October 7, 2008

Bill Seeks to Protect Idaho Rivers, Tributaries

By Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho -- A massive public lands bill scheduled for a vote in Congress next month would add more than 300 miles of rivers and streams in southwestern Idaho to the nation's Wild and Scenic river protection system.

Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo is the leading advocate among Idaho's congressional delegation for the Owyhee Public Land Management Act of 2008, which would establish a 807-square-mile wilderness area in the state's southwest corner.

Crapo's bill also calls for placing wild and scenic designation on 315 miles of waterways in the Owyhee area, including portions of the Owyhee and Bruneau rivers, Big Jacks Creek and the tributaries of those streams.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate will likely vote next month, after the election and during a lame-duck session, on a massive public lands bill that includes Crapo's canyonlands legislation.

Including the waters identified in Idaho, the bigger lands package seeks to add more than 850 miles of rivers and streams in Oregon, Wyoming, Arizona and Massachusetts to the wild and scenic system, which was created 40 years ago this month by the late Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, who sought protections for Idaho's Salmon River.

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed in 1968 and now protects 574 miles of six rivers that run through Idaho by limiting development, keeping waterways free of dams and ensuring water quality.

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River and Middle Fork of the Clearwater River, which includes the Lochsa and the Selway rivers, were among the first eight rivers nationwide to earn wild and scenic protection. It wasn't until 1980 when Congress passed the Central Idaho Wilderness Act that Church was finally able to guarantee federal protection for 125 miles of the Salmon River.

Crapo also has struggled to win support for protecting the Owyhees, working for six years to win support for the bill from a coalition of ranchers and environmentalists.

The bill proposes a sweeping land use package that would create a new wilderness area while opening other previously off-limits lands to motorized recreation, livestock grazing and other activities.

It would provide ranchers with cash and federal land in exchange for giving up private land and grazing rights on some public land. The previous wilderness bill put the amount to be given to ranchers at $15 million, but it is unclear how much money is involved in the current bill.

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