March 24, 2010

THE OWYHEE INITIATIVE, ONE YEAR ON

By Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

It's been nearly one year since the President signed the Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009, which contained the Owyhee Initiative Implementation Act. In that year, we have already seen the fruit of the collaborative process and the successes that made this effort well worth the many years it took to craft agreement.

The Owyhee Initiative (OI) started in 2001 when the Owyhee County Commissioners tackled the decades-old land management issues in their county. They put together a broad representation of interests and worked tirelessly toward passage of this act. Since the enactment of the OI into law, all of us are actively involved in implementing its many provisions. We are as committed now to its ultimate success as we were hopeful in its beginning, almost nine years ago.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is hard at work, implementing land and water protections painstakingly negotiated and unanimously supported by the OI Board of Directors. The agency is also diligently working to implement an off-road-vehicle management plan that will help to avert conflict and provide continued, top-rate recreational opportunities. At the same time, the BLM and the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes are implementing the Tribes' precedent-setting program for the protection of treasured cultural sites, artifacts and other resources. And, at the University of Idaho, the Owyhee Initiative Board of Directors, along with faculty and staff, is establishing a science review and eventually a conservation center, which will put scientific analysis to work in order to best inform the decisions of rangeland managers.

Of course, continued progress also requires funding, and we are moving in the right direction there as well. Per the legislation, the BLM is currently in the process of selling off surplus federal lands to fund the acquisition of in-holdings from private landowners on a willing seller basis. Significant funding has been secured to compensate ranchers for the donation of livestock grazing permits in and adjacent to wilderness areas - again on an entirely willing seller basis. Furthermore, the Wilderness Land Trust, an organization dedicated to purchasing in-holdings from willing sellers for public ownership, is meeting with landowners who have indicated an interest in selling some of their lands. The goal is to ensure that the protections we put in place work for the lands, the residents and the economy of Owyhee County.

When I was approached in 2001, I told the group of people that eventually became what is now the OI Board of Directors that they had to embrace a fully collaborative process if I were to support the effort. In return, if a collaborative approach was used to generate a product with unanimous support that could withstand a court of law and of public opinion, I would support that plan even if it included elements that I did not personally agree with. What ensued was eight long years of good-faith negotiations, and the participants stuck together throughout the good times and the bad. What resulted was a plan that had the support of one of the most diverse collaborative groups in recent memory, built on a precedent-setting model for solving public land management conflicts in the west. I intend to see it through.

For more information on the Owyhee Initiative and its continuing progress, please go to http://crapo.senate.gov or www.owyheeinitiative.org.

Word Count: 542