January 25, 2009

Zimo: Ode to the Owyhees. Boise's backyard wilderness deserves protection.
Idaho Statesman, editorial

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445

Green, brown and orange pastel cliffs soar skyward in the narrow creek gorge, forming a hallway into a world of solitude.

What deep silence you can find exploring the Owyhee Canyonlands.

That scene and many others are etched in my memory from trips that have included places like Deep Creek, the South Fork of the Owyhee River, the East Fork of the Owyhee, Three Forks and the Owyhee National Uplands Byway.

It's hard to forget the quiet, the stillness and the peace among 600-foot-deep rhyolite-walled river campsites and vast open plateaus where you can see 100 miles across the desert.

That's why the passage of the Owyhee wilderness bill, which will designate 517,000 acres of wilderness and 315 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers in the Owyhee Canyonlands, is so long-awaited.

PASSAGE MAY BE SOON

It is, with hope, within days or weeks of being passed by the U.S. House and signed by the president.

What a resource to protect for coming generations. Waterways protected by the bill will include the Owyhee, Bruneau, Jarbidge rivers, Big and Little Jacks creeks and parts of other Owyhee tributaries. To have such an area under protection at Boise's back door is incredible.

Why should you care about the Owyhees? After all, some people estimate that less than 10 percent of the population in the Treasure Valley has ever been in the Owyhees.

"The opportunities for solitude are amazing," says John Robison, public lands director for the Idaho Conservation League.

"In the dry, remote Owyhee Canyonlands, rivers mean life," says Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United. "Wild and Scenic designations will protect flows, fish and wildlife habitat and other outstanding values in the river corridors for generations to come."

The area supports 180 species of birds and animals. Rhyolite, which is from 8 million to 12 million years old, dominates the canyon landscape.

The Idaho Conservation League is planning some "Get to Know the Owyhees" field trips this spring. Plans are not finalized, but look for information on the ICL Web site, www.wildidaho.org.

If you join the group or go exploring on your own, you'll discover the importance of protecting one of the last vestiges of the West.

LOTS OF WILDLIFE

The Owyhee Canyonlands are antelope dancing across desert rimrock performing a sagebrush ballet. They are whispering junipers and the calls of rock wrens. They are the scarlet-colored Indian paintbrush and the delicate white desert lily.

You can experience the canyonlands in a deep, musty slot canyon, where you can almost touch each side of the canyon's walls, or by sitting on a vast open ridge line with mountain mahogany at sunrise.

Getting to know the deep solitude of the Owyhee Wilderness will be a joy for generations to come.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445

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