Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Owyhee Canyonlands wilderness proposal unresolved

The occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge may have been broken, but a divisive wilderness proposal remains unresolved in Southeast Oregon. The underlying issues are familiar: anger over federal land management and government “over-reach” and frustration over loss of economic opportunity in the rural West. The Bend-based environmental group Oregon Natural Desert Association, backed by the Keen Footwear company of Portland, has proposed a 2.5-million acre Owyhee Canyonlands wilderness and conservation area. Ranchers and other Malheur County residents are dead set against it. “Not only no, but hell no,” prominent rancher Bob Skinner said. The Obama administration, which could establish the canyonlands area by presidential proclamation, has given no sign what it will do. Many people speculate the administration did not want to throw gas on the fire while the wildlife refuge occupation was going on. “We don’t know where it is in the process, there’s nobody who knows that,” Skinner said. The proposed area is bigger than the Yellowstone, Yosemite or Grand Canyon national parks, critics point out, and would cover 40 percent of Malheur County. Residents believe the designation would be accompanied by restrictions and regulations that would prohibit or severely complicate grazing, mining, hunting and recreation. While proponents say traditional uses of the land will be allowed, a local group called Citizens in Opposition to the Owyhee Canyonlands Monument does not believe them. Skinner, a fifth-generation rancher who leads the opposition group, said one faction believes ranchers and other landowners should “settle” with those pushing for establishment of the canyonlands. But Skinner said agreements with “radical environmental groups” always turn out bad. While they say traditional land uses such as cattle grazing could continue, such assurances soon fall apart, Skinner said...more

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