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A painstakingly collaborative process led by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo (R) has led to the passage of the Owyhee Public Lands Management Act of 2008 as part of S. 22, an Omnibus bill, in the full Senate by a vote of 73-21, a larger margin than expected. The Owyhee Initiative provisions contained in the bill create more than 500,000 acres of wilderness, release nearly 200,000 acres from wilderness study to multiple use and protect ranchers and rivers in Southwest Idaho. The Lands bill also contains provisions for a land exchange in the Magic Valley and provisions to rename the Snake River Birds of Prey area in memory of raptor enthusiast Morley Nelson. Crapo was joined by Senator Jim Risch in supporting the proposal during today’s vote. Risch said in a statement, “I congratulate my friend and colleague, Mike Crapo, on the passage of this legislation. He has put in an enormous amount of effort working with a wide variety of local citizens, elected officials and interest groups in creating consensus on this legislation,” said Risch. “It was my pleasure to support the Owyhee Initiative and the collaboration it represents.” New West has learned that the full House will take up the vote Tuesday or Wednesday. It is expected to pass the House easily. Crapo, the main backer of the bill, will talk to the media later today, at which time NewWest.Net will update this story. A feature on the process used to produce the bill, and Crapo's point of view about this and other negotiations, will follow.

Crapo’s Owyhee Lands Bill Passes Senate

A painstakingly collaborative process led by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo (R) has led to the passage of the Owyhee Public Lands Management Act of 2008 as part of S. 22, an Omnibus bill, in the full Senate by a vote of 73-21, a larger margin than expected.

The Owyhee Initiative provisions contained in the bill create more than 500,000 acres of wilderness, release nearly 200,000 acres from wilderness study to multiple use and protect ranchers and rivers in Southwest Idaho.

The Lands bill also contains provisions for a land exchange in the Magic Valley and provisions to rename the Snake River Birds of Prey area in memory of raptor enthusiast Morley Nelson.

Crapo was joined by Senator Jim Risch in supporting the proposal during today’s vote. Risch said in a statement, “I congratulate my friend and colleague, Mike Crapo, on the passage of this legislation. He has put in an enormous amount of effort working with a wide variety of local citizens, elected officials and interest groups in creating consensus on this legislation,” said Risch. “It was my pleasure to support the Owyhee Initiative and the collaboration it represents.”

New West has learned that the full House will take up the vote Tuesday or Wednesday. It is expected to pass the House easily.

Crapo, the main backer of the bill, will talk to the media later today, at which time NewWest.Net will update this story.

A feature on the process used to produce the bill, and Crapo’s point of view about this and other negotiations, will follow.

About Jill Kuraitis

Jill Kuraitis is an award-winning journalist who specializes in news of Idaho and the Rocky Mountain West. Her B.A. in theatre management is from UC Santa Barbara, and she went on to work in theatre, film, and politics before writing became a career. Kuraitis has two excellent grown children and lives in Boise with her husband of 30 years, abundant backyard wildlife, and two huge hairy dogs.

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6 comments

  1. Before we all clap, how about a little more info? To better understand the cost/tradeoffs, what exactly does “…release nearly 200,000 acres from wilderness study to multiple use and protect ranchers and rivers in Southwest Idaho.” mean?

    What are the details of : “The Lands bill also contains provisions for a land exchange in the Magic Valley…?” Many grassroots groups opposed this bill for excessive favors to special-interests. Process-process typically protects politicians, not public trust assets.

  2. This bill actually lowers protections on the land. There are already about 1/2 million acres of Wilderness Study Areas, WSAs that have defacto wilderness protection, these protections will be lost. The way this bill is written it should have been named the Owyhee Rancher Bailout bill. As for the rivers, there is a shady side agreement labeled Appendix B that gives away any ability to stop ranchers from creating new water projects even if it would hurt aquatic life. So the wild and scenic river designation only means that the government will not transfer public land that is right next to the river into private hands. It does nothing as far as flows are concerned. Red state wilderness indeed. The river will run red.

