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Ranchers hijacking public lands

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HCN’s Owyhee Initiative coverage (HCN, 12/8/03: Riding the middle path) shows that this paper is firmly mired in the livestock-industry myths of the Old West, and is unwilling to see beyond the boots, buckles and he-men, to understand that we must change how we treat our public wild lands and waters, if native ecosystems are to endure.

The Owyhee sagebrush rebel disciples of Wayne Hage and Helen Chenoweth are engaged in serious business here. They are getting conservationists to agree to a deal that gives them special power, through a series of legislatively established overlord boards and panels, of all 3.8 million acres of public lands in Owyhee County. The initiative will also open a flow of new taxpayer subsidies to the county and its cowmen, including the ag conglomerate of billionaire J.R. Simplot that grazes livestock on 1 million acres of Owyhee County public land.

The "wilderness" of the Owyhee Initiative focuses on the most rugged and least threatened lands. At best, it will only include one-third of the wilderness-worthy lands in the county (0.5 of 1.5 million acres), with 200,000 acres of WSAs released or "shaved" (parts chopped off). All the other public lands, including the released wilderness study areas (WSAs), will face accelerated development — like bulldozing of pipelines, or vegetation treatments to produce cow forage.

Sen. Crapo’s collaborative process is a cover for writing legislative language that hijacks public lands for the benefit of shrewd special interests. It is time for conservationists, this newspaper, and some large funders who pay for glossy mail-in postcards that say "Hooray for Wilderness," to look at the costs of the monsters they are creating. The Owyhee Canyonlands, shared with Oregon and Nevada, deserve far better.

Katie Fite
Boise, Idaho
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