The Owyhee Initiative: Coordination Can End Conflict, Benefit Natural and Human Environments

In their own words: how former foes came together to end conflict and benefit natural and human environments.

Coordination influences federal agency planning and management processes and can lead to benefits not likely to result from litigation, cooperation, consultation, or other means. In Idaho, County Commissioners previously engaged in coordination with BLM proposed the Owyhee Initiative, a collaborative effort to resolve contentious, decades-long land use conflicts between environmental groups and ranchers.

The County joined with diverse groups including Idaho Wilderness Society, Nature Conservancy, Idaho Conservation League, Owyhee Cattleman’s Association, Soil Conservation Districts, Owyhee Borderlands Trust, Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep Association, Owyhee County Farm Bureau, and Idaho Backcountry Horsemen to form a work group. Together, they hammered out an historic agreement establishing:

  • A non-biased science review process (for protection of grazing) and a conservation center in Owyhee County (addressing natural resource management issues);
  • Designation of 517,000 acres of Wilderness and 316 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers;
  • Release for multiple uses of nearly 200,000 acres of Wilderness Study Areas (ending management for wilderness characteristics);
  • Statutory responsibility for environmental organizations to provide monetary compensation to ranchers in exchange for  permanent retirement of livestock grazing permits in and adjacent to wilderness areas;
  • An account to fund purchase of lands or interests within or adjacent to wilderness areas in Owyhee County with the proceeds from public land sales elsewhere within the BLM’s Boise District;
  • BLM coordination with Shoshone-Paiute Tribes to implement the Shoshone-Paiute Cultural Resource Protection Plan; and
  • Completion of travel management plans for Owyhee County.

Without the County’s coordination history, the Owyhee Initiative would not have been possible. Environmental groups knew the best opportunity to gain compromise of any kind was through coordination with the agencies and the County via the Owyhee Initiative process. The agreement among Work Group participants led to development of the Owyhee Public Lands Management Act, a bill sponsored by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo. The bill was signed into law by President Obama in March, 2009.

Coordination has great potential in California and nationwide for taking positive steps to end long term land use conflicts over public and private land and resource issues. In the process, as indicated above, it can lead to enormous benefits to natural and human environments.

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