WASHINGTON — Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden-D and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley-D introduced legislation Thursday to provide economic development opportunities to support Malheur County ranchers and protect the Owyhee River Canyonlands and surrounding areas for recreation and wildlife habitat.
The focus of the legislation is on maintaining and improving rangeland in the Owyhee Canyonland region which was the subject of an effort, lead by the Oregon Natural Desert Association, to have then-President Obama declare about 2 million acres as a national monument.
That did not occur, but it spurred an effort to start designing a program would allow ranchers to maintain their livelihoods as well as protect the natural environment. According to a joint news release from the senators, the groups involved included ranchers, environmental groups, local and state universities, with assessment from federal and state agencies.
“Whether you are a rancher carrying on you family business in eastern Oregon, an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys hikes in the canyonlands, or an environmentalist seeking to protect wildlife habitat, you have a stake in the future of this unique and important landscape in Malheur County,” said Sen. Ron Wyden in a statement.
“The Owyhee River Cayonlands are a perfect employ of how Oregon’s natural treasures not only delight adventures, but also support local ranchers and our recreation economies.” Sen. Merkley’s statement reads. “This legislation is the result of ranchers, conservationists and leaders coming together with a shared mission to protect this incredible land and working to preserve the beauty and vitality of Malheur County for generations to come.”
The action sets up a program of adaptive management for maintaining and improving rangelands for continued grazing and responding to environmental threats. More than a million acres will be designated as wilderness and 14.7 miles of the Owyhee River will be added to the the wild and scenic designation.
Also, loop roads would be built for tourism, to encourage improvement of state parks and firefighting efforts.
Owyhee Basin Stewardship Council Chairman Steve Russell, said that organization had asked Wyden to take the lead in the process to develop the legislation that focused on land health in the county.
“We hoped for resolution of land designation and a unique (Bureau of Land Management) model that projects grazing and other traditional land uses while provide for local guidance, “ Russell’s statement reads.
In an email commending the proposal, Friends of the Owyhee states part of its mission is fulfilled by the bill.
“We continue our mission to promote conservation advocacy, to be stewards and to enjoy responsible outdoor recreation in the Owhyee region,” states the email, which also expresses gratitude to Wyden “from the depth of our Owhyee Canyon hearts.”