Friday, May 9, 2008

Owyhee legislation sent to full Senate

Comprehensive wilderness bill would protect 517,000 acres in southwest Idaho

Express Staff Writer

Federal legislation to protect 517,000 acres of remote desert canyonlands and 316 miles of free-flowing rivers and streams in Idaho's southwest corner continues to gain steam.

Originating from the locally driven Owyhee Initiative, the bill sponsored by Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, seeks to settle land-management issues in addition to creating new wilderness, a news release from Crapo's office states.

On Wednesday, the legislation was approved by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and sent to the full U.S. Senate. The Owyhee Public Lands Management Act passed the committee on a voice vote and will likely be included in a package of other land-management bills that will be considered together by the Senate as early as next month, the news release states.

"The Owyhee Initiative has made great progress here in the Senate, just as it has on the ground in Idaho, but we still have much to accomplish," Crapo said. "We continue to work hard to secure the necessary funding to implement the language in the initiative, and we must prepare to implement the agreements in the legislation once they become law."

Crapo said he will remain vigilant to assure that the objective of the original Owyhee Initiative agreement to keep ranching operations whole through land trades, purchase agreements and offers will be achieved. The provisions in the initiative were hammered out during an eight-year effort in Idaho begun by the Owyhee County Commissioners, who requested that Crapo assist with the collaborative process.

The process involved numerous stakeholders, including Owyhee County ranchers, conservation groups and recreationists.

If eventually approved by Congress, the legislation would designate 517,196 acres in six separate wilderness areas. Lands designated as wilderness would include steep-walled canyons inhabited by bighorn sheep, some more than a 1,000 feet deep, as well as miles of rolling sagebrush steppe habitat and grassland plateaus occupied by sage grouse, pronghorn antelope and raptors.

Streams and rivers protected as Wild and Scenic include numerous forks of the Owyhee River as well as forks of the Bruneau and Jarbidge rivers. The bill also seeks to protect cultural resources valued by the Shoshone-Paiute tribes.

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