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Diverse Groups Applaud New Bill to Protect Owyhee Canyonlands

A bill in Congress would protect more than a million acres of Owyhee Canyonlands as wilderness. (U.S. Bureau of Land Management/Flickr)
A bill in Congress would protect more than a million acres of Owyhee Canyonlands as wilderness. (U.S. Bureau of Land Management/Flickr)
November 11, 2019

VALE, Ore. – A bill in Congress to protect the Owyhee Canyonlands and parts of Malheur County is being praised for the inclusive process involved in writing the legislation.

Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, both Democrats, have introduced the Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee Act.

In April, Wyden began consultation in the county on legislation, bringing ranchers, locals and environmental groups to the table.

Andy Bentz is owner of the Malheur County mining company Bentz Solutions and secretary of the Owyhee Basin Stewardship Coalition, which supports the bill.

"There are some real unique pieces of this that we all as a group hope will not only be able to be managed correctly for the benefit of the land, but the economies and the communities that it supports," Bentz states.

The act would designate more than 1 million acres as wilderness and protect more than 14 miles of the Owyhee River as wild and scenic. It also would protect grazing and land-use laws.

Safeguards for the region have been contentious. At the end of the Obama administration, the Owyhee Basin Stewardship Coalition opposed national monument designation for the canyonlands.

Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, says the Owyhee Canyonlands are home to some of the darkest skies in the nation, sacred tribal locations and a plethora of wildlife species and recreational opportunities.

She praises Wyden for his leadership and everyone who came to the table to get this accomplished so quickly.

"I know that we've all got to stay together and work on the trust we've built over the last several months as we show a new example of how to protect landscapes and communities," she states.

When he set out in April to design legislation, Wyden said the goal was to bring a bill to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, of which he is a senior member.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR