Owyhee Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River Management Plan

Posted: Mar 25, 2013

Comment Deadline: May 31, 2013

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has released a draft management plan for six wilderness areas and 16 wild and scenic river segments in Owyhee County in southwestern Idaho. These designations include over 500,000 acres of wilderness and 325 miles of wild and scenic river segments. All of these areas would be covered under the same plan due to similarities in available resources and management issues.

The draft plan includes two possible options for management in these areas. The BLM’s preferred plan would authorize limited responses to the potential land impacts of grazing and other forms of land use in these areas. The other option is the Minimal Management Alternative, which restricts management to the most necessary natural processes such as fire and weed control, and does not allow for discretionary management. Both plans would continue to allow some grazing and motorized access in the area, although motorized equipment would not be allowed for gathering or moving livestock in the protected areas.

Ranching has been a tradition and source of livelihood in southwestern Idaho for over a hundred years. The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, under which these areas were originally designated as wilderness, provided for continued livestock grazing in these areas. The Act was passed after almost a decade of negotiations between the BLM, cattle industry, environmental groups, and the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe. Also known as the Owyhee Initiative, the grassroots initiative added wilderness areas and also allowed grazing and motorized recreation in other areas that previously had been off-limits. To incentivize ranchers who had a substantial interest in the land, the Owyhee Initiative gave ranchers cash and federal land if they gave up private land and grazing rights on some public land. In order to balance competing interests, the Act included a provision that would keep these designated areas as “working wilderness” areas, with some allowance for continued ranching and other activities.

BLM Boise District Manager Jim Fincher has said of the Initiative that he “look[s] forward to implementing a plan that embraces the visions of such a collaborative effort."

However, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho who played a key role in the Initiative, has expressed disappointment with the BLM’s proposed plan. A spokesman for Crapo stated that the BLM has strayed away from the grazing standards set up by the initiative and that the plan fails to “recogniz[e] the economic and cultural importance of ranching to the county.”

Ranching interests generally feel like the management plan should allow them more access. The BLM’s wilderness project lead John Sullivan has countered that the ranchers “will have the access they need,” although they “may not always have the access they want.”

The BLM is focusing on evaluating access routes and types of vehicles that should be permitted in the area, and will likely implement a permit system in making that determination.The proposed plan would guide management policies in these areas for the next ten years.

Public meetings will be held on April 9th at the BLM District Office in Boise, Idaho and April 10th at the Owyhee County Historical Museum in Murphy, Idaho to discuss the proposed plan.

Read the proposed plan.

Submit comments via email to OMA_TRANS_Wild@blm.gov.

Submit written comments to:
BLM, Boise District Office
Attn: John Sullivan, Wilderness Project Lead
3948 South Development Ave.
Boise, Idaho 83705

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