By Pat Caldwell
ONTARIO – The Owyhee Basin Stewardship Coalition isn’t going away.
That was one of the conclusions reached at a Feb. 14 coalition meeting.
“The consensus of the group of members that attended was the organization needed to stay in place,” said Andy Bentz, secretary of the coalition.
Bentz said about 70 members attended.
The local civic group formed to fight a federal monument designation of the Owyhee Canyonlands. It now wants a new plan for managing public land in Malheur County.
Several directors of the coalition said they believe the group is in a good position after President Obama declined to create the national monument.
The canyonland proposal from an alliance of environmental groups, citizens and businesses was designed to preserve 2.5 million acres. The stewardship coalition consists of more than 300 paying members and another 11,000 supporters who signed a petition against the monument designation.
One focus now for the group is an expansion of its vision, said board member Elias Eiguren, a Jordan Valley rancher.
“Our desire is to advocate for a working landscape in the county that will promote ecosystem health and the economic well-being of the towns in the county,” he said.
Bentz said how that will be done hasn’t been established.
“We will investigate and decide what is the best course of action going forward,” he said.
Bentz said one goal is to include input from across a spectrum of interests regarding the future of public lands.
“We want to create stability and dependability in the uses that are derived from public lands for communities, taking into account for all uses of public lands. There is a place for everybody,” he said.
Inclusion is the critical theme, said board member Lynn Findley, and that includes environmentalists, cattlemen, businesses and residents.
“It has to be a collaborative effort with all users. You have to build a path forward for everyone,” he said. Findley is the Vale city manager.
Dan Morse, conservation director for the Oregon High Desert Association – or ONDA – said his group remains devoted to safeguarding the canyonlands. ONDA was one of the conservation groups that pushed for the monument designation.
“While so far there haven’t been other substantive Owyhee proposals for discussion, despite growing threats, we hope protections can be developed that sufficiently protect the values of this world-class landscape,” he said.
Bentz said participation from conservation groups is welcome – as long as the input is solution-based.
“If there is an ability for people to work together and not be obstructionists and to have the health of the land and the community at the forefront to their thinking, then there is room for everyone,” he said.
Eiguren said the effort by the coalition shows what a community can do when it focuses on a specific issue and works together.
“Folks were willing to get behind our organization and put trust in the board of directors. And they were willing to fund it adequately. Our message was clear and our goal was concise and because of that we were able to accomplish something tremendous,” he said.
Eiguren said the coalition collected more than $450,000 in contributions during its effort to block the monument designation.