  3. Steve: the story has a link to the bill text. That’s the letter of the law.

    desertraveller: the river will run red?! What the heck does that mean? The bill was a compromise, after a lot of work by groups with competing interests. For the lands going from de facto wilderness as WSAs to de jure Wilderness, I think it’s an improvement.

  4. Tom,

    To understand what collaboration means in this context you have to understand the history of the OI. For once environmental activists started having success reducing the destruction caused by overgrazing. Unfortunately this had to be done through lawsuits. Even the head of the BLM Idaho was pleased as political interference from the top had prevented her from implementing needed changes.

    This caused the ranchers to fear for their livelihood and opened an opportunity. Fred Grant, a friend of Helen Chenoweths, and a property rights activist came up with a plan to simultaneously push the PR issue and save the ranchers. They needed to whitewash their plan by getting some “Environmentalist Groups” involved. The ranchers did not want to compromise on anything, so the excluded any groups with experience in protecting the Owyhee desert. Not allowing them to have any voice in the discussion.

    The other groups, from their own admission, were going after wilderness from a perceived position of weakness. They believed because they had tried and failed to get wilderness done in Idaho for so long that even doing it the wrong way would be a good thing. I told them to wait until politics swung to be favorable for doing good wilderness, but they thought that that would never happen, and so let the ranchers have everything they really wanted.

    As for the rivers, Idaho Rivers United was willing to give up any ability to fight for water for fish and wildlife to get a designation. A designation which is empty if it does not protect the water. Read this shady side agreement here. Rivers running red means fish and other species dependent upon the river dying because the ranchers have through removing water, polluting water, and eroding and destroying riparian areas, an ongoing disaster in the Owyhees, will most likely accelerate as a result of this legislation.

    Read Appendix B (there is a link to the full text of the agreement there) a product of the OI, and according to the spokesperson of IRU will automatically follow after the land management bill is passed (which is currently a part of the omnibus)

    There is enough wrong with this legislation to fill a couple of books. So please keep asking. People need to know.

  5. I’m not the only one hollering foul about this either read what this blogger posted on the Idaho Statesman.

    mesa>

    In the Owyhee, TWS and Gehrke ardently supported “release” of 200,000 acres of BLM Wilderness Study Areas especailly the most crtical sage grouse habitats. WSAs are the equivalent of Forest Service roadless lands. Release means those lands are opened up to all manner of development.

    Yet here TWS sues over less threatened higher elevation forest country that is not nearly as vulnerable to weeds and some other ecological problems.

  6. I fail to see anything about this Act that is collectively positive. This is particularly so if one takes the broad, and I think essential, perspective that one of the few measures America and Americans can take to combat global climate disruption, is to protect or recover the “as near natural” integrity (ecological function and components) of public lands.

    While the Nature Conservancy and other land Trusts and Ted Turner can take a run at private lands, they stand as a pittance (although in some cases a helpful one) relative to the need for public land to buffer the impacts of the climate disruption avalanching down on America. Public lands have always been critical to Americas future, but never more so than now.

    No formal or functional designation of public lands maintains or recovers the integrity of public lands like wilderness. Yet these lands, and wilderness study areas, constitute but a small fraction of public lands, a much too small fraction. An Act like the Crapo Act continue a long history of special itnerests eroding the integrity of public lands, and in this case, the integrity of the best of the best, that is wilderness study area and potential wilderness.

    These are the lands that often provide the backbone of watershed and biodiversity viabilitly and they will continue to do so in the future, but climate disruption, and legislation like this Act, will squeeze their resilience and capacity even more tightly. Under the pressures of todays privatization and consumption agenda, it makes no sense to release any wilderness study area. But it does make sense to designate all of them wilderness.

    After that, or more appropriately, along with that, Americans must then look to the remaining public lands for aggressive road reclamation projects and legislative and administrative tools to strengthen the resistance to industrialization.

    These lands provide our last, and least expensive, opportunity to temper the impact of global climate disruption. Protecting and managing public lands for ecological integrity using the best available science would also provide what must become a start to a feed back process in which protecting public lands allows them to stand as evidence that this civilization can set some limits to its growth and consumption.