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Key Committee Holds Hearing on Wyden Bill to Boost Economic Development in Malheur County

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources today held a hearing on U.S. Senator Ron Wyden’s legislation to provide Malheur County with much-needed economic development opportunities by developing scenic loop roads and by maintaining and improving rangeland to support local ranchers and protecting the Owyhee River Canyonlands and surrounding public lands for ranching, recreation, and wildlife habitat. The legislation is also co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley.

This hearing is a key step to getting a committee vote to send this legislation to the full Senate for consideration.

“Mr. Chairman, I thank you for giving us a chance to discuss a groundbreaking piece of legislation, which will put us in a position to protect some of America’s most special places, their environmental treasures and agriculture way of life, and provide new economic opportunities for a region hungry for them,” Wyden said during the hearing. “The Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee Act has multiple benefits across Malheur County and Eastern Oregon. This legislation was developed in years of negotiations that I personally led that was all about building trust and understanding with our local ranchers, our small businesses, tribes, environmental groups, hunters, and all of those who make their living in the backcountry.” 

“The Owyhee Canyonlands and surrounding public lands support local ranchers and boost Oregon’s outdoor recreational activities and economies,” Merkley said. “This is a perfect example of how Oregon’s natural treasures benefit our communities in so many ways, and why it’s so important to conserve these public lands for future generations. This hearing is an important step forward to turning this legislation—driven by ranchers, conservationists, and local leaders—into law, to protect this incredible land, and preserve the beauty and vitality of Malheur County for generations to come.”

During the hearing, Bureau of Land Management Deputy Director for Policy & Programs Nada Wolff Culver voiced support for the legislation, saying: “The BLM supports S. 4860 as it aligns with the administration’s conservation goals through its wilderness designations as well as its approach to improving the ecological health of working lands and restoring tribal homelands to tribal ownership.” 

Wyden and Merkley reintroduced the Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee (CEO) Act in September after additional consultation led by Wyden with local ranchers, environmental groups, tribes, local and state universities, accompanied by technical assistance from numerous federal and state agencies. The legislation, which was first introduced in 2019, aims to conserve, restore, protect and manage the federal land in Malheur County through the collaboration of all these stakeholders.

The Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee Act:

  1. Supports science-based adaptive management of federal lands to make efficient ranching a continued conservation tool and ensure real-time management responses to threats on the ecological integrity of the lands.
  2. Designates over a million acres of wilderness and 14.7 miles of the Owyhee River as Wild and Scenic to establish protections for the entire river, as well as protecting sage grouse, elk, deer and big horn sheep habitat.
  3. Establishes loop roads to encourage tourism and spur local development of tourist-related amenities, improves state parks and firefighting efforts in the County, among other efforts important economic efforts.
  4. Strives to protect and recognize the ancient important cultural base of the native peoples who have occupied this land for millennia by preventing harm to any sacred tribal location or resource.

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