November 07, 2019

Wyden, Merkley Introduce Legislation to Boost Economic Development in Malheur County

Legislation protects over a million acres of wilderness to boost recreation economy, supports local ranchers

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a senior member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., today introduced legislation to provide Malheur County several economic development opportunities by maintaining and improving rangeland to support local ranchers and protecting the Owyhee River Canyonlands and surrounding lands for recreation and wildlife habitat.

The Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee Act is introduced after several months of consultation led by Wyden with local ranchers, environmental groups, local and state universities, accompanied by technical assistance from numerous federal and state agencies. The legislation aims to conserve, restore, protect and manage the federal land in Malheur County through the collaboration of all these stakeholders.

“Whether you are a rancher carrying on your family business in Eastern Oregon, an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys hikes in the Canyonlands, or an environmentalist seeking to protect wildlife habitat, you have a stake in the future of this unique and important landscape in Malheur County,” Wyden said. “Conservation is good for everyone, and protecting the Owyhee will only strengthen this important and resilient rural economy.”

“The Owyhee River Canyonlands are a perfect example of how Oregon’s natural treasures not only delight adventurers, but also support local ranchers and our recreation economies,” Merkley said. “This legislation is the result of ranchers, conservationists and leaders coming together with a shared mission to protect this incredible land, and working to preserve the beauty and vitality of Malheur County for generations to come.”

The Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee Act:

  • Supports science-based adaptive management of federal lands to make efficient ranching a continued conservation tool and ensure real-time management responses to threats on the ecological integrity of the lands.
  • Designates over a million acres of wilderness and 14.7 miles of the Owyhee River as Wild and Scenic to establish protections for the entire river, as well as protecting sage grouse, elk, deer and big horn sheep habitat.
  • Establishes loop roads to encourage tourism and spur local development of tourist-related amenities, improves state parks and firefighting efforts in the County, among other efforts important economic efforts.
  • Strives to protect and recognize the ancient important cultural base of the native peoples who have occupied this land for millennia by preventing harm to any sacred tribal location or resource.

The legislation builds on the legacy of the late Mary Gautreaux who spent 25 years working for Wyden passionately serving rural and urban Oregonians alike and fighting for the protection of Oregon’s wild and special places.

“Last winter OBSC asked Senator Wyden to lead a process that would result in legislation that focused on land health in Malheur County,” Owyhee Basin Stewardship Council Chair Steve Russell said. “We hoped for resolution of land designations and a unique BLM management model that protects grazing and other traditional land uses while providing for local guidance. We also hoped to create economic opportunities for Malheur County. OBSC spent many hours negotiating the details of this bill. The final result accomplishes what we set out to do and we sincerely appreciate the dedication of everyone involved. We especially appreciate the time and dedication Senator Wyden and his staff have given to develop this legislation which is a win-win.”

“Thanks to Senator Wyden's leadership, we now have a breakthrough proposal to protect Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands while supporting local communities over the long term,” Oregon Natural Desert Association Executive Director Ryan Houston said. “It's remarkable to see how Senator Wyden's collaborative process enabled us to make so much progress in such a short period of time. The introduction of this legislation to preserve a wild Owyhee is a tremendously exciting milestone and we look forward to the next steps.”

“After decades of conflict, Senator Wyden's leadership has brought together ranchers, conservationists and the Burns Paiute Tribe to craft a conservation vision for the Owyhee River canyon country and the millions of acres of public land in southeastern Oregon,” David Moryc, of American Rivers, said. “We look forward to working with the senator to improve protections in the bill for the rivers and springs that are the lifeblood of this incredible landscape.”

A section-by-section of the legislation can be found here.

The full text of the legislation can be found here.