Habitat vs. Scenery

The 1999 Idaho Citizens Wilderness proposal identified 1.3 million acres of potential Wilderness in the Owyhees. In 2000, a 2.7 million landscape was included in a National Monument Proposal. By 2003, Sierra Club inventories had found 1.6 million acres of Wilderness-worthy lands. The OI ignores and weakens protection for much of the area, calling for the designation of just 511,000 acres of wilderness.

The proposal also releases WSAs critical to the long-term survival of sage grouse populations; ignores over one million acres of wilderness-suitable lands, leaving them vulnerable to intrusions and habitat fragmentation from future livestock developments and vegetation; shaves off portions of WSAs for livestock projects; and cherrypicks the most visually impressive lands as Wilderness.

For example, important sage grouse habitats in the Sheep Creek East and Sheep Creek West WSAs are slated for release in their entirety, along with large parts of the Bruneau-Sheep Creek WSA. Sagebrush habitats in the Jarbidge have become so fragmented that even very small patches of sagebrush are critical to the persistence of sage grouse populations there. Parts of WSAs to be released there contain some of the only areas of native vegetation that remain in the “better” condition category.

There are currently 700,000 acres of WSAs in the Owyhees. The OI would release 200,000 acres of WSAs from interim protection, under the justification that these areas were “non-recommended” for wilderness by BLM. The notoriously unscientific BLM wilderness inventory process dropped sagebrush lands from consideration for such spurious reasons as ” lack of visitor screening” and claims that they engendered “a feeling of monotony.” The BLM also dubbed as “non-recommended” less rugged places where ranchers hoped for future development and expanded grazing.

Next – Deviant Wilderness Provisions

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