Grazing a Ruckus
After years of rancorous fighting, a group of Idaho environmentalists and ranchers are close to agreement on a plan that would give federal wilderness protection to more than 400,000 acres in the Owyhee canyon lands of southern Idaho. The deal would also let ranchers trade grazing leases for parcels of public land and assure ranchers the right to have outside reviews conducted before the feds could reduce the number of cattle grazed on public land. The group forging the deal, dubbed the Owyhee Initiative, expects to hand its plan off to Idaho’s congressional delegation within weeks and is optimistic about its chances of passage in Congress. Supporters say the initiative could become a model for resolving similar conflicts around the U.S. “Most of the cattlemen feel really good about it,” said Owyhee County Commissioner Chris Salove. John McCarthy of the Idaho Conservation League is also pleased: “We’re close to protecting the most wilderness-worthy stuff.” But other enviros are critical, arguing that negotiations were conducted in secret and that the plan leaves some important areas unprotected and dilutes wilderness standards with numerous special provisions.