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Gov’s trail ride focused on sage grouse

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter leads a trail ride in Owyhee County (Jon Hanian)
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter leads a trail ride in Owyhee County (Jon Hanian)

When Idaho Gov. Butch Otter led a three-day trail ride last week in the Flint Creek area in Owyhee County, the point was to talk sage grouse, including the state's pending plan to protect the chicken-like bird and try to avoid an endangered species listing. Public comments are being taken on the draft plan through July 13; you can read it and comment here.

About 50 people went on the ride this year, ranging from state and federal resource agency officials to ranchers, farmers and land owners. "There were quite a few Owyhee County cowboys who were on this ride as well," said Otter's spokesman, Jon Hanian.

The annual ride, which Otter holds in conjunction with the Idaho Cattle Association, is something he started up when he was an Idaho congressman, after a discussion with an eastern legislator in which Otter was trying to explain an Idaho issue and ended up inviting the easterner to his home state to see for himself. "When I represented Idaho's 1st District in Congress, it became apparent that many of my congressional colleagues had a limited understanding of the western issues on which they were voting," Otter explained in a report on this year's ride. "That's why I started my annual resources trail ride."

"Each year we pick a different region of the state for the trail ride," Otter said. "In past years wolves, water, and endangered or invasive species have dominated the discussion." This year, it was the sage grouse. Owyhee County is among the areas that are affected by a potential sage grouse listing, and by the governor's draft plan to protect the grouse and avoid a listing. "It affects a mix of federal, state and private lands, and that's one of the issues that they were trying to get their arms around," Hanian said, "and explain to folks not only what the threats are to economic development, way of life, all of that, but also what the state's recommendations are towards dealing with these issues, and letting the feds and everyone else know that we can responsibly manage the situation."

Said Otter, "The federal government has warned that sage-grouse could be on the fast track towards a listing under the Endangered Species Act. I created a task force earlier this year to identify the delicate balance between ensuring the species' survival while at the same time protecting Idaho's economy and traditional uses of our public lands. My Sage Grouse Task Force delivered its recommendations last month, they now are open for public comment."

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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