New plan in the works for Owyhee

By Pat Caldwell

The Enterprise

AROCK – The Owyhee Basin Stewardship Coalition is working on legislation to establish a new public land management plan in Malheur County.

The group held meetings in Arock, McDermitt and Jordan Valley last week to collect comments on the proposal.

“The idea is to look at a different designation of this land that would offer a certain amount of protection to keep environmentalists satisfied so we don’t have to fight a monument designation,” said Elias Eiguren, coalition treasurer.

Eiguren, a Jordan Valley rancher, said the proposed legislation would also be focused on multi-use where an array of groups – cattlemen, environmentalists and recreationists – attain what they want.

“We still must provide for our culture and way of life in terms of cattle and for the county in terms of hunting and fishing without restricting access,” said Eiguren.

The consists of more than 300 paying members and another 11,000 supporters. The civic group formed to fight a federal monument designation of the Owyhee Canyonlands. The canyonlands proposal, pushed by an alliance of environmental groups, citizens and businesses, aimed to preserve 2.5 million acres either through action by Congress or a presidential designation under the Antiquities Act.

However, President Barak Obama declined to endorse the plan. The Antiquities Act gives the president the authority to carve out national monuments from existing public lands. The monuments can add restrictions to how such land can be used.

Eiguren said the coalition collected $478,000 to fight the canyonlands proposal and spent $400,000.

Eiguren said the coalition achieved a big victory with the canyonlands but now is the time to leverage its momentum to create a different land-use plan. The coalition board is still working out the details of the legislation. It has retained the Boise public relations firm Bilbao & Co. to help with the proposed legislation.

Details of the legislation are vague now because work on the plan is still in its preliminary stages.

“We’re not ready to reveal any details yet but it is for all of Malheur County. We are looking at designating a healthy, working landscape,” said Ysabel Bilbao of Bilbao & Co.

Eiguren said a new plan must gather input from all stakeholders, including environmentalists.

“For it to be carried by our congressional delegation it has to be something that will satisfy everyone in Oregon,” said Eiguren.

The public meetings last week were important to generate ideas on the proposed legislation, said coalition president Steve Russell.

Most who attended, he said, were Bureau of Land Management grazing permit holders.

“We wanted them to know what was going on and wanted their thoughts and ideas, to make sure everyone is on board,” said Russell.

Dan Morse, the conservation director for the Oregon Natural Desert Association in Bend, said without knowing much about the proposed legislation is it difficult to weigh in on the subject. The association was one of the groups supporting a monument designation for the canyonlands.

However, Morse said, any idea to bring diverse groups together to develop a plan for public land management is good.

“The idea of having a genuine dialogue among all the interested stakeholders to develop a meaningful management approach to the canyonlands is something we are interested in,” said Morse.

Andy Bentz, the secretary of the coalition, said moving ahead must be a collaborative process.

“We want the land healthy. We completely understand everybody that wants to, gets to have a say,” said Bentz. “You have to have everyone’s views and everyone has to weigh in to see where we can reach an agreement.”