‘Coordination’ critical to local, federal government work
Casper — Fremont County Natural Resource Planning Committee Chair Jim Allen says when he was a kid the people who lived and worked on the land made decisions jointly with national forest land managers, and it worked.
“From that time until now we’ve experienced a decline in that relationship, and a decline in how we can make a living,” said Allen at the recent Wyoming Farm Bureau Foundation 2009 Symposium in Casper. “We all want security in our investment, and we count on and need grazing leases, and we want to have some security in that.”
Allen said the Fremont County commissioners had the foresight to “rediscover” a coordination process. “In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s Congress passed statutes that are really helpful to us in the National Forest Management Act. What’s unique about those statutes is they continually use the word ‘coordination,’ not collaboration or cooperation.”
“Federal land agencies have been directed by Congress to coordinate with local government, and it only works if you hold their feet to the fire,” said Allen. “My advice to you is hang tough, don’t weaken. Take a bite and hang on.”
Allen gave an example of a federal survey of the Fremont County area, which resulted in the “custom and culture” of the area being labeled as backpacking and rock climbing. “Custom means a practice by common adoption and long-unvarying habit that has come to have the force of law. We contend the facts don’t back up that Lander is primarily a backpacking/climbing area.”
“For a planning process to have any type of control there has to be a baseline,” said Fremont County Commissioner Doug Thompson. “If BLM starts to identify problems going into a major planning process, it’s critical you as an individual and the county look at where the baseline is.”
He said when Fremont County looked through its “Analysis of Management Situation (AMS),” narratives were drafted before each subject that were totally bogus. “They started saying things like Fremont County’s economic basis was non-labor income and government payments. Those of us who earn an honest living resent that,” said Thompson.
“They draft the AMS, and you need to look at that to make sure they’re fairly representing your interests,” continued Thompson. “You need to correct that before you get into this process, otherwise you’ll be trying to find solutions for the problems they invented to accomplish their agenda.”
The land use plan for Fremont County is broken into components for grazing, timber, recreation, wildlife, etc. “The overriding theme is that we outlined our goals, objectives and guidelines,” said Allen. “Federal land management agencies are required to coordinate with state, local and tribal government.”
“Small, local governments are the fundamental building blocks of our form of government, and they’re a powerful tool if we use it,” said Allen..
Thompson said counties need to figure out how to maximize influence. “Like any tool, if you keep it sharp and use it, it will be effective,” he said, adding the two ways to influence federal planning process are individually and through county government.
“When Congress passes a law, agencies have to promulgate rules to go along with it. That’s when you have to watch them like a hawk, because often they miss the intent of the statute in their interpretation,” cautioned Allen. “What you’ll find in planning rules is words like collaboration and cooperation, but they’re not coordination. They use those words on purpose because they really don’t want to work with local government like they’re supposed to.”
Thompson said early involvement is key. “It’s hard to correct something after it’s uncorrectable. With federal government we’re often left scrambling to get the best of the worst deal. To be involved early, sign up as interested public and put them on notice you want to be notified of all environmental assessments, environmental impact statements and implementation actions involving your grazing permit, grazing in general, or whatever your interests are. That gets you in the game.”
Allen said in cooperating agency status the lead agency retains exclusive decision making authority. “You can spend a lot of time and effort and go to a lot of meetings, but then they can just decide, and it may or may not be in your best interest,” he noted. “It’s not as useful as coordination, because then they have a Congressional mandate to make their plan align with yours.”
He said that is the value of having a county land use plan, and he added the plans work and they have been litigated in Utah, where a judge ruled the BLM’s decision to retain wild horses in a county was against the county’s land use plan.
“Federal agencies have the legal burden to make their plans consistent with our plans,” he explained. “Write a plan, get your commissioners to back it and notify federal agencies you have a plan, then the burden of consistency rests with them.”
“It’s a chore, but you have to stay involved through the whole process, as tedious and irritating as it is,” said Thompson. “Make formal comments, stay involved, let them know you’re watching them. Put yourself in a position to appeal or protest and document your position and your points.”
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.