Washington, DC – Idaho Senator Mike Crapo said he was glad to be in the company of fellow Idahoans today at the White House as President Barack Obama signed the public lands bill containing Idaho’s Owyhee Initiative legislation. Crapo, members of the Owyhee Initiative Work Group, the Idaho Delegation and many others worked for eight years on the collaborative effort to preserve the economic interests and wild lands of Southwest Idaho. It creates the first wilderness in Idaho in nearly 30 years.
Crapo, who was on the stand as Obama signed the bill, said, “This is a great day for Idaho. This shows that collaboration can work. It took eight years, working stream by stream, trail by trail and parcel by parcel to evaluate how to best manage and protect these lands while preserving the cultural heritage and multiple use opportunities for the people who live there. Everyone is better off under this legislation than they were under the status quo. I expect that this collaborative process will become a model for the nation on how to approach land management and environmental decision-making.”
A number of Idahoans involved in the Owyhee Initiative process traveled to Washington to be a part of the event. Owyhee Initiative Work Group Chairman Fred Grant, Shoshone-Paiute Tribal Chairman Robert Bear and Executive Director Rick Johnson of the Idaho Conservation League attended the signing ceremony at the White House with Crapo.
Fred Grant said, “Resolution of conflicts will help the economy in the West and preserve that which we all want to preserve. Some of the people in the private-property rights organizations can use the same collaborative process. It works. Senator Crapo believed it eight years ago and he made it work.”
Johnson saw collaboration at all different levels, starting within the conservation community and spreading to the overall collaborative effort. “I thought it was an extraordinary day for Idaho and the American West. It was a culmination of collaborative conservation and people from all walks of life coming together and proving for the first time in quite a while that it can be done this way. It is tremendously exciting.”
Tribal Chairman Bear, who was singled out by the President at the beginning of the signing, said, “We’ve been working hard with Senator Crapo, his staff and the Owyhee County Commissioners. This has been a very good collaboration. It took a team mentality to work together to complete this long overdue effort, but it brings us a step closer to protection of our cultural and natural resources.”
Crapo said the collaborative process utilized in the Owyhee Initiative will serve as a model to solve other land management disputes. Under the Owyhee Initiative, ranching and economic interests will be protected, and the bill creates 517,000 acres of wilderness, releases 199,000 acres from wilderness study to multiple use and protects 316 miles of streams with the Wild and Scenic River designation.
The public lands bill also has other Idaho provisions, such as authorizing funds for ranchers who lose livestock to wolves, renaming the World Center for Birds of Prey south of Boise in honor of the late raptor enthusiast Morley Nelson, authorizing a land transfer to benefit the Auger Falls park project in Twin Falls, authorizing funding for water storage studies in Idaho and protecting part of the Upper Snake River along the Idaho-Wyoming border. The public lands legislation also finalizes the Shoshone-Paiute Water Right Settlement Agreement between the federal government, the Tribes and the State of Idaho.
Crapo noted that, despite today’s signing of the Owyhee Initiative, much work must now be done to implement the provisions of the Initiative--from the science review studies to funding that will implement Tribal enforcement around sacred sites in the Owyhees. Private funding must also be raised to compensate ranchers for grazing rights and land improvements under land transfers to create the wilderness areas.
Craig Gehrke, Regional Director, The Wilderness Society, and Co-Chair of the Owyhee Initiative Work Group said, “The Owyhee Initiative would not have succeeded without the leadership of Senator Crapo. Much work remains to be done to implement all parts of the Owyhee Initiative. All the members of the Initiative and Senator Crapo are committed to its full implementation.”
Owyhee County Commissioner Jerry Hoaglund watched the President sign the bill during a gathering in Senator Crapo’s Boise Office. “It’s a great day for Idaho. There’s a lot of work ahead and we look forward to it,” he said.
Brenda Richards with the Owyhee Borderlands Trust, represented ranching interests on the Work Group. She also joined many members of the Work Group to watch the signing ceremony which was streamed on Crapo’s Senate website through the White House live Internet feed. “Congrats and thanks to each and every one who worked so hard to get this through! Now the work continues,” she said.
“This legislation is great for the land, and great for people,” said Lou Lunte, Associate State Director of the Nature Conservancy in Idaho. “The passage of this legislation shows the excellent results possible when diverse organizations listen to each other and work together to meet the needs of wildlife, rural communities and recreationists. The Owyhees offers some of the best habitat anywhere for animals like sage grouse and California bighorn sheep. This legislation preserves that habitat while also supporting the people who live and work there. It’s a tremendous legacy future generations of Idahoans will enjoy.”
Grant Simonds of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides said, “Recreationists will appreciate the adequate and appropriate access that will enable them to continue to enjoy their visits to the lands and rivers now protected in southwestern Idaho.”
"Sierra Club has worked for nearly 30 years to protect this spectacular desert landscape" said Jessica Ruehrwein, Sierra Club Regional Representative. "It is truly a historic day and it will be the first establishment of wilderness in Idaho for decades. Through collaboration and great effort, all of the groups involved have helped to protect the Owyhee Canyonlands for future generations."
“The Wild and Scenic River designations achieved through this bill are critical to the long-term ecological health of this region,” said Bill Sedivy, Executive Director for Idaho Rivers United. “In the dry, remote Owyhee Canyonlands, rivers mean life. The Wild & Scenic designations will protect river flows, fish and wildlife habitat and other outstanding values in the river corridors for generations to come. I can’t think of any other rivers and streams in the U.S. that are more deserving of Wild & Scenic protection.”