The Omnibus Lands bill that includes the Owyhee Canyonlands bill and another 170 public land bills no longer is a bill. It is an amendment.
The Senate approved the amendment today, 77-20, with Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo acting as floor manager. The Senate sent it to the House attached to the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Battlefield Protection Act The bill came back to the Senate a week ago from the House after House Democratic leaders failed to gain a two-third majority to pass it under rules of suspension.
They closed the voting two votes short as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were gathering the final needed votes. So now the Senate has debated the bill, I mean amendment, for a week.
It was added to the 1812 legislation so it can be approved under regular rules and a simple majority vote. That’s expected to happen by March 25.
So will another Idaho wilderness bill come soon? It may depend on Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer-songwriter Carole King.
In all of the legislative machinations Reps. Mike Simpson, Walt Minnick and Sen. Mike Crapo were looking for opportunities to insert the Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill into the mix. But opening the bill up proved to be too complicated and Idaho’s other major wilderness legislation will have to wait.
The passage of Owyhee Canyonland wilderness – 517,000 acres of it – would end the drought that began when Larry Craig came to Idaho in 1980 and lasted until he left. But Craig’s exit doesn’t mean smooth sailing for future Idaho wilderness bills.
King, a devoted wilderness advocate, opposes the Boulder-White Clouds bill in part because it removes a major chunk of wilderness from her own Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act. Simpson’s Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act protect more than 300,000 acres of wilderness in the Boulder-White Clouds. King’s bill would protect more than 450,000 acres.
Overall the Northern Rockies bill would protect more than 23 million acres of the region in wilderness and other designations. But since it was first introduced nearly 20 years ago it has gone no where.
Its strategy of gaining national support and rolling over the congressmen in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming flies in the face of how Congress does business. Only rarely has such a strategy succeeded, civil rights being the most obvious example.
Alliance for the Wild Rockies executive director Michael Garrity said supporters of the Northern Rockies bill are not naive.
"We know how sausage is made," he said.
But they believe they have a chance to get the bill to the House floor for a vote this year because they have the support of House leadership and 69 co-sponsors.
As big as the Omnibus Lands bill is, it only designates a total of about 2 million acres, with a quarter of that in the Owyhee Canyonlands. If King succeeds in bottling up Simpson’s bill, which has the support of Wilderness Society and the Idaho Conservation League, it may be that future wilderness in Idaho and Montana will have to await the passage of her Northern Rockies bill, which without the support of at least Montana’s Democratic senators and Idaho Democratic Rep. Minnick, is unlikely.
Whatever happens, the fate of both of these bills are inextricably tied for now.