The clock is ticking on Sen. Mike Crapo’s Owyhee Canyonlands bill.
He’s been working with Senate Democrats to rewrite the bill to meet their concerns while preserving the balanced effort to protect wilderness and wild rivers, and help ranchers in Owyhee County. It won’t look like the compromises worked out between ranchers, Owyhee County officials and the Shoshone-Paiute tribes announced with fanfare more than three years ago.
But Crapo and the Owyhee County Initiative panel that have crafted and carried forward the package are seeking to get a bill before 2008, when a new administration takes over the White House. The initiative began, you might remember, when President Bill Clinton announced that he thought the Owyhees qualified as a national monument in 2001.
He said he didn’t have enough to make the designation. Owyhee County Commissioners initiated the negotiations between ranchers, environmentalists, motorized users, outfitters and others, to seek protection of the area on their own terms.
They found common ground by 2004 but it took until 2006 for legislation to be written, too late, Sen. Larry Craig said, to get it passed before Democrats took over Congress.
The fear locals residents have is that a Democratic president will pick up where Bill Clinton left off and designate millions of acres of federal land in Owyhee County as a national monument without the land trades, scientific reviews and other considerations for ranchers. Even a McCain administration might seek its own version of a monument, some residents worry.
The Owyhee Initiative panel members and Crapo have been lobbying Congress and making sure the preliminary work is done, such as putting forward requests for appropriations that will be needed. They appear to be able to bridge the gaps between their bill and Democrats. But as our Washington Correspondent Erika Bolstad reported today, Crapo’s efforts rest on his ability to get Sen. Craig to give the support Senate Democrats demand and to help get the funding ranchers in particular need to make the bill work.
Crapo has stood behind Craig through his darkest hours. His unwavering support for Craig may have eroded his own popularity.
But Craig has not supported an Idaho wilderness bill since he was elected in 1980. If Crapo can get Craig’s support it would demonstrate he’s up to the task of senior senator.