HCN still mired in cowboy myth

  High Country News has done a disservice to the West by publishing the article, "Riding the middle path" (HCN, 12/8/03: Riding the middle path).

The article and its fawning photographs fail to fully describe the condition of the Owyhee landscape or the costs to the public of maintaining ranching there. It sadly reinforces HCN’s reputation of supporting cowboy mythology at the expense of public lands.

HCN has also missed a great opportunity to focus attention on a critical failure of the Wilderness Act itself: the legislative compromise which permits livestock grazing to continue in designated wilderness and the denial of national environmental groups to come to grips with that failure. Livestock grazing in designated wilderness is an oxymoron, and HCN could have helped initiate a long-overdue debate about it.

It is irresponsible for supporters of the Owyhee Initiative and HCN to claim that the values enumerated in the Wilderness Act will be protected in Owyhee County by designating 500,000 acres of wilderness in exchange for special privileges for the precise users who continue to degrade the natural condition of the lands with their livestock.

By letting the cowboy myth smother land-use realities, HCN has failed to serve any purpose except the perpetuation of that myth.

Jon Marvel Hailey, Idaho The writer is executive director of the Western Watersheds Project.