March 07, 2007


By Senator Mike Crapo

Management of the Owyhee Canyonlands has been characterized by decades of conflict with heated political and regulatory battles. Diverse land uses co-exist in an area of intense beauty and unique character. The conflict over land management is both inevitable and understandable--how do we manage for diversity and do so in a way that protects and restores the quality of that fragile environment? In this context, the Owyhee County Commissioners and several others said "enough is enough" and decided to focus efforts on solving problems rather than wasting resources on a continued fight. On March 7, I introduced the Owyhee Initiative Implementation Act of 2007. Over the past six years, we've come a long way. In 2001, the Owyhee County Commissioners requested my help; last August, the Owyhee Initiative Work Group presented its final product which I introduced as legislation at that time. Now, with the support of my colleagues, I look forward to moving it through the Senate in the 110th Congress. The Work Group, which represents all interests with a role in use and management of the Owyhee Canyonlands, brought me the successful result of five years of extraordinary effort, comity and willingness to work toward a solution.The Owyhee Initiative transforms conflict and uncertainty into conflict resolution and assurance of future activity. The Shoshone-Paiute Tribe knows cultural resources will be protected. Ranchers can plan for subsequent generations. Off-road vehicle users have access assured. Wilderness is established. The Air Force will continue to train 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 environmental preservation and ecological health. This is indeed a revolutionary land management structureâ??one that looks ahead to the future.Principle features include:â?¢ A board of directors to administer and implement;â?¢ Scientific review; â?¢ Development, funding and implementation of research projects;â?¢ Releasing wilderness study areas, designating wilderness and wild and scenic rivers;â?¢ Establishing public lands travel plans including a multiple-use trail system;â?¢ Protections of tribal cultural and historical resources.This can't be called a ranching bill, wilderness bill, an Air Force bill, or Tribal bill. The Owyhee Initiative is a Cultural Preservation bill. It's also a comprehensive land management bill. Each interest got enough to enthusiastically support the final product, advocate for enactment, and, most importantly, support objectives of those with whom they had previous conflict. Opposition will come from a few principal sources: those who simply don't want wilderness designated; those who don't want livestock anywhere on public land; and, those who don't want to see collaboration succeed. While I respect that opposition, I prefer to move forward in an effort that manages conflict and land, rather than exploit disagreements. The status quo is unacceptable. The Owyhee Canyonlands and its inhabitants, including people, deserve to have a conflict management process and a path to sustainability. The need for this path forward is particularly acute given that this area is an hour's drive from one of the nation's most rapidly-growing communities. The Owyhee Initiative protects water rights, releases wilderness study areas and protects traditional uses. I commend the commitment and leadership of all involved. We've established a long-term, comprehensive management approach, and I will do everything in my power to turn this into law. The Owyhee Initiative sets a standard for managing and resolving difficult land management issues in our country. After all, what better place to forge an historical change in our approach to public land management, than in this magnificent land that symbolizes livelihood, heritage, diversity, opportunity and renewal?