By Aaron West

The Bulletin

Crook County commissioners at a special meeting on Tuesday voted 2-1 to reject a local group’s natural resource plan that sought to give the county more control over public lands.

Before a packed house of more than 50 people, County Judge Mike McCabe and Commissioner Ken Fahlgren voted for rejection after presentations from federal and state agency officials. The officials pointed out how parts of the Crook County Natural Resources PAC’s plan contradicts existing agreements and could create an adversarial relationship with the agencies.

“You can’t have one adopted policy that’s completely different from another,” Fahlgren said, referring to sections of the resource plan that contradict existing county rules.

Commissioner Seth Crawford cast the lone dissenting vote.

“The way I see it, this is a diverse group of people in our community that are voicing their opinion about how we should use our natural resources,” Crawford said. “We need to look at it like that and respect what those people have done.”

In the court’s motion to reject, it was recommended to the Crook County Natural Resources Political Action Committee — the group that has been working to create the plan since February — that it continue to work on the document and submit it to the county planning commission for further vetting. The PAC had originally submitted the plan in May, but commissioners in July decided not to sign off on it to give the group the opportunity to fix the same contradictions that derailed the plan’s approval Tuesday. A second vote to approve the plan July 21 was also delayed.

The PAC’s plan lays out certain priorities of its members regarding natural resource management in the county, such as with endangered species and logging. For instance, in the plan’s “Forest Management” section, the document goes over proposed rules surrounding logging of trees felled by forest fire, disease, pests or other natural events.

Fahlgren, echoing the concerns of officials from the U. S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, said that the PAC’s plan contradicts existing policy and would open up the county to liability risks.

“We have to be here for all the people, not just a few,” he said, noting that specifically the plan’s sections on road use and air quality created problems. “I know this is a push from the public to make changes, but we’re restricted as a government, and we don’t want to break laws.”

Crawford said that he was less concerned about litigation or conflicts, pointing out that the county could adopt the plan as a policy statement that didn’t supersede any laws at all. If a conflict arises, he said, the county would err on the side of existing laws.

“We need to look at it like that and respect what the (PAC) has done,” he said, noting that Baker County has adopted a very similar plan, and that county hasn’t been sued.

Fahlgren disagreed with Crawford’s position, describing Baker County, which adopted its plan in February, as a “lone wolf” in Oregon.

Jodi Fleck, chairwoman of the Crook County Natural Resources PAC, said the vote was no surprise to the group, based on its previous votes this summer. She said the plan is simply designed to set a baseline for the county to use when it faces proposals and challenges from special interest groups that aim to change the way federal land within the county is managed.

“It’s a statement of what the county’s citizens want,” she said. “We want a sustainable healthy forest — there’s nothing against the law about that.”

The PAC was formed earlier this year in response to an Oregon Wild proposal that aimed to designate 300,000 acres of the Ochoco National Forest as a national recreation area — a move that some in Crook County opposed.

The discussion and votes surrounding the resource plan have been a hot topic around Crook County, especially with the upcoming November election. Crawford and Fahlgren are both running for county judge, the county’s top administrative position. McCabe is retiring.

Fahlgren, who’s a co-chairman of an Ochoco National Forest collaboration board that seeks to find common ground regarding land use, is running on a platform that the county should mostly stay the course it’s currently on in regard to forest management.

“We don’t own the forest,” he said, noting that he wants to push for some changes, like more fuel reduction efforts.

Crawford, who has the support of some Crook County Natural Resources PAC members, is coming from the other end of the spectrum.

“I see the people in Crook County are fed up with more rules and regulations, and this plan seems like an opportunity to lessen those.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7829,

awest@bendbulletin.com

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