The Owyhees are a vital part of America's heritage and the history of southern Idaho. Unique arrays of fossils are found here, from saber-toothed salmon to Pleistocene wolverines and scimitar-toothed cats. The unique geology of the region includes deep gorges carved by the Owyhee, Bruneau and Jarbidge rivers, creating one of the largest concentrations of exposed rhyolite canyons in the world.

In this high, lonely desert, homesteaders scratched out a living or went bust while Native Americans clashed with the westward push of settlement along the Oregon Trail. Their stories are tied to this landscape. With nearly 3,000 cultural and historic sites, Owyhee County contains the richest concentration of archeological sites in Idaho.
Recent history has been equally dramatic centering on heated battles between different interest groups over management of the area. More than three-quarters of the almost 5 million acres in Owyhee County are public land, administered by the Bureau of Land Management. When changes are proposed for use and enjoyment of public lands, they get a lot of attention.

The first major proposal came from the U.S Air Force, to expand its training operations from Mountain Home Air Base to include live bombs dropped on public land. The initial proposal triggered 10 years of public outcry, ending in 1998 with a scaled-back electronic combat range over large areas of Owyhee County.

Controversy next centered on the effort to convince President Bill Clinton to declare a 2.7-million-acre Owyhee National Monument. In his last days in office, President Clinton highlighted the worthiness of an Owyhee National Monument but did not include it in his final monument designations.

Many efforts to protect the Owyhees over the last decade have been fueled by the impacts of livestock grazing on this arid and fragile landscape. These battles have drawn ever-greater attention, and various forms of public process, including the courts, have increased pressure and oversight, and in some cases, reductions in livestock grazing. These battles have kept many parties at serious odds.

Now, for the first time in what has been years of fights and debates, all the parties involved are sincerely working together to build real solutions. Dozens of one-on-one and larger group meetings have taken place to sort through wilderness issues, livestock grazing and recreational use.

The Owyhee Initiative group researched and distributed language from past wilderness legislation addressing fish and game management, military training, and other activities. Numerous aerial overflights of the Owyhees have been organized for county commissioners, ranchers, recreation advocates, and congressional staff. Members of the Owyhee Initiative have also attended numerous field trips to examine grazing practices, prescribed burns, and candidate wilderness areas.