In one of the compromises of the original Wilderness Act, livestock grazing was allowed in wilderness areas. This allowed conservationists and ranchers to work together to create more than 517,000 acres of wilderness in the Owyhee Canyonlands. But language of the Owyhee Public Lands Act also allows the BLM to permanently retire livestock grazing if ranchers donate their grazing permits for conservation purposes.
Earlier this month, a local rancher permanently retired livestock grazing in over 11,000 acres of the North Fork Wilderness. In return, the rancher was compensated by a private funder for the conservation benefits. The area is located just north of the Owyhee Uplands Scenic Byway (more commonly known as the Mud Flat Road) and provides important habitat for elk, mule deer, Columbia spotted frogs and native redband trout.
Under the specific language of the Owyhee Public Lands Management Act, this area is permanently retired and cannot be grazed in the future. The rancher will use the funds to improve operations on their private property. Riparian areas will be healthier without livestock impacts. Both the rancher and the landscape will be kept whole as a result of this agreement.
Even after the original wilderness designation, the Owyhee Initiative continues to serve as a forum to find lasting solutions that serve both local communities and regional conservation interests.