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County adopts big game habitat maps

Maps will add an additional 3.4 percent of Crook County land for habitat protection
Last week, the Crook County Court adopted new wildlife habitat protection maps that include an additional 3.4 percent of County land.
   The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) initially proposed the maps, which specifically address mule deer, elk, and antelope habitat, about two years ago. The changes are associated with Goal 5 of the State of Oregon’s land use planning goals.
   The Crook County Planning Commission held about 15 subcommittee meetings to review and discuss the new maps before they approved them and passed them off to the County Court for approval. During that process, they made a point of scaling back the regulations for property owners whose land will now be included in the habitat protection area.
   “When the (wildlife habitat protection) program was originally adopted (in 1979), the burden on landowners was pretty significant,” said Crook County Assistant Planning Director Phil Stenbeck.
   He explained that property owners could only develop one dwelling per 320 acres of land. The County scaled that back to 160 acres, which mirrors the development requirement for Exclusive Farm Use (EFU) land use.
   “So we are creating more (development) opportunity, but at the same time, we are creating more habitat for the animals – protection in different areas – so it’s a trade-off,” Stenbeck said.
   Crook County Commissioner Ken Fahlgren agrees that the new maps with reduced development restrictions will benefit the County.
   “The more I learned about it, the better it felt,” he said.
   Steve Niemela, ODFW’s acting district wildlife biologist in Prineville, is not as pleased with the final outcome, particularly the regulation restrictions that the County views as a positive.
   “There are some things that are a little troubling for us,” he said. “The main problem is that really the code now reflects in many ways what is currently protected under the agricultural zoning. Some of the protections that were once there for wildlife have been a little bit watered down.”
   Niemela did however note that the County adopted the maps as proposed by ODFW and praised other aspects of their approved plan.
   “They adopted antelope winter range for the first time,” he said. “They adopted protections in the forestry zone. They are generally having higher protections in the portion of the county where there is better quality habitat, and where there has been more development, they have lowered the protections a little bit.”
   The County Court approved the maps last Wednesday. After noticing the decision to the State of Oregon, the ODFW and other people or groups have 21 days to appeal the decision to the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA).
   At this time, Niemela said the ODFW is still reviewing the adopted maps and deciding how they want to proceed.