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Crook County Court to take comment two times next week before deciding on document

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - The origins of the Natural Resources Plan can be traced back to a proposal for a National Recreation Area on the Ochoco National Forest that residents showed up in force to oppose.

Before deciding the fate of the Crook County Natural Resources Plan, the Crook County Court has planned two meetings to hear from the public.

One meeting will take place on Monday evening and another public hearing is scheduled two days later during the County Court's regular business meeting Wednesday morning. Both sessions will take place at the county meeting room.

"We will be taking comments from the public at those two meetings, and we will decide whether to adopt it in its entirety or change some of it," said County Commissioner Jerry Brummer.

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.

The Natural Resources Plan became a source of controversy throughout the summer and early fall of 2016 as the Political Action Committee tried unsuccessfully to convince county leaders to adopt it. The document was ultimately rejected, pending the scrutiny of the Crook County Planning Commission, an effort that commissioners estimated would take more than a year. Former County Judge Mike McCabe and former County Commissioner Ken Fahlgren voted against adopting the plan while then-Commissioner Seth Crawford voted in favor of the plan.

The PAC consequently opted to pull back and revamp the document and present it again once a new group of county leaders took over after the 2016 general election. McCabe was set to retire at the end of year, and Fahlgren and Crawford were competing for the position he would vacate.

Crawford prevailed and took over as judge in January. Meanwhile, Jerry Brummer won the commissioner seat that Fahlgren vacated, and Brian Barney was later appointed to fill the commissioner position left open by Crawford.

Feeling confident the new leadership is more likely to support the Natural Resources Plan, the PAC recently resubmitted the improved version of the document to the Crook County Court in late June.

County leaders decided to hire Wyoming-area attorney Karen Budd-Falen to review the document and make recommendations before they decide whether or not to adopt the plan. Budd-Falen served during the Reagan Administration with the U.S. Department of the Interior and now assists counties with their coordination efforts. She was invited to speak in Prineville last spring as part of an information forum held on coordination.

PAC members and Natural Resources Plan proponents have characterized coordination as a process in which federal agencies are required to work with local government officials on public lands decisions. They stress that a Natural Resources Plan is vital to the coordination effort.

While Budd-Falen's knowledge of coordination was a factor in the county seeking her services, it wasn't the only consideration.

"She was here and talked to the County Court and planning commission (in 2001 or 2002)," said Brummer, who served on the County Planning Commission at the time. "We actually had a natural resource group back in that time. She was here for a couple of days and talking to us about county empowerment. It is kind of the same thing (as coordination) — just making sure your county is staying as involved as it can with the federal government and looking out for your county."

Brummer went on to address why the County Court chose an attorney from out of state, which has been a source of concern for some residents.

"This plan has to do with federal rules and regulations and not with state," he said. "I know a lot of people (asked) why we didn't get someone from the state of Oregon. The federal rules and regulations are the same all over."

As it turns out, Budd-Falen didn't find anything significant in need of changing. Brummer said she suggested a few corrections, but they mostly involved small changes to the language used in the document.

During the past year, residents have expressed a wide range of views on the Natural Resources Plan and coordination. Some have suggested that it will finally give the county local control over Forest Service and BLM lands within its boundaries. At the other end of the spectrum, opponents of the plan, such as the recently formed and locally based All Citizens Land organization, have characterized it as a "radical one-sided proposal" that outlines exclusive uses that would result in a waste of taxpayer dollars defending the legality of the plan.

"The plan itself is narrowly written to promote the interests of a small minority who would gain monetarily from increased extraction of timber and range resources," said Barbara Fontaine, spokesperson for All Citizens Land. "The plan does not recognize how complex land and resource management is. Wildlife habitat, healthy riparian habitat and water quality to name just a few are given short shrift."

Fontaine went on to say that the plan fails to integrate multi-disciplinary viewpoints.

"Were people with knowledge of wildlife biology and habitat needs, a fisheries biologist, or soil specialist involved or consulted during development of the plan?" she asked. "Was there an actual forester on board? I don't think so."

Having heard multiple views on the Natural Resources Plan, Brummer feels the document and the concept of coordination have gotten misinterpreted. He doesn't believe that the plan will give the county any more power than it already has. He instead believes it puts in writing how the county would like its federal lands managed, so that when local leaders meet with Forest Service and BLM representatives regarding a proposal, they can refer to an adopted policy.

He likewise disagrees that the plan would result in the county facing legal challenges.

"It will conform to all of the state laws, rules and regulations," Brummer said. "It is just a parallel process and it will all be in harmony with everything else. It's just another tool in the toolbox."

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