The federal government is a major player in Crook County, no matter how you slice it. The U.S. Forest Service is the county’s single largest landowner, with the Bureau of Land Management not far behind. Between them, they own more than half the land in the county. Tension between county residents and those who manage public lands there is to be expected.
That tension has been in the news in recent months as Oregon Wild has pushed for establishment of an Ochoco National Recreation Area in the Ochoco National Forest, a move that would restrict use of off-highway vehicles in an area where the Forest Service has been planning to create space for their use.
To say that some local residents disagree with Oregon Wild’s goal is to put it mildly. They’ve shown up at every opportunity given to express their opposition, and they’ve enlisted the help of Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, in their cause.
That ongoing disagreement helped fuel support for the Crook County Natural Resources Political Action Committee, which, in turn, created a natural resources plan that proponents said would give locals more say over federal land in the county. The group had asked the county to adopt it, and Tuesday the county rejected the plan in a 2-1 vote. Federal land managers, County Judge Mike McCabe and Commissioner Ken Fahlgren all worried the proposal would create more problems than already exist.
They may be right, but without the plan, the burden falls on both public lands agencies to assure county residents are heard on matters of local interest and that their opinions are taken seriously.
That doesn’t mean a change of policy by either the Forest Service or BLM. But it does mean going the extra mile to give Crook County residents a chance to participate meaningfully in local land use decisions.