Crook County residents who hope the county commission’s adoption Wednesday of an official natural resources policy will bring back the good old days should be prepared for disappointment.
The county policy may encourage the federal government to pay more attention to the local community’s wishes, and that would be a good thing. But the federal government remains in charge of federal land.
The policy, originally developed by the Crook County Natural Resources PAC, an offshoot of the Central Oregon Patriots, aims to give the county a greater say in what happens on the nearly 50 percent of county land owned by the federal government. It would do so through something called “coordination,” which, some supporters believe, will require both the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to work more closely with county residents than they do now.
Whether that’s true or not remains open to debate.
It’s the second time the commission has considered adopting the plan. It refused to do so in August 2016, but the plan was approved unanimously this week.
Most of the sparsely populated counties of Eastern Oregon share the same problems that plague Crook County. The federal government is the single largest landowner within them, controlling as much as 75 percent of land in Harney County and almost 80 percent of Malheur County. Historically their economies have relied on timber harvesting, mining and grazing, almost all of which occurred on federally owned land. The push for wilderness and protection of endangered species leaves less and less room for those industries.
All of those activities have been under pressure for years, and those whose livelihoods have depended on them have suffered.
Meanwhile, the feds have shifted to a more collaborative stance with local residents in recent years. Crook County is part of the Ochoco Forest Restoration Collaborative, whose members work to solve the forest’s problems in a way all can agree with. The collaborative is one of several on this side of the state.
Neither the collaboratives or the county’s new natural resources policy are likely to transform federal land policy.