Friends of the Owyhee founder and executive director Tim Davis

Friends of the Owyhee founder and executive director Tim Davis.

Friends of the Owyhee advocacy group has grown its base of followers by about 40% in each of the past two years.

Around 200 people in the past year donated to Friends, which on Nov. 6 had nearly 700 subscribers to its mailing list and 3,367 followers on social media, founder and executive director Tim Davis said.

“There is a lot of room for the organization to grow,” he said. “The interest in the Owyhee region is growing.”

The high-desert Owyhee ecosystem includes mountains, rivers, sagebrush-steppe landscapes and wildlife habitat in parts of Oregon, Idaho and Nevada. Grazing, irrigation and recreation are among the uses.

Friends promotes conservation, stewardship and recreation in the area. Visitation is up as the Boise area continues to grow.

Davis said about half of the Ontario, Ore.-based group’s constituents come from outside southwestern Idaho and southeastern Oregon.

“With today’s technology, it’s not a secret anymore,” he said. “We need a plan” for the region.

Friends in the past year hired a full-time program manager, and at the start of 2021 will add a three-quarter position focused on media work. Davis aims to eventually have a presence in each of the three states.

The group hosted more trips in each of the past two years.

“Even with COVID, we led 71 different outings in the past year (2020),” Davis said. “More than 500 people have come out.” Two April trips were canceled. Trips that took place had no more than 12 people.

“We've always liked to keep trips small to build a better connection among attendees on the trip," he said.

Davis was among stakeholders who contributed to Senate Bill 2828, the proposed Malheur County Community Empowerment for the Owyhee Act. The bill would invest in the county, release nearly 1 million acres with wilderness characteristics to multiple-use management by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and protect as wilderness more than 1 million acres of current wilderness study areas.

“Though not perfect, we feel this collaborative approach has come the closest to preserving the voice of Malheur County and Oregonians while aligning with nationwide interest in seeing the Owyhee permanently protected,” he wrote in an Oct. 20 online newsletter.

BLM’s preferred alternative in the Southeastern Oregon Resource Management Plan Amendment does not designate special management considerations for lands with wilderness characteristics. These are separate from wilderness study areas that await management decisions by Congress. The plan covers 4.6 million acres of BLM-managed land.

Davis said lands with wilderness characteristics in the project area should be managed as such. Passing SB 2828 would help, by protecting land as wilderness while allowing historical uses to continue.

BLM plans the Tri-State Fuel Breaks project along a network of roads it owns in Idaho, Oregon and Nevada. The Idaho portion this year received federal approval. The plan would treat road-adjacent vegetation in part to improve firefighter access and reduce flame heights.

Friends would rather see funding directed to road maintenance, BLM districts and rangeland fire protection associations "to decrease the response time to wildland fires," said Davis, a former Oregon Department of Corrections employee and seasonal BLM firefighter.

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