PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The “Greater Idaho” movement, which aims to dramatically extend Idaho’s Western border by annexing at least half of the state of Oregon, would also consume three of Oregon’s so-called “7 Wonders.” 

The map currently supported by Idaho’s House of Representatives and Oregon Sen. Dennis Linthicum, a Republican serving the Klamath Falls area, would give Smith Rock, the Wallowas and the Painted Hills to the state of Idaho as the region seeks more legislative representation.

Oregon State Parks spokesperson Chris Havel told KOIN 6 that Oregon State Parks, which manages Smith Rock and Wallowa Lake State Park, is familiar with the “Greater Idaho” proposal. However, Oregon State Parks directors currently have no guidelines for what to expect if vast areas of Oregon’s public land were suddenly absorbed by the state of Idaho.

Greater Idaho latest: Movement says Oregon-Idaho border change 'possible'
Senate Joint Memorial 2, also known as the Greater Idaho bill, was introduced on the floor of the Oregon legislature by Republican state Senator Dennis Linthicum of Klamath Falls on Jan. 10.

“We’re all aware of the concept, but haven’t studied it in-depth,” Havel said. “A change in the state boundary would be unprecedented in the life of the state park system, and we don’t have any policies or rules that guide us on what to do if that happens, so we would normally follow the direction of the governor and legislature on matters related to relations between state governments at this level.”

The largest landowner in the state of Oregon is the federal government, which oversees 52.3% of Oregon’s land through various federal agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, the National Forest Service, the National Wildlife Refuge and the U.S. military. These agencies own enormous swaths of the proposed “Greater Idaho” map. As a result, the pitched acquisition would also give Idaho significant portions of Oregon’s nationally protected lands, including John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, which contains the Painted Hills.

Inside Smith Rock State Park in central Oregon’s high desert (KOIN, file)

While losing the Painted Hills, Smith Rock and the Wallowas would gut the Oregon Tourism Commission’s “7 Wonders of Oregon” tourism campaign, which was established in 2014, the commission’s governor-appointed board declined to say what impacts losing these natural wonders would have on Oregon’s $10.9 billion tourism industry. Travel Oregon spokesperson Allie Gardner told KOIN 6 that the board could not provide a response because the agency, which is funded through a 1.5% statewide transient lodging tax, serves stakeholders in all areas of the state.

“Given that Travel Oregon is a semi-independent state agency and carries out statewide work as the official destination management organization for all seven tourism regions, we are unable to comment on this,” Gardner said. “Travel Oregon is dedicated to collaborating with all of our stakeholders and partners across the state to align as stewards of Oregon, optimize economic impact opportunities, advance equity and respect the ecosystems, cultures and places that make Oregon … Oregon.”

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Wallowa Lake State Park. (KOIN)

Although Oregon State Parks represent a very small portion of the Oregon land that Idaho aims to acquire, Havel did respond when asked what Smith Rock and Wallowa Lake State Parks provide for Oregon’s tourism industry and the state’s natural beauty.

“Wallowa Lake and Smith Rock are prime examples of the role the Oregon state park system plays in the community,” Havel said. “These are not huge pieces of land. The actual park acreage for Wallowa Lake is about 260, but it’s surrounded by 2.4 million acres of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Smith Rock is a mere 690 acres, but it’s at the tip of a dramatic geologic formation encompassed by the 173,000 acre Crooked River National Grassland and nearly 850,000 acres of the Ochoco National Forest.”

After a late spring snow in the Elkhon Range in the Blue Mountains in Eastern Oregon west of Baker City. Baker County is among the counties considering a “Greater Idaho.” (KOIN 6 file photo)

Havel said that natural attractions like Smith Rock and Wallowa Lake have provided Oregon residents and tourists with access to grand, sweeping landscapes for decades. When managing these lands, he added, the state parks system focuses on three aspects: Protecting what’s special about these places, ensuring the long-term care of the property and creating an enjoyable experience for park visitors.

“It’s not just the fact these places are visually extraordinary that makes them important to the Oregon experience,” he said. “People connect with outdoor landscapes like these at a very deep level. While there are definitely physical, social, and economic benefits to well-managed parks and other places that provide outdoor recreation, it can also be true that when people fall in love with places, they become more interested in taking care of them and all the natural resources we depend on for life.”

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File photo of the Painted hills taken on May 26, 2005. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, file)

Voters in 11 of Oregon’s eastern counties have shown support for a “Greater Idaho” expansion. Idaho’s House of Representatives also recently passed a bill agreeing to engage in “Greater Idaho” talks with Oregon lawmakers. However, Oregon Senate President Rob Wagner told KOIN 6 that similar legislation is unlikely to move forward in the Beaver State. 

Oregon’s newly elected Governor Tina Kotek has also addressed the push for a “Greater Idaho,” saying that she hopes to address the political angst felt by Oregonians in rural eastern counties during her planned visits to every Oregon county during her first year as governor.

“I think there are a lot of Oregonians who are frustrated and don’t feel heard. That, I think, is what the movement is about,” Kotek said. “I want to be partners across the border. We have things that we will solve together and I’m hoping through dialogue and conversation, we can address frustrations and concerns and move forward as one state.”