Over 140 public land measures are now in the Omnibus public lands act

Lame-duck public lands blockbuster legislation expected-

Assuming there is a lame duck session of Congress (very likely), this bill could designate a lot of public land areas “this” or “that.”

53 new measures were added to the omnibus bill on Oct. 31. It is hard to figure out what is in this bill.

Here is an article about it with a focus on Wyoming from today’s (Nov. 3) Jackson Hole News. By Noah Brenner.

Regarding Oregon. Omnibus land act includes wilderness designations. Senate next month will vote on creation of Oregon’s Soda Mountain and Copper Salmon wilderness area. By Paul Fattig. Mail Tribune.

In Colorado, New senator-elect Udall (I’ll call the race) favors adding wilderness acreage to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Reason for the omnibus bill was Senator Coburn’s (R-OK) “holds” on individual measures. Lame-duck will take up Coburn bill. By J. Taylor Rushing. From The Hill.

It may be best to let the omnibus bill die. There are too many half-assed measures like the Idaho Owyhee Canyonlands bill by Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) in it.





  1. TimothyB Avatar

    Ralph….you said “There are too many half-assed measures like the Idaho Owyhee Canyonlands bill by Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) in it.”

    Can you explain why you don’t like that portion of the bill? I thought it might be a pretty good thing. Maybe it’s not enuf or just doesn’t protect the right stuff? Explain!

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    The Owyhee bill itself is vey complex, but in essence many groups, but not some Idaho conservation groups, believe it locks in far too much abusive grazing, releases important wilderness study areas, and does not designate enough wilderness.

    Over 500,000 acres of new designated Wilderness may sound like a lot, but this consists of many small non-contiguous units. With a few exceptions they grandfather livestock grazing.

    Its critics say the bill would also institutionalize the strong livestock influence that has existed for years in the area and greatly degraded the areas with the creation of a powerful Board of Directors. According to Katie Fite, “These overseers would include ranchers, the County, the head of the commercial outfitters, and some mild-mannered conservation groups. This power structure is designed to ‘un-level’ the playing the field, keep the public at arm’s length, and further enrich ranchers and their cronies.”

    Groups like the Western Watersheds Project believe that more can be accomplished by lawsuits and maybe a national monument designation by the Obama Administration

  3. Brian Ertz Avatar


    Some things to think about when considering the Owyhee Initiative :

    A “collaborative” model for wilderness designation and Natural Resource management?

    the suggestion that the bill was developed within a “collaborative” process between stakeholders is just really not honest. if all it takes for a “collaborative” process is for cherry-picked stakeholders to buy-in, then we really need to rethink the integrity of such a process and we should very carefully consider who is picking the participants and why.

    Particular conservation “stakeholders” were precluded from involvement from the very start – and that fact was celebrated in the press release (pdf) announcing the creation of the original working group. that “Jon Marvel and his supporters” were singled out and precluded from involvement was made a condition of the livestock interest’s willingness to sit at the table. that’s quite the tenor from which to begin negotiation – and it shows in the bill. This ill-will toward the group was fueled by WWP’s success in Owyhee at pressuring agencies to clean up their act with regard to the administration of these public lands. Litigation to that effect has been remarkably effective at securing conservation value (to hinge this point to Ralph’s mention) – and establishing standards of management that are at this moment being used throughout the west to make sure public lands are managed by the best available science, and that BLM ensure enforceable conditions on lease of use of lands such that conservation of public lands is afforded – something the agency has wholesale failed to do, especially in Owyhee country.

    that these conservationists were precluded was in all likelihood a smart move for the sponsor of the bill and the livestock interests, because the concessions made contrary to conservation interest are so flagrant and would never have enjoyed support of the group. they wouldn’t have been able to claim consensus. it’s important to consider – anyone who would have kept the basis of their involvement in the working group focused on the interest of wildlife and the integrity of the habitat would have been a ‘wet-blanket’ at that table. that’s why WWP had to be excluded. that’s the way politics is played and i think everyone understands that – but we need to be open and honest about that fact – and it needs to be understood if a process is to be openly celebrated, almost as an end in itself.

    On Conservation Value

    unfortunately, the bill (arguably) traded away more ecological value than it protected – that’s because, among other things, the wilderness study areas (WSAs) that would be (will be?) dissolved – lands under such designation (mind you – a designation which affords greater conservation protections than actual wilderness designation) would be put into the general “multiple-use” management which allows greater grazing/ORV/etc pressures and diminished conservation value of public wildlife habitat critical to imperilled species. basically, the protective measures of WSA/IMP would be lost and the lands would be managed like any other BLM land (and in Owyhee country – that’s remarkably bad news for wildlife and habitat).

    the WSAs consisted largely of upland habitat – critical habitat with grasses, forbs, sage-brush, and a whole lot of wildlife value etc. – the type of habitat that is remarkably imperiled in the sagebrush biome – the most endangered landscape in the west. the prospective wilderness lands… less-so – they’re canyons and they’re spectacular – deserving of protection – no doubt, but at the cost of some of the last of one of the most endangered wildlife habitats in the west ? my judgement is: no – we can do better, and the WSAs are protected now.

    additionally, the lands that would be (will be?) designated wilderness are largely protected anyway. this is because of the rugged topography of the canyon-lands which would be afforded wilderness designation — cattle can’t graze in them, ORVs can’t ‘tear it up’ in them, etc. they’re canyons and hard to get to – certainly more prohibitive of commercial use than the upland WSAs that are being traded away toward exactly that fate.

