How a float through the Owyhee River’s backcountry showcased a need for long-term flexible management
Drawn to the solitude and beauty of desert rivers, I recently set out with family and friends to raft the winding waters of the Owyhee River. Over the last six years, I’ve fished for bass and hunted chukars along the breaks, traveling past miles of public land. Starting in Nevada and meandering through Idaho and Oregon to the Snake River, the Owyhee is 346 miles long, shaped more than 12 million years ago by volcanic eruptions. You see the evidence as it cuts through vertical canyon walls of basalt, rhyolite, and volcanic ash.
It has a rich history, and petroglyphs, the images that were carved or picked into rocks up to 7,000 years ago, are a frequent sight. But this wild country also holds the future of many of our sporting traditions, with opportunities to pursue mule deer, California bighorn sheep, chukars, smallmouth bass, and wild trout.
Floating Through a Sportsmen’s Paradise
Our trip started in the community of Rome, Ore., at the boat ramp located on BLM public land. As we launched our 15-foot inflatable raft, all tension faded away, and the oars set a rhythm. In harmony with the moving water, we followed the river, taking in the topography and staying on course by following the map and river markers.
Soon, we were rowing Class III and IV rapids, fishing for bass, scanning the hills for wildlife, and camping along the river. I’m a visitor here, but for some people, this is where they make a living and local hunters have filled their freezers with the Owyhee’s big game and birds for decades.
For my friend Dave, who has outfitted fishermen on this river for 20 years and is with us on this trip, this is a place that he would like to see kept the way it is, or made even better. Just how to manage these lands is a delicate balancing act—one that could be up for debate.
The Owyhee River corridor was dedicated by Congress as a Wild and Scenic River in 1984 to protect 120 miles of the free-flowing river and preserve the cultural values of the landscape around it. Adjacent to protected stretches are backcountry areas that are not permanently protected that provide important migration corridors for wildlife, grazing leases for ranchers, and great upland hunting opportunities. All of this is managed by the BLM’s Vale District office, which is responsible for balancing the demands on this valuable and intact backcountry.
The Owyhee country is an arid, hot desert, vulnerable to wild fires, noxious weeds, and illegal off-road vehicle use. For sportsmen and women to continue to enjoy the Owyhee backcountry areas for hunting and fishing, it is critical that the wildlife habitat is conserved and land-management is flexible enough to allow continual management needs of the entire landscape.
The Future of the Backcountry
This is why we’re working at the local level to encourage the implementation of backcountry conservation management areas through the agency’s Resource Management Plan, which serves as the outline for the BLM to manage public lands in a healthy way for wildlife and multiple uses. Every 20 years or so, the BLM Vale District amends their Resource Management Plan dictating how the BLM lands in the district are managed. This involves a public process through which citizens can give feedback on the management of areas outside protected corridors like the Owyhee River.A float through #Oregon's Owyhee River showcases a need for long-term flexible #backcountry land mgmt: Click To Tweet
Given the aridity of the landscape, some active management is necessary to control wildfires, minimize the spread of noxious weeds, and maintain habitat quality. Backcountry conservation management areas make sense, because they are flexible enough to allow active management while protecting these special places.
The TRCP and our partners have recommended that backcountry areas are managed under the principle of multiple use—to conserve intact, undeveloped lands that contain important wildlife habitats, provide high-quality recreation opportunities, and retain other traditional uses of the land. If you enjoy visiting and using BLM lands, it’s important that you understand this is a public process and share your input as a sportsman on how these lands are a managed.
You can email the Vale District BLM Field Office at firstname.lastname@example.org and let them know that backcountry conservation management areas will maintain management flexibility, while protecting special places where you love to hunt and fish. Share how important these lands are for you and future generations of hunters and anglers.