are likely associated with remnants of ancient lake terraces. It is interesting to note that, as supporting evidence, the ancient lakeshore terraces that signify where Snake River Province adjoins Blue Mountain Province in Baker County are very visible at about 4,000 feet elevation near Keating and Richland. The continuity of the 4,000-foot-elevation level, coupled with evidence of ancient lakebed terraces, obviously has great significance from an ecological province perspective.

An excellent illustration of the line of demarcation between John Day and Blue Mountain provinces is on Highway 207 between Hardman in Morrow County and Spray on the John Day River in Wheeler County. About 15 miles north of the river and east of Mahogany Butte, the highway ascends the hairpin turns on the face of the escarpment that is the upper reaches of geologically eroded ancient sediments and tuffaceous materials which typify the John Day Province. North of the escarpment, the plateau is Blue Mountain Province. Below the escarpment are many good opportunities to view scenic landscapes of John Day Province.

The demarcation line between John Day and Blue Mountain provinces heads east along the north breaks of John Day River drainage until it reaches the ridge west of Deerhorn Creek. There, the line veers south to the North Fork John Day River about one-half mile west of the confluence of Deerhorn Creek and the river. From there it continues west downstream to the first oxbow that changes the direction of river flow west to south. At this oxbow, the line turns southeast up the ridgetop and continues at about 4,000 feet elevation to cross Highway 395 near Meadow Brook Summit south of Dale. The line continues east to just west of Putney Mountain at about 4,000 feet elevation where it travels southeast at about 4,500 feet elevation in the upper slopes of the Middle Fork John Day River. That is approximately the level at which truncated or exposed tuffaceous deposits and underlying clayey materials typify the John Day Province. The old mining town of Susanville is in John Day Province. From about 1 mile north of Susanville, the line continues southeast to cross the Middle Fork John Day River about 6 miles upstream from Bates at about 4,500 feet elevation. Bates is in John Day Province.

From that point, the line heads west and around the north side of Dixie Butte at about 5,600 feet elevation. Dixie Butte and the area above about 5,600 feet elevation that surrounds it are in Blue Mountain Province. Where the line crosses Highway 28 southwest of Dixie Summit, spectacular roadcuts display beds of tuffaceous sediments, which typify the upper-elevation boundary of John Day Province, overlain by a medium-texture, aeolian soil mantle that typifies Blue Mountain Province.

From the vicinity of Dixie Summit, the line of demarcation meanders south at about 4,500 feet elevation to cross the upper John Day River near Blue Mountain Hot Springs. It continues west along the north-facing slopes of Strawberry Mountain, Baldy Mountain, and Canyon Mountain at about 4,500 feet elevation or possibly lower, depending on the elevation at which volcanic ash is prominent in soils on these north-facing slopes. Volcanic ash soils typify Blue Mountain Province. The line runs around the west slopes of Canyon Mountain and then southeast at about 5,500 feet to 6,000 feet elevation along the rims southwest of High Lake and between Summit Prairie, which is in Blue Mountain Province, and Logan Valley, which is in John Day Province. It continues around the south of Crane Prairie, which is in Blue Mountain Province.

The line lies in pine- and fir-forested areas from the vicinity of Kinzua in northeastern Wheeler County to the vicinity of Crane Prairie in southeastern Grant County. Major pine- and fir-forested soils that typify John Day Province are Hankins, Koehler, and Boardtree, all of which have clayey substrata. Hall Ranch and Tolo soils typify Blue Mountain Province; substrata of these soils are loamy and underlain by basalt bedrock.

John Day and Snake River Demarcation

John Day, Blue Mountain, and Snake River provinces adjoin near the confluence of Crane Creek, which flows east out of Crane Prairie, and the North Fork Malheur River in southeastern Grant County. From this point, the line of demarcation between John Day and Snake River provinces meanders south at about 4,000 feet elevation along the east side of Stinking Water Mountain, then between Warm Springs Reservoir, which is in Snake River Province, and Coleman Mountain in John Day Province. The line is at about 4,000 feet elevation along the west breaks of the South Fork Malheur River and westward along the north breaks of Crane Creek, which flows east in northeastern Harney County. It is near Crane that the John Day, Snake River, and High Desert provinces adjoin. The Stinking Water Mountains and Stinking Water Pass on Highway 20 between Burns and Juntura are in John Day Province.

John Day and High Desert Demarcation

From the gap at Crane, in High Desert Province, the line of demarcation between John Day and High Desert provinces runs north and west at about 4,500 feet elevation along the edge of Malheur Lake basin. Harney, Burns, and Hines are just inside High Desert Province. This portion of the line of demarcation obvious where ancient lake terraces of High Desert Province adjoin the uplands to the north, which are in John Day Province. From Hines, the line goes west at about 4,500 feet elevation to near where Harney, Deschutes, and Crook counties adjoin. From there the line veers north and follows around the basin in which GI Ranch is headquartered. The line travels southwest to the base of uplands just north of Hampton. Southwest of Hampton Butte, the John Day, High Desert, and Mazama provinces adjoin.

