BLM asks state, tribe and local officials to nominate lands for protection

By Randy Parks
Burns Times-Herald

If they won’t let you in the front, make a break for the back door.

At the Harney County Court meeting on Wednesday, July 20, Judge Steve Grasty presented a news release from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) asking state and local elected officials, tribes and other federal land managers for recommendations on areas that “deserve wilderness protection and that have broad support for congressional designation.”

The court’s response was pretty much a “no” as to suggesting any lands for wilderness designation.

The issue came to light in December 2010 when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar directed the BLM to consider, as part of its existing land-use planning process, whether to designate appropriate areas with wilderness characteristics under its jurisdiction as “wild lands” and to manage them to protect their wilderness values.

That directive came to a halt after a Congressional action restricted funding for the policy, and Salazar then declared that the BLM would not designate any lands as “wild lands.

Now, in what seems to be an effort to skirt around the lack of funding, Salazar is asking others to suggest areas for his wilderness agenda.

The court agreed they would continue to monitor the situation.

Bill Wilber was in attendance on behalf of the Oregon Cattleman’s Association  (OCA) to talk with the court about House Bill 3560, which establishes a county program to deal with wolf deterrence and compensation to landowners who suffer loss or injury to livestock due to wolf depredation.

OCA lobbyist Jim Welsch was present by phone to answer questions and explain the county’s contribution to the program. Welsch said that a participating county sets up their own program and budget, and contributes 10 percent of the proposed budget to the Wolf Management Compensation and Proactive Trust Fund.

After some discussion, Grasty asked what action should the court be taking, and Welsch answered, “Just be sure the governor signs this bill as soon as possible.”

Commissioner Dan Nichols noted that the bill would compensate owners for the dead or injured livestock, but didn’t address any extended or indirect costs. “If a cow is killed, what about the calf she leaves, the calf inside her, a replacement heifer and two years of lost productivity?” Nichols asked.

“Those are things that need to be addressed. People need to be educated about the total cost.”

Welsch stated that although the extended costs are not included in the bill, they are under discussion.

Weed Control Coordinator Jesse Barnes asked the court to consider adding a part-time coordinator for the Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA).

Barnes said there wouldn’t be any cost to the county as funding for the position would come from CWMA grants.

The court wanted to be sure that if funding for the position went away, they wouldn’t then be asked to pick it up. Barnes assured them they wouldn’t be putting any more money into the program then they are already contributing.

The court approved moving forward with the hiring of a part-time CWMA coordinator as long as the agreement included stipulations on hours and funding.

In other business:

• County Treasurer Nellie Franklin reviewed a letter she had sent to Harney County School District No. 3 informing them that because of an accounting error, the county had overpaid the district more than $190,000.

Franklin said she had attended a school board meeting on July 12 to discuss the error with the board and the money would be paid back to the county.

Franklin added that there is a program in place that will catch any similar errors in the future;

• Judge Grasty reported the court had received three proposals to provide information technology services to the county, and the low bid was from Acctech Solutions (ATS) of Redmond in the amount of $27,000.

Grasty stated that ATS was who the court had been using for IT services and they were familiar with the system the county uses.

After some discussion, the court voted to accept the bid from ATS;

• the court discussed the need for a county surveyor and agreed to send out a request for qualifications;

• Planning director Brandon McMullen reviewed with the court a report he had received from the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) regarding the Silvies Watershed and flooding.

Grasty said he’d like to set up a meeting with the city of Burns to discuss what went wrong during the two flood events this past spring, and what preventive measures can be taken in the future.

McMullen said FEMA is now appropriating funds, so the county will just wait and see what the outcome is;

• Karen Moon of the Harney County Watershed Council reported Christine Bates had retired from the BLM, so she would be giving up that agency’s seat on the council. However, Bates would like to remain on the council and Moon asked the court to appoint her to fill the “landowner — general” vacancy.

The court voted to approve the appointment.

The next county court meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3, at the courthouse.

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