By Michelle McSwain

Crook County commissioners recently received, and are considering adopting, a natural resources plan developed by a Crook County Natural Resources Political Action Committee. The proposed plan covers all federal lands within the county and seeks to impose county policy on all public land within the county, including the Ochoco National Forest and Prineville District Bureau of Land Management. On its face, that might sound like a good idea. However, let’s take a closer look and ask ourselves why the County Court would be considering such a one-sided proposal.

Crook County already has valid, legal and functional methods to provide input into how our public lands are managed. One method is for Crook County to seek cooperating agency status from the federal land management agencies in the development of land use plans, environmental impact statements, and in some cases, environmental analyses. Another method is through local working groups such as the Ochoco Forest Restoration Collaborative, of which Crook County is a member. This collaborative is composed of diverse stakeholders who work to reach consensus agreements on management recommendations to federal land managers.

The collaborative works on thinning, replanting, prescribed fire and timber harvest to increase forest resiliency, decrease fire risk, and support the community with jobs and economic vitality. Why the County Court would consider adopting a plan that undermines the existing, and all-inclusive collaborative, by excluding diverse representation of community interests, is puzzling.

Numerous directives in the political action committee’s plan could not be implemented as they are not consistent with federal laws. If the plan is adopted by the County Court, it is likely to be mired in lengthy and expensive legal battles. Last month, the County Court hired Karen Budd-Falen, an out-of-state property rights attorney, to review and advise the court on the political action committee’s plan. A little research on Budd-Falen reveals she is far from neutral on federal land management and fully supports, through litigation and other actions, an agenda that is divisive rather than inclusive. It appears the County Court is not looking for an unbiased legal review, but a review that endorses a political action group’s agenda.

The political action committee’s plan prioritizes extractive management practices over other uses and seeks to increase roads and motorized use. However and importantly, Central Oregon’s recreational use, including nonmotorized, is a driving force in our economic growth.

Public lands that support all uses equally have a place in Crook County and are a vital contributor to the economy of our county. Having a sustainable, diversified economy that is supported by all uses of public lands helps ensure our rural communities will thrive now and into the future.

We, Citizens in Support of Public Land, advocate for responsible, inclusive, sustainable, management of our public lands. We support efforts like the Ochoco Collaborative that bring us together as a community to have a supportive and inclusive voice in managing our forests and all public lands. Crook County and its citizens can ill afford a plan that discourages collaboration, encourages acrimony, and leads to costly litigation where the outcome is far less than certain. Our fear is if the plan is adopted it will lead to long-term delay in what everyone wants — responsible public lands management. We oppose the political action committee’s plan and encourage the Crook County Court to reject it.

— Michelle McSwain submitted the letter on behalf of the group Citizens in Support of Public Land.