One thing all parties could agree on at a May 23 hearing about the Owyhee Canyonlands is that it is spectacularly beautiful.
But who’s to thank for that?
“Today we’ve heard the words ‘iconic’ and ‘awesome’ to describe the Owyhee Canyonlands,” said Oregon Farm Bureau President Barry Bushue before the House Rural Communities Committee at the state capitol. “I say to you that this is exactly because of the people I’m here representing today, the ranchers, the farmers, the local communities, and the businesses that have worked 150 years to make this land what it is.”
Bushue testified against a potential designation by President Obama to make the Owyhee Canyonlands a national monument. This designation would affect a 2.5 million-acre area in the Owyhee Canyonlands along the Oregon-Idaho-Nevada border, an area larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. It would cover about 40% of Malheur County’s total land base.
Bushue beseeched the lawmakers to listen to the people who actually live and work near the canyonlands, the families whose lives would be directly impacted by a monument designation. At a ballot in March, an incredible 90% of voters in Malheur County opposed a national monument. A designation by the president without a vote by Congress would completely disregard these rural voices.
“This is about the people on the ground, the people you represent,” Bushue told lawmakers. “Give these people the credit they so richly deserve.”
An executive action for a monument also does not require that its economic impact be determined. A monument would decimate Malheur County’s historic cattle industry, an essential economic driver and job creator for the region. It would limit grazing, open ranchers up to litigation, and likely put out of business families who have worked the land for generations.
“To reduce economic opportunity on an area in a state that is so desperately in need of jobs and dollars is blatantly irresponsible,” wrote Bushue in submitted testimony. “In addition, this comes at a time when much-needed timber payments from the federal government have been uncertain in recent years. Rural Oregon can hardly afford to have any more losses.”
At the hearing, a monument supporter noted that sellers of outdoor gear would benefit from increased sales if a designation were made. But at what cost to the deeply rooted agricultural community?
“Are we going to support [outdoor recreation] businesses at the expense of fifth-generation ranchers like Elias Eiguren? I’m incredulous that there are those who would prioritize the value of these businesses over the people who have made the region what it is today,” Bushue told the committee.
Not only is cattle ranching an integral part of the economy and local culture, it keeps the land productive and balanced. The Owyhee Canyonlands are ecologically sound today thanks to over a century of responsible use. Without the benefits of grazing and local management, the region would be subject to invasive species, noxious weeds, and risk of wildfire.
“Oregon is more than 60% publicly owned, either by the state or federal government. Much of the federal land in Oregon isn’t maintained, causing great harm to existing farmland and crops,” said Bushue.
“As farmers and ranchers, we care deeply about the land. Not only do we live on the land, we enjoy and depend on the land. We raise our families here and have cared for it responsibly for generations. Our voices are united and opposed to an unnecessary monument declaration that will harm our families, our community and our way of life,” said Bushue.
Oregon Farm Bureau is a proud member of the Owyhee Basin Stewardship Coalition. Sign and share the petition here http://ourlandourvoice.com/ and learn more about how the monument would harm this rural community.
* Note to Editors: “Farm Bureau” is a registered trademark; please capitalize in all cases.
The state’s largest general farm organization, Oregon Farm Bureau (OFB) is a grassroots, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing the interests of the state’s farmers and ranchers in the public and policymaking arenas. First established in Oregon in 1919, Farm Bureau is organized in all 36 counties and has 7,000 member families that are professionally engaged in agriculture.
Oregon Farm Bureau President Barry Bushue is a third-generation farmer raising a variety of vegetables and berries at a nearly century-old farm near Boring, Oregon. He is OFB’s 15th president.