In early November, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley introduced the Malheur County Empowerment for the Owyhee Act, an astonishingly awful public lands and wilderness Bill
The bill is aimed at enriching ranchers and other local interests. It is the Vale Project reborn from the weed wastelands and wildlife deserts that were generated by that boondoggle project decades ago. The Vale Project was a massive 1960s-1980s federal bailout of these very same Malheur County welfare ranchers. They had rapaciously depleted the “range” and were facing major grazing cuts. Now they’ve done it again. Cheatgrass, medusahead and other weeds caused by their cattle are overrunning public lands and desertification is growing.
The Malheur Bill is being promoted on the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) website. It gives primacy to ranchers. It shovels approximately 1.5 billion dollars to prop up grazing, and to expand many kinds of largely motorized recreational pursuits. The costs of implementing the livestock and vegetation manipulation projects the Bill would set in motion are not revealed. That’s a whole other shoe to drop. It sets up a special oversight group (Malheur CEO Group) that will exert power over public lands management. The wording of the legislation establishes the rancher’s expectations that they will get permanence for their bloated herds, and pretty much anything else they want. The Bill specifically allows for large stocking increases.
The Malheur Community Empowerment for Owyhee Group (with the hubristic acronym “CEO Group”) and an Advisory Group under the CEO wing would oversee monitoring of land condition and grazing impacts and would promote cattle and vegetation manipulation projects and “research” under the Bill. The CEO Group can incestuously appoint its members to the Advisory Group. Environmentalists have no way to effectively be ensured even a single seat at this “table” in the future.
It seems that no lessons were learned by ONDA from its bitter experience with the Steens Mountain Advisory Council (SMAC), a local-dominated group legislated under the 2000 Steens Oregon Bill wilderness. The SMAC has acted in opposition to environmental interests throughout its existence. The Sierra Club chronicled:
The Steens Act mandated that a 12-member Steens Mountain Advisory Council (SMAC) be formed to advise the BLM on implementation and management of Steens. Only two members of the council are “environmental representatives” … The four local landowners on the council have killed every motion to limit motorized access to wilderness inholdings.
Compounding the problem, sixteen of the 20 SMAC meetings have been held at the BLM office in Harney County … Thus, the BLM has heard a disproportionate number of anti-wilderness voices … Asked why meetings aren’t held in more populous parts of the state, Sutherland replies: “A rancher who sits on the council likes to say, ‘Steens belongs to us. When they move Steens to Portland, we’ll hold a meeting there.’”
The Malheur Bill apparatus is the SMAC on steroids. Portions of the Bill are also similar to the original language of the Idaho Owyhee Initiative proposal. An Idaho Owyhee wilderness Bill was eventually passed as the Owyhee Public Lands Management Act in 2009. The earlier draft Idaho Owyhee language was so bad that Democratic staffers in Congress required it be greatly greatly revised before it was introduced. However, the draft Idaho Owyhee language is what Idaho rancher expectations are still based on to this day. That Bill set up an Owyhee oversight group that includes the green groups who promoted the Bill and have been captured by it. The green groups remain silent on livestock degradation across Owyhee County. For example, several years ago, the Wilderness Society and Idaho Conservation League co-signed a letter with ranchers pleading with BLM not to cut cow numbers on highly degraded allotments violating land health standards – including inside wilderness areas. They’ve abandoned concern for the WSA lands that the Bill released, and have been silent on BLM’s ecocidal destruction of ancient forests in released Juniper Mountain WSAs…(CONTINUED)