    in addition, the lack of contiguity of wilderness designation is another problem. the imperiled wildlife that might have been protected need contiguous habitat, in fact, one of the greatest pressures to sage grouse, pygmy rabbits and other sagebrush obligates is the fragmentation of their habitat. the ‘buckshot’ wilderness that will be designated largely ignores this necessary ecological condition should the wilderness be meant to afford optimal ecological value – and because the wilderness designation is fragmented in such a way, and lands adjacent will be allowed to be grazed – wilderness lands will need to be fenced. fences in this habitat are a big problem if you’re a sage grouse, a pronghorn, etc. — there will be new and more fencing projects.

    also – many of the lands that will be designated “wilderness” grandfather grazing use. that is to say – many of the acres within this wilderness will be degraded by livestock and associated management infrastructure even under wilderness designation – again, this just illustrates the fact that in so many cases – Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs – of which will be traded away) often times afford greater restriction/protection than “wilderness” itself – and that fact highlights the importance that these technical issues be considered. this is another reason why folk that are aware of these ‘technicalities’ – as a matter of necessity from the standpoint of the extractive interests – must be precluded from involvement in the “collaborative” process if such a process is to politically work – because actual consideration of these ‘technicalities’ so important to the well-being of our public lands and wildlife would force the Livestock interests into the position of rejecting the product of the process – they’d be the ‘wet-blankets’ as an honest accounting of benefit would demand actual win-win solutions in which ranchers gave something as well – like more robust voluntary buy-outs than exist currently.

    A Lesson in History

    originally – the Owyhee Initiative included a provision establishing a Board. This Board would inform management of livestock grazing on the BLM public lands in Owyhee country. The Board would consist of livestock association representatives, county government reps (i.e. basically more Livestock folk), as well as a token representative(s) from conservation orgs involved in the working group. Meaningful conservation involvement of conservation groups would be stymied by the fact that they’ve placed themselves under the political thumb of Livestock to begin with – how ably do you suppose a group would be to assert the interests of wildlife against the will of Livestock having placed themselves under the political thumb of those very interests ? Now, it is questionable as to whether such a managing Board could inform management in a way that would trump public involvement anyway – but everyone knows that BLM, operating under such pressure from Livestock in any event, would in all likelihood waver to the will of the Board – the ability of that Board to contribute to BLM’s spite of environmental protections on those public lands would need to be tested via litigation. it’s that much more difficult to compel agency to act with regard to wildlife with this new pressuring group. That such a board would exist would be bad news for wildlife conservation on BLM public lands on huge landscapes in Owyhee and serve a dangerous model. In all likelihood – litigation could have voided the damage the Board might have done, but the absurdity of such a concession is that willing conservationists would sign-on to such a move, speculatively resting their certainty that the damage would be nill on the hope that the very group they willingly excluded from the process would successfully litigate such an arrangement. that’s irresponsible.

    And consider this: the provision establishing the Board would set in motion an operational organization that has been sought by Livestock interests and decried by conservationists since Bernard DeVoto articulated and denounced Livestock’s aim toward just such a manipulative politically malfeasant construct over a generation ago. that this would serve as a “model” is frightening.

    The Silver Lining – perhaps

    what’s ironic about the Owyhee bill is that the Democratic congress couldn’t stomach the concessions anyway – it got markedly cleaned up despite the “mild-mannered” conservationists not lifting a pinky to make it so once congress flipped in ’06. now, the bill isn’t as bad – that’s as much as i’ll say about it. this really illustrates the danger of such processes – the conservation proponents of the bill don’t want to alienate the Livestock interests for fear of losing the political sponsorship which might afford passage – even if that means, and it does, rejecting future opportunities at pushing for better conservation measures/progress given the better political environment – even if it means greenwashing some of the most anti-conservation politicians in the country (i guess that’s what they call “political expediency”). this really begs the question – where’s that appropriate line at which integrity is traded for access ? perhaps that’s an unfair question – i don’t think so.

    folk critical of this process are marginalized as “purists”. i guess i just thought that if there was ever a place for such sentiment, it’d be concerning “wilderness”. i think it’s quite the irony that lands held for consideration as wilderness (WSAs) are often better off than those that gain designation. even so, i think it’s a lot easy to articulate a “collaborative” “wilderness” than it is to describe or explain the intricate technicalities including as examples those i’ve attempted to touch on above, let alone compel someone to support such a position. i wish there was a way to take people out to the landscape and show them the difference – it’s a lot easier to understand what’s being ‘compromised’ when you’re standing in a WSA then move to a shit-bog that serves as illustration of it’s soon-to-be fate.

    ultimately, i haven’t looked at the omnibous public lands act to see whether it’s worth it in the aggregate. i hope it is. – maybe even we’ll get lucky and someone will rip out the OI before it gets passed – IMO

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Thanks for the taking the time to write this long comment explaining the problems with this much-hyped piece of legislation — the “Owyhee Initiative.”

    I didn’t know it had been improved a bit around the margins, but it hope it doesn’t pass. Unfortunately, the omnibus public lands bill is like all omnibus bills — a mixture of good and bad, and it’s often hard to even say what the balance is.

  5. TimothyB Avatar

    Brian: Thanks for taking the time to write a long explanation about your thoughts on the Owyhee Initiative. Obviously you are extremely educated in this subject matter. Sorry to say this but your post was hard to read at this early morning time and I felt like I was reading the small print on a legal contract.

    Maybe you could give me a quick down and dirty on the 3 things you like the most about the OI and 3 things you don’t like about it.


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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