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BAKER COUNTY CITIZENS' NATURAL RESOURCE ADVISORY COMMITTEE

- Guy Michael
- 02/03/2009

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Itís been about a month, since Baker County hosted a public meeting on coordination with federal land managers. One of the most talked about items to do was the need to form a Natural Resource Advisory Committee (NRAC) to the county. One of its first jobs should be to gather all the information it can and write a plan as a guide for managing the federally managed lands.

In the Baker County Ordinance 2001-1, it lays out a list of procedures required of agencies. The ordinance also lists the objectives for all 'Plans, Projects and Programs' that both federal and state agencies want to implement. In the Federal Laws, agencies are required to make every legal effort to make their plans, action and policies consistent with the plans, actions and policies of the local governments. That is what coordination is all about.

Baker County has a comprehensive area plan for private property within its boundaries, but the county should also have a plan for the federally managed lands too. The main crux of the matter is that the agencies plans, projects and programs affect the citizenís general welfare, sometimes drastically.

Congress required coordination when it passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and other natural resource Acts, even the Homeland Security Act requires coordination with local governments. Why? To put it simply, the environmental concerns needs more peer review from citizens in the local governments; the proposed rules and plans etc sometimes affect in a major way land resource users and the products that citizens buy, sell and use from these resources. These products come from timber, agriculture, mining and fishing industries, even recreation is being affected. There must be some balance; you cannot just shutdown an industry or over regulate it, in any area, without destroying the infrastructure of jobs and business that support it.

The county commissioners are elected by the citizens to protect the general welfare of the citizens. This is what the rights of the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution are about. However, Baker County has an ordinance which lists one of the 'objectives' as maintaining economic stability; another is protecting the rights of private property and protecting the rights of those who have made investments financially in the public lands. The ordinance requires a procedure to follow to insure that the agencies Plans, Projects and Programs are 'consistent' with the ordinance.

This element of consistency is the real power behind coordination. The agency canít just listen to a county or local government unit like a town, city, school district etc with elected officials, and ignore what it hears. The agency must make every lawful effort to achieve consistency with the planning effort of the local government.

Currently, Baker County, along with four other counties has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Forest Service. This MOU requires the counties to be a cooperating agency, which gives the Forest Service lead agency status. As lead agency, it is the Forest Service that makes all decisions on the Travel Management Plan and the resulting NEPA document; the counties have agreed to cooperate whether or not the plan is consistent with any plans of the counties. How can Baker County agree to cooperate on a plan and still require the plan to be consistent with their ordinance?

The term to coordinate means something different; its root means to co-ordain, therefore the planning process of the county is equal, not subordinate to a lead agency. If the county wants to cooperate in any area of the plan, they can; there is no requirement to sign their equal status away to a subordinate status in an agreement.

I believe that Baker County must rescind its signature participation as a cooperating agency and advise the Forest Service to coordinate its Travel Plan with the county by following the Ordinance 2001-1. If there is an area in the plan where the county could cooperate, the NRAC can advise the county, the ordinance allows for it; but to sign a document as a cooperating agency is not required of the county, nor stated in any of the natural resource statutes.

Fred Warner, Commissioner Chair, has stated in a recent public meeting that on February 18, 2009 the commissioners will appoint members to the NRAC and that advertizing for volunteers will run through February 11th. I for one am glad that Baker County is moving in the direction of coordination. To insure a good representative of a natural resource user base, I want to encourage volunteers to apply. This is an important next step.