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Important to focus on the end result and not have adversarial relationship with federal agencies

A perfect storm involving a controversial national recreation area proposal and a contentious national and local election resulted in efforts last fall to pass a natural resource plan in Crook County — hinging upon the term coordination.

Its proponents pushed for adoption of a county land use plan under the belief coordination would finally give Crook County the legal leverage to fight against plans on federally owned public lands. Others argued that the county is already working well with federal agencies and though progress has been slow, local officials have gotten some of what they want.

The two sides frequently clashed leading up to November, and once it became clear to proponents of the natural resource plan that the county court would not pass it, they opted to wait until a new administration took over and try again to pass the plan.

The new county court has been in office for more than a month now, and no timeframe is set for reintroduction of the land use plan. But meanwhile, citizens opted to host a public forum on coordination in hopes of educating citizens and local leaders on the process and perhaps generating more support for the idea.

Two experts spoke last week to a crowd of roughly 200 people and as they described how to set the table for coordination and execute the process successfully, we think two things became quite clear. One, natural resource plan creators should take their existing document and consider an overhaul before once again presenting to the county. Second, citizens and local leaders need to leave behind the notion that coordination and collaboration cannot coexist.

During her discussion on coordination, attorney Karen Budd-Falen emphasized the need for a land-use plan to include comprehensive data on the local economy as well as its custom and culture. She stressed that the plan should show how the county relies on its natural resources and why decisions that adversely affect them would inflict harm on the county. Sean Curtis, a Modoc County, Calif., official who has successfully carried out coordination efforts, added that the plan should establish broad-based policies, enabling a county to focus on finer details as they work with federal land agencies.

Armed with this new knowledge, we believe natural resource plans could only benefit from revising the existing plan and following the blueprint provided by two coordination experts. Perhaps it delays adoption of the plan, but later and better trumps quickly and flawed.

When it comes to coordination versus collaboration, both the experts dismissed the notion that coordination is the end-all be-all solution for working successfully with government agencies. Budd-Falen acknowledged that the term "coordination" carries some weight since it is required by federal statute, but she and Curtis both agreed that any effort, collaboration or otherwise, that yields any measure of success should work in concert in coordination, not be abandoned in favor of it.

The takeaway from the coordination meeting is that the process can indeed be successful, but it has a much better chance of success if county officials work with citizens on the plan. Also, locals should not see the federal land agencies as adversaries. Curtis said that coordination is about developing a working relationship with the Forest Service, BLM and others.

Hopefully in the near future, the county will adopt a plan that local officials and citizens are comfortable with and start exercising more local control over how public lands in Crook County are managed.

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