Owyhee coalition gets financial boost to pursue federal lands legislation

The Owyhee Basin Stewardship Coalition, a local land advocacy group, recently received a big donation from the Jordan Valley Rodeo. The coalition is drafting a new plan for federal lands inside the county. (Submitted photo)

JORDAN VALLEY – A large donation from an area rodeo group will help bolster efforts of the Owyhee Basin Stewardship Coalition, a local land-use advocacy organization.

The Jordan Valley Rodeo gave $19,000 to the coalition at its annual membership meeting last month.

The coalition says it has more than 300 paying members and another 11,000 supporters. The group was formed to fight a federal monument designation of the Owyhee Canyonlands. An alliance of environmental groups, citizens and businesses had unsuccessfully proposed preserving 2.5 million acres.

Now the coalition is working on federal legislation to establish a broader and more flexible public land management plan for Malheur County. The funds from the rodeo board will help, said coalition treasurer Elias Eiguren.

“I think it is pretty awesome that folks in this area are that committed to pursuing multiple use on federally-managed lands,” said Eiguren, a Jordan Valley rancher.

The fight to stop a monument designation wasn’t cheap. Eiguren said the coalition collected $478,000 to fund the anti-monument plan and spent $400,000.

The $19,000 donation is important now as the group moves into the next phase of its land use plan.

“People were very generous during the monument fight. But we need broader buy-in, not only from cattle producers but from folks across the county. We are very frugal as a group, but it is not cheap doing what we are doing,” said Eiguren.

The coalition is using the funds for the next part of its land-use blueprint by hiring Ontario law firm of Yturri Rose, to work on land-use legal issues and employed a Boise public relations firm, Bilbao & Co.

Eiguren said the legislation for Malheur County is still being drafted but would “promote multi-use and provide better local input for those of us who understand this local area and have generations of experience. It will also allow the managing agency to have flexibility to change management strategies without being litigated.”

The “managing agency” is the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees most of the federal land in Malheur County.

 “We are trying to determine what has worked and not worked in terms of multi-user land management,” said Eiguren.

The coalition seeks to accomplish several goals, said Eiguren.

“We want to hone down all of the research that has been done and get it narrowed down for a legislative package — something for the folks in Malheur County, then the U.S. delegation and then our local BLM district,” said Eiguren.

Eiguren is uncertain when the coalition will unveil its proposal.

“There is no telling. I think the initial conversations need to happen within the next few months,” he said.

Eiguren said the monument victory was the easy part. Creating a plan that will meet the expectations of county residents, federal officials and lawmakers will take time.

“It is a tremendous amount of work. This will be a lifelong endeavor for the citizens of Malheur County,” said Eiguren.

Eiguren said the coalition has also reached out to several environmental groups. Eiguren said the coalition is in “pretty consistent” contact with the Friends of the Owyhee, an area conservation group. Eiguren said another conservation group, the Oregon Natural Desert Association, appear to have different goals than the coalition. The Bend group led the push for the monument designation.

 “They want something much stricter,” he said.

Eiguren said in the wake of the large donation from the rodeo board he is optimistic.

“I am very positive. I think that even though it was a terrible situation to fight a monument designation, it provided a catalyst for folks in the county to come around to a common goal,” said Eiguren.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.