Residents of Malheur County, Ore., are wise to be suspicious of a plan to designate 43 percent of their county as a wilderness area.

They should continue to resist the proposal any way they can.

It’s a tradition among outgoing Democratic presidents to set aside massive swaths of the West as wilderness areas. They do it to make themselves look pretty to the environmental community.

Jimmy Carter holds the record, setting aside 27 million acres of Alaska as wilderness during his single term.

Bill Clinton set aside 9.2 million acres of wilderness as he was heading out the door.

Now it’s President Barack Obama’s turn.

You’ll note that in all of the above cases, the people who live in those areas were steamrolled.

That’s why we’re concerned about the Owyhee Canyonlands Conservation Proposal, which would designate a little more than 2 million acres as wilderness and 50 miles of rivers as wild and scenic rivers.

Under the Wilderness Act of 1964, “no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport and no structure or installation” is allowed except as a way to meet the minimum requirements of administering the area.

Even using vehicles to take out juniper trees, which ruin greater sage grouse habitat, is banned. A federal judge recently ruled that motorized vehicles couldn’t be used to help clear junipers from a wilderness study area near Steens Mountain in south-central Oregon. And note the name of the plaintiff in the lawsuit: the Oregon Natural Desert Association, which is behind the plan for Malheur County.

Though proponents such as ONDA promise that grazing allotments would be grandfathered in, ranchers there find little comfort in the assurance.

Bob Skinner, a rancher, reminded the 500 people who gathered in the Adrian High School gym recently that proponents of the plan, such as ONDA, are litigators.

“Once this gets to court, all bets are off,” he told the crowd.

The irony of the meeting was provided when Brent Fenty, executive director of ONDA, told the crowd he wants to stop mining and oil and gas drilling.

“We all care about the Owyhee and want to keep it the way it is today, we just may disagree on how we do that,” he said.


The most troubling aspect of this plan is the Obama administration hiding its intentions from members of Congress. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., represents Malheur County. He says he has asked the administration to tell the truth about the plan, but has thus far received no answer.

State Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, organized the Adrian meeting and plans to send a video of it to the White House in hopes that members of the administration will understand what’s at stake.

We often write about the “urban-rural” divide. This is the perfect example of where it’s getting wider. Proponents — nearly all from cities — want to impose wilderness status on rural residents. The urbanites don’t care what the rural residents think or that it will ultimately eviscerate the local economy.

There is precious little in the record to show that the Obama administration will listen to the people of Malheur County. The administration has a long track record of imposing regulatory shock and awe on rural parts of the West. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the United States regulations and the Department of Labor’s “hot goods” actions against farmers are just two prominent examples of how federal agencies overstep their statutory authority.

And consider this: There is also nothing in the record to indicate that proponents of designating more wilderness in Malheur County care even a tiny bit about the people who live there — or anywhere else in the rural West.

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