County approves Natural Resources Plan document
After taking public comment during two separate meetings, the Crook County Court approved the Crook County Natural Resources Plan.
Introduced to the Crook County Court in May 2016, the 63-page plan dictated how public lands should be managed locally and covered a variety of topics, including wildfire suppression, grazing, logging, wild horse policy and more.
Members of a political action committee that developed the document and Natural Resources Plan proponents have asserted that the plan is critical to invoke coordination, a process in which federal agencies are mandated to work with local government officials on public lands decisions.
Kicking off a second public hearing on Wednesday morning as part of a regularly scheduled Crook County Court meeting, Judge Seth Crawford read a statement on behalf of the governing body.
"It is important to the citizens of Crook County and members of the Court to provide for the health, safety and welfare of our citizens through the appropriate management of federal natural resources within Crook County," Crawford stated. "Public lands are a very important part of the day-to-day life of our citizens."
He went on to say that it is therefore important to manage federal lands well and maintain access for all who want to enjoy them, and that the county believes adoption of a natural resources policy will put the community in a better position to advocate for the customs and cultures that built Crook County.
"While this does not give us the ability to change federal law, it does give us the opportunity for a seat at the table to discuss policies and procedures," Crawford continued.
Wednesday's public hearing followed a two-hour Monday evening session, and county leaders stuck to a similar format in which people who asked to speak were drawn at random and given two minutes to make their statements.
Several of the people who spoke gave reasons they oppose the Natural Resources Plan, including Crook County resident E.J. Honton, who suggested the decision to approve the document should not be reserved to the County Court.
"It would help if it were voted on by everyone in the county rather than having the court take a stance," he said, stressing that Congress, who makes federal land use laws, is more likely to adhere to a policy enacted by the voting public. "It will have more impact."
Powell Butte resident Barbara Fontaine pointed out that the document omits any discussion about climate change, a concern she feels the county should not ignore.
"Crook County needs to become more proactive in reducing the effects … of climate change," she said.
Local resident Laquita Stec referenced a letter written by Michael Blumm and James Fraser, two professors at the Lewis & Clark School of Law. The letter states that the document will mislead residents about the limited role the county actually possesses on federal land.
"Accepting the plan as it has been presented further opens the door to perhaps many more legal challenges," Stec read.
In response to the letter, Crook County Counsel Jeff Wilson pointed out that the document is not designed to conflict in any way with any federal laws or authority. Therefore, it does not open the county up to legal challenges.
"There is nothing in your plan," he told the court, "that attempts to assert the federal government's role. The policy that you are considering does not say this will trump federal law."
Those who spoke in favor of the plan included Teresa Rodriguez and Suzanne Walters Moore, who both served on the PAC that developed the document and later revised it.
Moore referred to herself as the committee's "token environmentalist."
"That is my education, that is where I came from," she said. "I am really concerned about fish and wildlife. I worked on that section. I also worked on the environmental section of the plan."
Rodriguez, meanwhile, responded to criticism that the plan does not address all concerns shared by residents and conflicts with the views of some county citizens.
"People need to remember that this is a living, breathing document, and it can and will be revised as we learn what works and what doesn't," she remarked. "The policy is not an end-all be-all, but rather a guide."
Commissioner Jerry Brummer likewise called it a guide as he summarized his view of the document.
"I'm not saying we need to go back in and cut timber like we did years ago. We overcut the timber in this area – there is no doubt," he said. "But I think what we have done the last 15-30 years has been worse. There has got to be some common ground if we are going to have healthy forests."
Following the public hearing, the County Court voted unanimously to approve the document, with plans to implement it within the next 120 days and create a natural resource committee.