Wyden and Merkley introduce legislation to protect Malheur County wilderness


U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats from Oregon, introduced this legislation to protect more than a million acres of wilderness in Malheur County to protect the scenic values while also supporting the ranching economy in the same region. A hearing of the Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee Act.

Testifying before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of which he is a senior member, Wyden, noting that Malheur is the poorest in the state, said the bill is about two things: “We’re going to project the ag way of life. We’re not going to let anyone trample over the farmers and the ranchers.”

Also, “We are not going to throw the environment laws into the trash can.”

The act supports management of federal land to ranching, a conservation tool and ensuring proper management responses to threats to the lands.

It establishes roads to encourage tourism and development of tourist related amenities and works to protect the cultural base of native Americans.

“This bill represents the spirit of compromise. Nobody gets everything they want,” Wyden said, adding that ranchers say they can build their futures around it.

If these fires teach us anything, it is that people should be put to work to restore public lands including weed-infested land in Malheur County. “We can put people to work.:”

The legislation came as the result of a request by members of his Owyhee Basin Stewardship Coalition.

“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,” Coalition President Steve Russell said in a printed statement. “We also helped to create economic opportunities for Malheur County.

“The final result accomplishes what we set out to do and we sincerely appreciate the dedication of everyone involved,” Russell said.

The act is the result of several months of consultation by Wyden and several groups including the local ranchers and environmental groups.