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