Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Owyhee Legislation

Stunning canyons, bighorn sheep and sage grouse, ranching traditions and world-class outdoor recreation: All typify the Owyhees, that huge expanse of sagebrush located in Idaho's southwestern corner.

Owyhee legislation that addresses issues facing both people and the land recently passed the Senate and is scheduled for a vote in the House. The Nature Conservancy is hopeful that this legislation will pass, creating a hopeful future for people and nature in the Owyhees. Eight years ago, The Nature Conservancy joined a group of conservationists, ranchers and recreationists to create a package addressing conservation, wilderness designation, the area's ranching heritage and outdoor recreation.

A lot of excitement surrounded that first meeting. And then the long, hard work of building consensus began. It wasn't always easy.

The result of that hard work is evident in the legislation: It would, among many other things, establish the first wilderness in Idaho in nearly 30 years. About 500, 000 acres of wilderness would be established in the Owyhees, protecting one of hte largest and most intact sagebrush habitats left in the West. The package also calls for a wide range of conservation measures, including acquistion of private lands in some wilderness areas and better management of off-road vehicle use.
The Conservancy recognizes the Owyhees as one of its highest priorities. During the course of the Owyhee Initiative, the Conservancy has worked with partners to establish cooperative weed management areas, protect sage grouse habitat and restore burned areas.

The Conservancy would like to take this opportunity to thank Senator Mike Crapo for his leadership of the Owyhee Initiative. "Senator Crapo really rolled up his sleeves to get this to Congress," says Will Whelan, the Conservancy's director of government relations.
The entire Idaho Congressional delegation supported the Owyhee package. We thank each of them for their commitment to one of Idaho's great natural areas and the people who live, work and recreate there.
Even when the legislation passes, the work in the Owyhees is not over. As Aldo Leopold once said, conservationists have to "think like a mountain," or in this case, like a canyon. "Passing this legislation is just one part of the initiative," says Lou Lunte, associate state director for the Conservancy. "It's a very significant part, but more remains to be done. We need to move forward to ensure adequate funding for conservation and to work with ranchers and recreationists in the same spirit of collaboration."
Photo credits: Sage grouse by Bob Griffith; all other photos by John McCarthy/The Wilderness Society.

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