John Day and Mazama Demarcation

West of Hampton Butte, the line of demarcation between John Day and Mazama provinces more or less follows the boundary between the basin and the uplands to the north and then west and north of Grassy Butte at about 5,000 feet elevation. However, elevation is not as much a criterion in demarcation between John Day and Mazama provinces as it is between John Day and High Desert and other provinces. This is because Mazama Province is the area covered by an aeolian pumice mantle and lava flows reportedly associated with the eruption of Mt. Mazama (Crater Lake), and the deposit of aeolian material was not necessarily affected by elevation.

It should be noted, however, that the pumice deposit at the perimeter of the Mazama pumice mantle was and is thinner than toward the interior of the fallout area. Unpublished field studies indicate that where about 8 to 10 inches or more of pumice lies over buried soils, herbaceous vegetation resembles the arid nonforested portion of Mazama Province, i.e., bluebunch wheatgrass/Idaho fescue. Less than 8 to 10 inches of pumice mantle over buried soils apparently produces High-Desert-type herbaceous vegetation, i.e., bluebunch wheatgrass/Thurber needlegrass.32

It also should be noted that Mazama aeolian pumice falling on hilly uplands in a relatively thin mantle along the perimeter of the fallout pattern likely was washed into adjacent valleys and drainages by subsequent precipitation. Therefore, hilly uplands in the vicinity of the line of demarcation between John Day and Mazama provinces likely contribute to the location of this line; generally, the flatter land is in Mazama, and the hilly uplands are in John Day Province.

About 5 miles north of Brothers, the demarcation line veers northwest and north to the vicinity of the confluence of Bear Creek with Crooked River. From there it essentially follows the west canyon rim of Crooked River. At the mouth of Crooked River canyon about 6 miles south of Prineville, the line turns northwest to cross Highway 126 on the plateau about 4 miles east of Powell Butte and continues northwest to Crooked River east of Smith Rock. Powell Butte, Redmond, and Terrebonne are in Mazama Province; Prineville, Smith Rock, Gray Butte, and nearly all the Crooked River National Grasslands are in John Day Province. From Smith Rock, the line follows the west canyon wall of Crooked River to the confluence of Squaw Creek with Deschutes River, which places the Peninsula and the Island Natural Area in John Day Province.70 In this vicinity, soils typifying John Day Province include the Madras, Ochoco, and Agency series which overlay tuffaceous or sedimentary hardpans. Soils typifying Mazama Province have a pumice-dominated layer over buried soils or basalt bedrock and include such series as Deschutes and Shanahan.

John Day and The Dalles Demarcation

The John Day, Mazama, and The Dalles provinces adjoin about 3 to 4 miles west of the confluence of Squaw Creek with Deschutes River at about 2,500 feet elevation on the west side of what has been called the Lower Desert. From this point, the line of demarcation between John Day and The Dalles provinces wanders north at about 2,500 feet elevation where rocky tablelands of John Day Province join the footslopes of the Cascade Mountains, which are in The Dalles Province. Metolius Bench, Sawmill Butte, and Hehe Butte on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation are in The Dalles Province.

In the northeast portion of Warm Springs Indian Reservation, which is west of the Deschutes River, there is a real mishmash of vegetation–soil relationship patterns. 70 Small to large islands of vegetation and soils that are more or less typical of John Day or The Dalles or Columbia Basin provinces are interspersed over the landscape from the vicinity of Warm Springs north to Pine Grove and Wapinitia. This is probably the clearest example in Oregon of why the line of demarcation between provinces must sometimes be a matter of judgment. It also is an excellent example of how a highly complex pattern of very different ecological units over a huge area can present a bewildering basis for site-specific resource management decisions. Based on field observations, it was decided that ecological features typifying John Day Province dominate the mishmash area. Therefore, the area north from Warm Springs and east of The Dalles Province is placed in John Day Province.

From the vicinity of Hehe Butte, the demarcation line turns east, then north and west to encompass the area around Simnasho, which is in The Dalles Province. About 1 mile north of Simnasho, the line goes north at about 3,000 feet elevation to where the previous northern boundary of Warm Springs Indian Reservation, which is on a ridge, intersects the road between Wapinitia and Simnasho.

John Day and Columbia Basin Demarcation

It is near this ridgetop pass on the road between Wapinitia and Simnasho where John Day, The Dalles, and Columbia Basin provinces adjoin. From this point, the line of demarcation between John Day and Columbia Basin provinces was placed east along the ridge that marks the previous northern boundary of the reservation and then north around the east side of Nena Creek basin to cross Deschutes River near the railroad siding of Nena, which is 7 to 8 miles upstream from Maupin. Mutton Mountains are in John Day Province; most of Nena Creek watershed and Juniper Flat are in Columbia Basin Province.

Tygh Valley, about 15 miles north of this line, is a small island of John Day Province that is typified by exposed Clarno geologic formation in which Tub and Simas soils have been formed. A similar island of John Day Province lies around Lonerock in southeastern Gilliam County within Columbia Basin Province. Other instances exist where outcrops of Clarno formation, rated as one of the oldest geologic formations in Oregon, are exposed under more recent formations, such as along the upper North Fork John Day River and north of Kinzua.