Washington, DC – The Owyhee Public Lands Management Act, S. 2833, achieved an important milestone with a hearing today before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests. Subcommittee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) praised Owyhee Initiative Work Group members for their record of collaboration and consensus on land use, noting that was appropriate to hold such a Senate hearing on Earth Day 2008. The Owyhee Initiative legislation is sponsored by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, who testified at today’s hearing.
Wyden and Subcommittee members Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) participated in the questioning of witnesses from Idaho, the U.S. Department of Interior and the Forest Service. The Subcommittee held the hearing to discuss Crapo’s bill and another land management bill, sponsored by Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah). At the conclusion of the hearing, Wyden directed Senate staff to work with federal agencies, Crapo, Bennett and others to markup the legislation.
“The Owyhee Initiative transforms conflict and uncertainty into conflict resolution and assurance of future activity,” Crapo testified. “Ranchers can plan for subsequent generations. Off-road vehicle users have access assured. Wilderness is established. The Shoshone-Paiute Tribes knows their cultural resources will be protected. The Air Force will continue to train its pilots. Local, state and federal government agencies will have structure to assist their joint management of the region. And this will all happen within the context of the preservation of environmental and ecological health. This is indeed a revolutionary land management structure—that looks ahead to the future.
“Now I will speak directly to the folks back home in Idaho, who are rightly concerned about a few provisions in this bill that are of great importance,” Crapo added. “I will continue to work with Senators Bingaman, Domenici, and Craig, their staffs and others to make the policies and funding that were so carefully negotiated in the Owyhee Initiative Agreement become a reality. As promised eight years ago, I regard the support of the Owyhee Initiative Work Group and diverse interest you represent as mandatory for my continued advocacy for this bill. Our hard work will continue after today’s hearing and I am committed to achieving the objectives that brought us together many years ago and keep us together today.”
“There are genuine and significant conservation gains achieved through S. 2833,” said Craig Gehrke, Regional Director for the Wilderness Society in Idaho and Co-chair of the Owyhee Initiative Work Group. “Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River designation, preparation of travel management plans that will lead to better resource protection from damage resulting from cross-country motorized recreation in Owyhee County, closure of 200 miles of motorized routes through proposed wilderness, establishment of a conservation research center, increased protections of Shoshone-Paiute cultural sites and resources, and acquisition of private land inholdings in candidate wilderness areas and public rights of way across private land all create a total package that the Wilderness Society supports.”
Dr. Chad Gibson, a Work Group member representing the Owyhee County Cattlemen, said the plan maintains a local economy and ranching presence and controls development that is important to preserving the Western lifestyle and open spaces of Owyhee County. “The best hope for avoiding fragmentation through special use ownership is to maintain the opportunity for viable ranching use,” Gibson said.
S. 2833, the Owyhee Public Lands Management Act of 2008, will protect the economic base and wild lands of Owyhee County. It designates 517,000 acres of BLM land as wilderness, while releasing 199,000 acres of wilderness study areas to full multiple use. The legislation keeps ranching operations whole through land trades and purchase agreements and offers federal protection to 316 miles of wild and scenic rivers in the Owyhees.