Thursday, November 13, 2008

Property Rights Group Asks Members to Fight Crapo's Owyhee Bill

A national private property rights group is urging its members to "deluge" Republican Sen. Mike Crapo's office with calls and e-mails asking him to back off of the Senate bill that would protect wilderness and public land ranchers in Owyhee County.

But Fred Grant, president of another national private property group and one of the leaders of the collaborative group that negotiated Crapo's bill, says the American Land Rights Association's claims that Crapo has sold out private property rights "is not right or truthful."

The association sent out an alert Monday urging its members to target Crapo for his efforts to gain votes for the Omnibus Public Lands Bill, a collection of 150 bills, including more than a half-dozen wilderness measures to protect more than 900,000 acres of wild land in Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Virginia and West Virginia.

The bill includes Crapo's Owyhees legislation, which has finally come to the floor after six years of talks by the coalition of ranchers and environmentalists. The legislation would protect 517,000 acres as wilderness, another 315 miles of rivers as wild and scenic, and help ranchers with a series of land transfers, buyouts and the establishment of a science center.

The lands group calls the omnibus bill a land grab and focused its opposition on the provision codifying the National Landscape Conservation System, 26 million acres of lands with special protection, including national monuments, managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

"It will add dozens of new National Heritage Areas and Wilderness Areas that will eventually be a land-use control noose around the necks of local people and rural America," the lands group said in its alert.

Grant, president of Stewards of the Range, which has fought for private property rights in and around federal lands in court, was the man who first proposed talks between ranchers and environmentalists as a way to keep ranchers on the land in Owyhee County. The Owyhees bill is the first bill that specifically protects private property rights to make it to the floor in 16 years, Grant said.

"For eight years, the ranchers and land owners in Owyhee County, many of whom have fought a lonely fight through the years, without noticeable support from the private property organizations now attacking Sen. Crapo, have worked to craft a bill that will add private land to the tax base of the county, protect their ranching rights and gain the largest comparable release of wilderness study area acres ever seen in any bill to reach a vote," Grant said.

The lands group targeted Crapo because he is working with Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid to gather the 60 votes needed to allow the bill to go to a vote in the lame duck session scheduled next week.

"It appears you cannot trust Sen. Mike Crapo's heart to protect your private property and access and use of Federal lands," the group said in its alert.

Grant said he wasn't challenging the lands group's right to oppose the bill.

"But it is not right, or truthful, to claim that Sen. Crapo has sold out private property interests," Grant said. "He has sponsored and supported the interests of, and the bill crafted by, landowners in Owyhee County."

Passing omnibus land bills is a bad way to legislate, said Charles Cushman, executive director of the lands association. If the bill passes, then more will come and the public will pay more in costs and in unwanted regulations.

"If we allow these omnibus federal land bills to go forward, every senator will get one project and the result is we'll get lots of bad bills," Cushman said.

Cushman has worked with Grant in the past and talked to him after they exchanged e-mails. But he didn't comment on what they said.

"I support the Owyhee legislation, but that doesn't change things or let Crapo off the hook," Cushman said. "We won't ever stop hammering him if this bill passes."

The American Land Rights Association, one of the largest grass-roots property rights groups in the country, was one of few groups that stood by U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, after his conviction on charges related to his arrest in a Minneapolis Airport bathroom. The group urged its members to boycott the Minneapolis Airport in response.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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