The Owyhee Initiative

Nowhere are the dicey issues of quid pro quo wilderness better displayed than in the Owyhee Initiative.

In 2001, just after passage of the Steens bill, a new consensus land-use plan called the Owyhee Initiative (OI) was emerging in the Owyhee-Bruneau Canyonlands of southwest Idaho, where conservationists have long sought to create wilderness and where a national monument proposal had evaporated upon the departure of the Clinton Administration.

For public-lands ranchers in the Owyhees, the writing was on the wall. In the face of successful litigation by Western Watersheds Project (WWP) and the Committee for the High Desert (CHD) to reduce cattle numbers in the area, plus drought and poor cattle prices, ranchers were highly motivated to improve their situation. They called on Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, who promised support for whatever consensus proposal for the Owyhees the ranchers and others could come up with. Specifically barred from the OI discussions were WWP and CHD, the two groups that had successfully sued on grazing issues.

The OI group consisted of representatives of three environmental groups, ranchers, off-road vehicle enthusiasts, outfitters, and Owyhee County. The OI’s stated goal was:

… to develop and implement a landscape-scale program in Owyhee County that preserves the natural processes that create and maintain a functioning, un-fragmented landscape supporting and sustaining a flourishing community of human, plant, and animal life, that provides for economic stability by preserving livestock grazing as an economically viable use, and that provides for the protection of cultural resources. (emphasis added)

As of this writing, legislative language has not been made publicly available, but the final agreement was released in November 2004 and the legislation is expected to implement the agreement by ordering its ratification. (The agreement can be found at

Next – A Ranching Oligarchy

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