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Conservationists seek talks with range coalition

A coalition of environmental groups wants to sit down with a local rangeland federation and begin talks on how best to safeguard the Owhyee Canyonlands. (The Enterprise/Kristine de Leon)

VALE – An alliance of environmental groups formed to safeguard the Owyhee Canyonlands announced last week they want to open discussions with a local range advocacy coalition.

In a Sept. 4 letter, the Owyhee Coalition called for a series of meetings with the Owyhee Basin Stewardship Coalition, a federation of local residents and ranchers. 

The Owyhee Coalition consists of seven conservation organizations that sought to establish a federal monument of the canyonlands, seeing it as the best way to preserve the treasured site. 

The locally-based Owyhee Basin Stewardship Coalition, formed to oppose designating the area as a federal monument because it preferred local control. The Obama administration expired without action on a proposal to designate the monument. In July, the stewardship outlined its plans to enhance local control of federal range in Malheur County. The two sides have been divided for several years over how best to preserve the canyonlands, considered as some of the wildest open country in the continental U.S.

Now it is time to talk, said David Moryc, a leader of the conservation coalition. He is senior director of wild and scenic rivers and public lands policy for American Rivers, a national environmental group.

“We feel like there is some common ground, especially around values but even some of the rangeland health issues,” said Moryc. A face-to-face meeting of both groups would be a building block for the future, said Moryc. 

“For far too long each side has kind of gone around and around and back and forth and we think it’s time we actually get together,” said Moryc.

Elias Eiguren, a Jordan Valley rancher and treasurer for the stewardship group, said Friday that his organization welcomes a discussion with the conservationists. 

“We’ve been open to conversations the entire time OBSC has been in existence,” said Eiguren.

Moryc said discussions between the two groups may reveal more commons goals. 

 “If we could hash out everyone’s priorities maybe we will end up where we are, but my guess is we may at least build some trust,” said Moryc.

Eiguren said he believes there is some common ground between the two groups.

“I truly believe those folks want to see better range health out here,” he said.

Eiguren said, though, that there are many differences between the two organizations.

Eiguren confirmed that there have been back-channel discussions between the two groups “but never in an officially, facilitated fashion.” 

Moryc the goal for the discussions is simple. 

“To see what we can agree on rather than trying to develop proposals for the Owyhees through press releases and ad campaigns,” said Moryc.

He said his group doesn’t have any illusions about the difficulty of reaching a compromise.

“Obviously we won’t agree on everything,” said Moryc.

 He said specific items in the white paper recently issued by the stewardship coalition show the two sides agree on some issues — “things that the OBSC called out like invasive weeds and keeping ranching communities economically viable.”

Moryc said the two sides also agree on the most obvious point: the canyonlands should be protected.

“They know that because of the importance of the Owyhee and because of the threats, whether it is Boise as the fastest-growing metro area in the country or gas or mining, it is too important not to work on,” said Moryc.

Eiguren said some issues will not be up for negotiation.

“A land designation that doesn’t necessarily provide for the health of the land or for the improvement of our communities or our cultural industries in our area, if that is a must for these organizations we may agree to disagree at the end of the day. Hopefully that won’t be the case,” said Eiguren. Moryc said it is time to take the first step on a journey to a compromise.

“It would just be great to start a dialogue. It doesn’t have to be a formal process, public meeting style,” said Moryc.

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