Court rejects Blue Mountains National Forests RLMP/DEIS
by Samantha White
Denny Thomas and Brandon Baron attended the regular meeting of the Harney County Court (held Aug. 6) to discuss issues concerning livestock grazing and wildfire control.
Thomas asked what the court’s priorities are regarding these topics.
Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols said he’s been discussing these issues with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
“I’ve got say, the BLM in this district is very responsive to what needs to be done,” Nichols said.
However, he acknowledged that local staff have to act within the parameters of the federal agency.
Baron said, “While we may stand against some BLM policies, we will support the local office if they will stand with us.”
Nichols also mentioned that an Oregon Consensus project was started two years ago to help address these issues.
“We’ve made tremendous headway,” Nichols said regarding the project. However, he admitted that it’s a slow-moving process. “It takes time and patience and people putting everything aside to go to those meetings,” he said.
Baron asked how this progress jibes with research conducted by the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center (EOARC) regarding grazing and fuel load.
Nichols replied that efforts are being made to incorporate that science. He added that groups like the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) are also involved, and they are beginning to understand that grazing can be used as a management tool.
“They are starting to understand their fallacy in some of their ways of looking at things,” Nichols said. “It takes a lot of time. But the process is very much worth it in the end because you work together collectively in a progressive, forward, beneficial manner.”
But Baron replied, “We’ve heard that whatever may be happening isn’t enough.” He added, “We’re at the point where everyone has agreed that the process isn’t working.”
Baron said a small group has been meeting to discuss forming a local grazing board that could make decisions based on EOARC research.
Nichols said the court didn’t disagree with what Baron was doing or his intent.
“We are trying to do the same thing,” he said.
He added that the “first, cheapest” thing you can do is increase the animal unit months (AUMs) that are allowed after a wildfire, but there are standards in place that prevent that. (An article published on the University of Arizona’s website defines one AUM as “the amount of forage required by an animal unit (AU) for one month, or the tenure of one AU for a one-month period.”
Nichols said, “Some changes will literally take an act of Congress.” He added, “We need a diverse group to make this happen.”
Baron replied that these changes would not require an act of Congress, but rather an act of the citizens.
“We’re going to throw open the gates,” he said. “If we have to, we’ll have a standoff…What we’re going to do is with cows and grass on real land with real people in Harney County. I think that’s the only way that things are going to happen here.”
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty replied, “If you get there, I won’t be there,” explaining that, if it comes to violence or a standoff, the court will not support it.
Addressing Baron, Nichols said, “I hear you. And, again, I don’t disagree with anything other than an out and out confrontation.”
Nichols then reiterated the importance of collaboration.
However, Baron replied that working with some of these environmentalist groups would be like befriending “the guy that’s beaten you up and stolen your lunch money.”
Harney County Commissioner Pete Runnels said communities have been giving to special concerns since the spotted owl, and it’s time for these groups to start giving back. However, he reiterated that it will be a slow process.
Baron asked, “Do we have 10 years to fiddle around with this?”
Barbara Kull, who attended the meeting as a member of the public, agreed that action should be taken quickly.
Nichols said the court is willing to stand up, but it will do so respectfully and collaboratively.
Baron said his group would like to have a discussion with the BLM before anything is planned.
Grasty asked that the proposed grazing board form a mission statement and a list of standards. He explained that, if the board is diplomatic and collaborative, the court may be able to support it.
Grasty also asked the group to invite the court to its meetings.
“Let us know when the meetings are,” Grasty said. “We will attend if we are invited and try to put realism on the table.”
Grasty also noted that EOARC researchers should not be put in the middle of a conflict.
The court also discussed the United States Forest Service (USFS) Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision, which will impact the Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests (collectively referred to as the Blue Mountains National Forests).
During a public meeting held March 18, Steve Beverlin, acting forest supervisor on the Malheur National Forest, explained that the National Forest Management Act of 1976 requires forest plans to be revised every 10 to 15 years. However, he said plans for the Blue Mountains National Forests haven’t been revised since 1990.
Numerous meetings have been held since 2004 to discuss the proposed revision, and public scoping began in March 2010. The USFS used comments gathered during that time to develop the Blue Mountains National Forests Proposed Revised Land Management Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (RLMP/DEIS). The RLMP/DEIS offered six alternatives, ranging from A to F, for revising the plan.
However, during its Aug. 6 meeting, the court agreed to sign Resolution 2014-10, rejecting all of the alternatives presented in the RLMP/DEIS.
The resolution states that, “The Harney County Court finds all alternatives to be unfounded and requests that the Forest Service step back and reassess the conditions on the ground and develop a range of alternatives that address the on the ground conditions focusing on the need to improve and protect the forests; to secure favorable conditions of water flows; and to furnish a continuous supply of timber.”
Grasty said the resolution basically states that, although the USFS has been working on the revision for 10 years, they should throw it away and start over. He added that nothing in the RLMP/DEIS benefits Harney County and said he believes most Eastern Oregon counties will sign similar resolutions.
The court resumed its discussion concerning a map of roads within the county.
A public hearing to discuss the map was opened during the previous county court meeting (held July 16).
After a great deal of discussion, the court agreed to leave the hearing open and continue accepting public comments concerning the map’s disclaimer, as well as requests to add or remove roads.
During the Aug. 6 meeting, Grasty recognized that additional written comments were submitted by Allen and Stephanie Farnsworth, as well as Barbara Cannady.
The court agreed to leave the hearing open until Oct. 15 and make a decision Nov. 5.
Grasty also suggested that the court set aside time during the afternoon of the next county court meeting (to be held Thursday, Aug. 21) to discuss the map and review any testimony received up to that point.
In other business, the court:
• met with Kathleen Johnson, executive director of Coalition of Local Health Officials, to discuss national accreditation for the Harney County Health Department;
• was addressed by Herb Vloedman who expressed concern about economic development in Harney County;
• was addressed by Cannady who said she was notified by CenturyLink that the company is discontinuing dial-up Internet service Aug. 15. Cannady said she will have to find an alternate provider, likely satellite, which will be much more expensive.
“That’s a huge issue,” Grasty said. “I’d love to follow up on that with you, if you want;”
• discussed ongoing efforts to replace the 4-H/FFA grandstands at the Harney County Fairgrounds with Karen Moon of the 4-H livestock committee. Moon requested that the court fund the cost of building permits for the new grandstands. Nichols moved to cover the costs in the amount of $1,375, Runnels seconded the motion, and it carried unanimously;
• recognized a resolution from the board of directors of the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center, which officially donates the center’s building addition to Harney County;
• ratified Resolution 2014-09 in the matter of requesting an emergency declaration for Harney County, which was deemed necessary in light of the situation with the Buzzard Complex wildfire;
• agreed that Runnels should pursue membership on the Community in Action board;
• received notice of a signal replacement and upgrades project on Highway 20/395 in Burns. The project will replace existing signals at the intersection of Hilander and Oregon avenues (near the high school) and the intersection of Broadway Avenue and Monroe Street. Construction is expected to take place between June 1 and Oct. 31, 2015;
• agreed to sign an order of sale of county property that has been acquired by Harney County by foreclosure of delinquent tax liens, exchange, devise, or gift;
• discussed Oregon Department of Forestry fire patrol costs. The court will send a letter of inquiry concerning the increase in these costs.
Due to scheduling conflicts, the next meeting of the county court will be held Thursday, Aug. 21, at 11 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.