The referendum follows calls by an environmental group to
designate the area as a conservation zone, a move local ranchers and
many others in the area perceive as a potential land grab by the
Of more than 6,300 ballots cast in the non-binding Malheur County
referendum, 90 percent voted "no" on whether a national monument,
wilderness or other conservation designations should be extended in
the Owyhee Canyonlands area.
More than half the county's registered voters cast ballots in the
March 8 election. Final results are to be presented to President
Barack Obama, along with Oregon's governor, state lawmakers and
congressional delegation, the county said.
"We just wanted to show what the local people wanted," county
Commissioner Larry Wilson told Reuters on Thursday.
Environmental activists point to the sprawling Owyhee region - known
for its red-rock canyons, rolling plains and untamed rivers - as one
of largest stretches of still-unprotected wild land in the Lower 48
states. The Oregon Natural Desert Association has called for
designating 2.5 million acres as a National Conservation Area, with
2 million acres set aside as wilderness.
Opponents of such proposals see the region as the latest flashpoint
in a long-simmering conflict over federal regulation of public lands
in the West.
The vote tally, first reported on Wednesday, came as participants in
the six-week armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife
Refuge, roughly 30 miles west of the canyonlands, were indicted on
additional criminal charges stemming from their protest.
The Malheur takeover was sparked by the return to prison of two
Oregon ranchers convicted of setting fires that spread to federal
property and broader anger over U.S. control over cattle grazing and
other industries in the region.
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At least one supporter of the militants, B.J. Soper, a founding
member of the Pacific Patriots Network, called the Owyhee
controversy "a very hot button" in an open letter last month to
There is no move afoot on Capitol Hill to designate the Owyhee as a
wilderness, a level of protection requiring an act of Congress,
though more than 1 million acres already is managed as de facto
wilderness under prior law.
A U.S. Interior Department spokeswoman said there has been no
discussion with the White House about national monument designation,
which the president is empowered to make by executive fiat under the
1906 Antiquities Act.
Local concern over the Owyhee apparently was heightened when Obama
designated 1.8 million acres in the California desert as national
monument land last month.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Andrew Hay)
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