Friday, January 16, 2009

Just in from Washington

Photo courtesy of Mark Lisk, author of 'Owyhee Canyon Lands '
Owyhee Wilderness Bill Passes the Senate
Washington--It took eight years but Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo finally achieved his goal of passing a 517,000-acre wilderness in the U.S. Senate.

The bill sets aside more than 2 million acres of wilderness south of Boise in Owyhee County. Idaho Sen. Jim Risch supported the proposal as governor and voted for the bill on the floor of the Senate. The legislation now goes to the House, where it's expected to pass.

"For Idaho, it is a huge win," Crapo said. "This is the resolution of a decades-old series of conflicts over land management issues over a wonderful part of our state."

The bill brings together a land use package that opens areas of previously off-limits areas to motorized recreation, livestock grazing and other activities. It also provides ranchers with cash and federal land in exchange for giving up private land and giving up grazing rights on some public land.

Senator Crapo says there's still more to do, they'll need to raise cash for land exchanges some $7 million dollars."We've started the process of raising the money," he said. "But it's hard to do until legislation is passed. I expect that we will have very strong support from all members of the working group."

Congressman Walt Minnick is calling for support of the bill in the House,he says it's a good piece of legislation. "It keeps a very stunning part of Idaho from turning into ranchettes," and added "It's a special piece of the United States that deserves increased protection."

Minnick spoke with the House Majority Leader after the bill passed the Senate and says the House could take up the bill in just a few weeks.

Crapo worked hard bringing together the unlikely coalition of ranchers, wilderness advocates, outdoor enthusiasts to support the legislation. It almost passed the Senate last year as part of a lands bill but was killed in the 11th hour by a threatened filibuster.

Craig Gehrke of Boise's Wilderness Society Chapter called this a historic moment for public lands in Idaho. "This bill is about providing real solutions for both people and the land, and we are committed to this process until the end."

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