BLM mulls Owyhee-area wilderness use
Public comment period open for proposed draft plans
By JOHN O'CONNELL
BOISE -- The Bureau of Land Management will accept public comment through April 30 on a draft plan to manage 518,000 acres of wilderness and 325 miles of wild and scenic river segments in Owyhee County, Idaho, for the next 10 years.
The plan will outline allowable uses within the wilderness and river reaches -- designated under the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 -- including how cattle grazing may be conducted on allotments in the protected areas.
The federal protection was approved following nearly nine years of discussions, called the Owyhee Initiative, involving the cattle industry, environmentalists, the BLM, outfitters, the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe and other stakeholders.
John Sullivan, wilderness project lead with the BLM, said two draft plans are proposed -- one restricting management of natural processes such as weed control and fire load reduction and the BLM's preferred option authorizing limited responses to address potential land impacts.
Both options allow some motorized access for grazing permittees to maintain facilities, such as fences, springs and corrals.
"We will not be allowing any use of motorized equipment for gathering or moving livestock, but will allow restricted access on a range-improvement basis," Sullivan said.
Sullivan said the BLM will evaluate specific needs, such as access routes and types of vehicles that may be used, on a permit-by-permit basis.
"I think they will have the access they need. They may not always have the access they want," Sullivan said.
He said allotments within the wilderness area have enough forage to support 10,000 cows for up to three months. The allotments are fully allocated, but Sullivan said BLM doesn't believe permittees are grazing them to full capacity.
Scott Stouder, Idaho backcountry director with Trout Unlimited, said federal discussions about declaring an Owyhee national monument prompted the parties to meet. He's been involved in a similar cooperative approach, the Clearwater Basin Collaborative, which he said should produce legislation soon on new wilderness in northern Idaho while protecting the area's timber industry.
Some cattle ranchers, however, stress collaboration can't work if promises aren't kept.
Bill White, president of the Owyhee Cattlemen's Association, said the Owyhee Initiative promised to buy leases from permittees concerned about ranching under rigid wilderness guidelines, yet little funding was ever allocated.
"This will give the ranchers and people an opportunity to comment and try to get it set up a little more favorable for them," White said.
Chad Gibson, an Owyhee area ranch management consultant, detects "boilerplate" wilderness language in the draft plan that fails to recognize the intent and history of the Owyhee Initiative. He argues ranchers need greater access, including more time to repair damaged spring developments.
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, is "disappointed" that the BLM hasn't considered in its grazing decisions the standards established under the initiative recognizing the economic and cultural importance of ranching to the county, according to his spokesman.
Public comments may be filed online at OMA_TRANS_Wild@blm.gov/, or mailed to John Sullivan, BLM, Boise District Office, 3948 South Development Ave., Boise, Idaho 83705-5339.