Like the Steens, the OI creates a management oversight structure, but it goes far beyond the earlier project. The OI creates a Board of Directors, a Science Review Panel, and a Science Center as apparatus for Owyhee oversight and planning.
Board of Directors
Legislation would provide for permanent membership of specific nonprofit corporations, businesses, and special interest groups – the OI negotiators, in fact – to oversee all lands in Owyhee County, including 3.8 million acres of public lands and all of the Wilderness (OI III C, Board of Directors membership). Some proponents assert that this body will be advisory only, but have variously termed it a “stewardship group” and a “resource management body.” In reality, it could wield overweening power and influence over public land decisions. The OI cattlemen’s representative has publicly stated that the Board of Directors will be “King.”
Science Review Panel
This provision is an effort to push livestock-friendly science that will in turn be used to thwart changes in BLM grazing management needed to protect livestock-polluted waters and damaged public lands. This process is to be overseen by the OI Board of Directors and will involve the University of ldaho – an institution that, like many western land grant schools, is known for partiality to commodity interests and susceptibility to political pressure.
The OI allows even preliminary documentation used in a BLM grazing decision making processes to be subject to separate review (IV C, Livestock management). It lists “elements of science review” that, when applied to management actions on public wild lands, will allow almost any BLM proposal to be found deficient. The OI Board of Directors, comprised largely of non-scientists, will decide if a review is merited in the first place (IV, Science Reviews). This review at every step of the BLM’s multi-stage grazing-decision process will slow down the process, give the agency cold feet, and ultimately slant the decisions. Ranchers will also be able to use information from the OI taxpayerfunded science review in legal appeals of (taxpayer-funded) BLM decisions.
Conservation & Research Center
The Board will oversee a Conservation & Research Center that will provide a vehicle for taxpayer subsidies to fund vegetation “treatment” and other development and livestock-oriented projects. The Center will be interjected into monitoring the condition of public lands, and other key functions of BLM livestock grazing and public lands administration. Conservation & Research Center monitoring will focus on assessing “trends in landscape function and integrity” and “within wilderness designations … compliance with recreational vehicle access, range condition and trend, wildfire impacts, the status of invasive species and noxious weeds and the status and impact of predatory species.” (V E).
Mention of “predatory species” is indicative of part of the OI agenda. Owyhee ranchers have vigorously promoted two separate “research” projects, to be conducted by the federal Wildlife Services, aimed at killing predators of sage grouse. By blaming predators for species declines, ranchers hope to create a diversion from the need to improve cattle-damaged habitat in Owyhee County.
Under the OI, ranchers who have damaged public lands will be rewarded for their harmful grazing practices. A “forage reserve program” (also called grassbanking) would be set up through the Conservation & Research Center to secure “alternative forage” for ranchers whose abusive grazing practices have damaged public lands. They would be provided with forage and areas to graze livestock while the public lands that they have damaged are being “treated” and rested for recovery (Appendix A, Juniper Management in Wilderness Areas).
The creation of these structures, which will be maintained at least partially federal taxpayer expense, essentially elevates local control and privatizes management of the Owyhees. In effect, a separate management structure would be set up to conduct the activities and functions of the BLM.
Public lands livestock grazing is not economically viable without massive support from taxpayers. Grazing fees paid by ranchers are extremely low – under $2.00 per month for each cow grazed – and BLM’s administration costs for grazing permits average 5 to 6 times the amount received in grazing fees. In the Owyhee, where extensive livestock riparian and upland grazing degradation exists, BLM costs to manage the County’s fewer than 100 public lands ranchers’ livestock use may be much greater, and the new control seized by ranchers under the OI will only increase these costs.