Owyhee Initiative–vast area in SW Idaho–sparks controversy

Groups like the Sierra Club, Idaho Conservation League, Nature Conservancy and Wilderness Society support the legislation recently introduced by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, though they have plenty of reservations.

Other groups like the Western Watersheds Project, Committee for Idaho’s High Desert, and the Idaho Wildlife Federation oppose it as a give-away to ranchers that locks in years of grazing abuse in exchange for poorly protected designated Wilderness.

Due to the importance of this issue for conservation, wildlife, and scenery, below are some links expressing various points of view on the Owyhee Initiative.

Folks have been working for 20 or more years to protect this huge hinterland.

Owyhee Initiative.org This is a joint web site put up by conservation groups that support it.
Owyhee Initiative.com. This web site by Committee for the High Desert, and Payette Forest Watch against the Initiative.

Senator Crapo on the Owyhee Initiative. Crapo took the “consensus language” and put it in the bill he introduced.

Recent news story on the bill. “Owyhee Initiative begins its trek through Congress.” Read the article in the [Twin Falls] Times-News. Article.

Jon Marvel: Owyhee bill is a theft of public lands.” Sept. 9, 2006 guest opinion in the Idaho Statesman. Marvel is the E.D. of the Western Watersheds Project which opposes the bill.

In one of the many Owyhee Canyons. Photo Copyright © Lee Mercer
Owyhee Mountains at sunset. Copyright © Ralph Maughan



  1. steve Avatar

    I support preservation, but lets not make vast tracts available only to those who would wear a backpack and trek for dyas on end. With som minimal road maintenance, vast areas can be made available to so many more peoplpe to enjoy. How frustrating to find roads closed or destroyed so that only the backpacker can experience an area. What about the disabled or infirm? What about those who don’t have one or two weeks and full-strneght to walk for miles o end through the wilderness. What about the hunter? The fisherman, the rock collector? the photographer? the canoeist? Are they to be excluded from the area because they need a motorized vehicle to get into the back country deep enough to capture that special opportunity? Let’s not make an area so exclusive it becomes the land of only the priviliged backpacker who has the time, equipment, physical and mental abilities to take advantage of a vast area of beauty. To say this land becomes the exclusive land of the rancher ignores the simple rule of “If you go through a closed gate, re close it”. They don’t “own” the land. They have the right to use it for grazing – and not the right to chage trespass. It’s for all to use – albeit there may be fences, gates and some cattle (in this sparse area aonly a very limited number of livestock can be supported). In fact, often it is the rancher that maintains what little road there may be – and that road is the gateway for all the others that can now access this area. I support “balance” not exchange of exclusivity of use from the rancher to the backpacker.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan