Letters from the West

Idaho works on land exchange with BLM to get out of Owyhee wilderness

The Owyhee River Canyon in the East Fork has turbulent whitewater, open grassy slopes, sheer vertical canyon walls, bighorn sheep, rare flowers, and solitude.
The Owyhee River Canyon in the East Fork has turbulent whitewater, open grassy slopes, sheer vertical canyon walls, bighorn sheep, rare flowers, and solitude.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has complained that the Bureau of Land Management has dragged its feet in exchanging state lands inside the 500,000 acres protected in the Owyhee Canyonlands and highlands as wilderness in 2009.

But the Department of Lands said at the Land Board meeting Tuesday it is working with the BLM to get the appraisals they need to trade the state lands for a block of land outside of the wilderness.

Otter asked Tom Schultz, director of the Idaho Department of Lands, if the state had the option of paying to do the land exchange appraisals itself since the BLM said it didn’t have the funding. Schultz said the land exchanges are complicated by other issues including concerns from ranchers.

But the state has started paying for the appraisals and is working with the BLM to meeting its requirements, Schultz said. The plan is to consolidate the 28,000 acres of state lands now spread across the county into a large contiguous tract of range land dominated by non-native crested wheatgrass, which ranchers like for grazing.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker

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