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Idaho Owyhee Canyonlands on the President’s Desk

March 26, 2009

Boise, ID – An area of Idaho once targeted as a bombing range is soon to be federally-protected wilderness. The Owyhee Initiative is on its way to the President's desk as part of a massive public lands package. The initiative designates more than 500,000 acres of canyonlands as wilderness.

As Rick Johnson, Idaho Conservation League executive director, explains, it took eight years of collaboration between conservation groups, ranchers and recreation organizations to make it happen. U.S. Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) shepherded the project.

"Folks from all walks of life working together – it was very difficult work but, in the end, we created a package we all stand behind."

The initiative offers stability to ranchers who have depended on the canyonlands for a living, and it also protects more than 300 miles of rivers. Opponents of the Owyhee Initiative cite concerns about restrictions on off-road vehicle recreation.

Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America's Wilderness says when the president signs the package of bills that includes the Owyhee Initiative, there will be more than two million acres of new wilderness in nine states.

"These are public lands that we use and enjoy, and now it's guaranteed that they'll be protected, not only for our use and enjoyment today, but for future generations, too."

Idaho's newest wilderness area was approved as part of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009. The U.S. House passed the legislation on Wednesday; the Senate passed it last week.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - ID