April 22, 2008

Owyhee Initiative Hearing Features Rancher, Conservation Testimony

Crapo legislation is before Senate Energy & Natural Resources subcommittee

Washington, DC - Representatives from Idaho's ranching and conservationist communities are testifying before a Senate subcommittee on Idaho Senator Mike Crapo's Owyhee Initiative legislation today. They say the bill; S. 2833, will provide protection for both wild lands and economic activity in the Owyhee Canyonlands. Crapo's legislation is being heard today before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests. A markup of the legislation would be the next step for the Initiative process.

Dr. Chad Gibson is providing testimony on behalf of the Owyhee Cattle Association, and says the Association "perhaps has never engaged in an effort more important to the future of Ranching in Owyhee County." Gibson, a retired rangeland scientist and extension agent, says the Owyhee Initiative can end decades of debate over public lands use in the area and create the Owyhee Science Review and Conservation and Research Center to augment government decisions with independent and peer-reviewed expertise.

Gibson says consensus land management agreements like the Owyhee Initiative will slow development and damage to the landscape and maintain its Western heritage. He notes both wild spaces and open spaces can be protected under the agreement. "The best hope for avoiding fragmentation through special use ownership is to maintain the opportunity for viable ranching use," he said in remarks planned for delivery during the hearing.

Craig Gehrke, Idaho Regional Director for the Wilderness Society, also will testify, noting that the Initiative rises "above the polarization in many Western public land discussions." Gehrke says the "common ground and common sense proposal that Senator Mike Crapo took to Congress" can be a critical start to ending land management disputes in the Owyhees and elsewhere.

"We are committed to working with Congress to ensure that the legislation is true to the intent of the Owyhee Initiative Agreement, a unique agreement developed in Idaho between conservationists, ranchers, Owyhee County elected officials, members of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe, and others," Gehrke said. "S. 2833 provides lasting protection for critical ecological, scenic, recreation and wild areas that are threatened from development and degradation."

A contingent of many Idaho leaders, from Owyhee County Commissioners to conservationists and representatives of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, will also attend the hearing beginning at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time in the Senate Dirksen Office Building, Room 366.

"The Owyhee Initiative transforms conflict and uncertainty into conflict resolution and assurance of future activity," Crapo said. "Ranchers can plan for subsequent generations. Off-road vehicle users have access assured. Wilderness is established. The Shoshone-Paiute Tribe knows its 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.

"The status quo is unacceptable," Crapo continued. "The Owyhee Canyonlands, its inhabitants and cultures and are truly a treasure of Idaho and the United States; they deserve to have a process of conflict management and a path to sustainability. I hope you will join me in ensuring their future.

"I will continue to work with Senators Bingaman, Domenici, and Craig, their staff 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 the diverse interests 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."

S. 2833, the Owyhee Public Lands Management Act of 2008, will protect the economic base and wild lands of Owyhee County. It would designate 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 would offer federal protection to 316 miles of wild and scenic rivers in the Owyhees.