Improbable Coalition Proposes New Idaho Wilderness Area

An unlikely coalition of ranchers, off-road vehicle enthusiasts, politicians, and environmental groups has, after years of discussion and negotiation, united to propose the first new federal wilderness area in Idaho in more than 20 years. The official wilderness designation would give 511,000 acres of land in and around the Owyhee-Bruneau Canyonlands protection from almost all development. Access would be ensured for off-road vehicles that stay on designated routes; just 40,000 acres would be off-limits to ranching. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), who helped shepherd the negotiations, said the agreement “should set a standard for collaborative decision-making”; he is “very optimistic” that it will pass through Congress. In 2000, the Clinton administration proposed setting aside a much larger 2.4 million acres of southwest Idaho as a national monument, which would have placed it under much tighter restrictions, but, said Idaho Rivers United Director Bill Sedivy, “That was a different time, a different place.”