Report to citizens on County involvement in Public Lands issues
by Sublette County Commissioner Joel Bousman
March 20, 2015
As your "lead" commissioner in natural resource issues affecting our county, I have been actively involved in issues that impact the custom, culture, and economic well-being of our county. This is a summary of what we are doing in that regard.
Sublette County participates as a "cooperating agency" in all significant federal agency actions that may affect the custom, culture, or economic well-being of our county. Being a cooperating agency gives us a seat at the table throughout the planning (NEPA) process. County involvement helps to make sure the federal agencies understand the concerns of the local people as represented by your commissioners. At times, depending on the proposed action, we actually have a seat at the "ID" team table which provide input into alternative development. We also strive to be engaged in plan implementation, which is crucial to how the final Record of Decision affects the multiple users of the natural resources of our county. This includes all our multiple users, such as recreation of all forms, public lands grazing, outfitting, and energy development. Activities we are presently involved in include the Upper Green Grazing SEIS to renew livestock grazing on the Upper Green, Sherman Allottment EA, Boulder Landscapes EA, Riley Ridge to Natrona C0 2 Pipeline project, NPL energy development EIS, Sage Grouse amendments to the Pinedale RMP, Rock Springs BLM RMP EIS, and the Wyoming Range EIS. Sublette Countyís main focus on the Wyoming Range EIS is to provide the Socio-Economic analysis of the preferred alternative. This will include making sure that proposed development activities do not lead to loss of public access and have a negative impact on our citizensí ability to recreate in the Wyoming Range.
I am presently engaged in working with the Wyoming Governorís Office, Wyoming Game and Fish Dept., Wyoming Dept. of Ag, Wyoming DEQ, Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission, State Parks and Rec, State Lands Office, State Forester, Wyoming Attorney Generalís Office, Wyoming County Commissioners Association, and Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts to develop a proposal for a "PILOT PROJECT" in Wyoming that would result in more local and state government input into the federal lands management decision making process. This pilot project is intended to be a collaborative effort, working with local multiple users of our federal natural resources. A goal of this pilot project is to demonstrate that federal management decisions can be improved by including local people working together on the ground to have input. The best decisions are always made by people working together at the local level as opposed to directives from Wash DC. We hope to define a geographical area for the project in the next two or three months as well as define the scope of involvement of local and state government. I have committed to helping make this project happen.
This is NOT a State effort to take over federal lands, but IS an attempt to improve management decisions on those lands. We do not yet know where in Wyoming this project will be proposed.
I attended the National Association of County Officers (NACO) meeting in Washington DC, February 21st thru February 25th. I represent Wyoming County Commissioners on the Public Lands Steering Committee of NACO and also serve as a member of the Board of Directors of the Western Interstate Region of counties (WIR). Nine Wyoming counties were represented this year at NACO, by far the most since I have been serving as a commissioner.
At the WIR board meeting, several issues important to Sublette County were discussed. Spencer Kimball, lead staffer for the House Natural Resource Committee on Public Lands discussed the need for congress to focus on changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the potential economic consequences of a Sage Grouse Listing. Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) is fully funded for 2015, but congress needs to enact legislation to make continued funding occur. Secure Rural Schools (SRS) funding is not provided for this year and the forest payments have reverted to the old formula which provides that 20% of the amount obtained from forest product revenues returns to counties. Both of these programs are important to Sublette County. The 2016 meeting of WIR will be held in Jackson, WY.
A speaker from the Federal Highway Administration talked about the need to reauthorize federal surface transportation legislation and address the pending insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund, as well as discussion about the need to continue Tiger Grants (for road improvements) to counties and towns.
The Public Lands Steering Committee discussed and passed six interim resolutions, including reauthorization of SRS, supporting revised wildfire disaster funding, sharing post-fire litigation settlements funds with counties, and a resolution to allow the reclassification of diseased and insect infested forest products, all important to Sublette County and Wyoming. The keynote speaker was Tom Tidwell, Chief, Forest Service. The Chief indicated strong support for continued livestock grazing, including recognition that public lands ranchers provide valuable public benefits on private land such as open space, wildlife habitat, wildlife migration corridors. He also indicated strong support for active forest management as a means to decrease the cost of fire suppression, and provide a healthy forest ecosystem for the benefit of all wildlife as well as livestock.
As chairman of the NACO ESA subcommittee, I moderated a panel discussion on the Endangered Species Act. The panel included representation from the Senate Committee on Public Works and the House Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The purpose of this panel discussion was to get feedback from this new congress on the possibility of passing any common sense legislation to address problems with the ESA, as well as get feedback from commissioners defining challenges around the county with ESA. One take away from this discussion was there are now many concerns expressed by counties in the Eastern US with the regulations and policies used to implement the ESA. There is a lot of work to do to be successful in making the ESA achieve what congress intended in the first place. The ESA is being used as a means to achieve top down regulation, as opposed to helping state and local governments address the needs of the species.
During the NACO conference, I and other Wyoming Commissioners met with federal agencies as follows:
BLM Director Neil Kornze: The main focus was to brief the Director about the collaborative management pilot project I discussed earlier. Also discussion about the Lander RMP and need to incorporate adaptive management during RMP implementation. We discussed the Wyoming initiative to develop socio economic baselines for Wyoming counties and our intention to discuss Planning 2.0 with BLM DC Planning Staff.
USDA Deputy Undersecretary Butch Blazer: We briefed the Undersecretary about the collaborative management pilot project. Also asked USDA to clarify guidance and ensure communication in regards to the different interpretation in Region 2 and Region 4 of "viability" language in the planning rules. This is a concerning issue in regards to Sage Grouse management by the Forest Service on the Bridger Teton. We expressed concern about the proposed groundwater rules being developed by the Forest Service and expresses support for State authority over all water within the states. We asked USDA to reinforce the use of "Good Neighbor Authority" which is now available under the new Farm Bill to all states. Good Neighbor Authority is a process which allows the State Forester to enter into agreement with the Forest Service to actively manage forested areas on federal land.
Forest Service Associate Chief Mary Wagner and Deputy Chief Leslie Welden: We explained the collaborative management pilot project. Also expressed concern about interpretation of "viability" language as applied to Sage Grouse. We expressed concern about the lack of guidance on sensitive species, specifically in regard to the Boreal Toad on the Upper Green and the concern that the Forest Service appears to be moving ahead without research done in the Upper Green. Decisions on habitat needs are being based on research done in Florida rather than in the Upper Green. The climatic conditions in Florida compared to the Upper Green, indicate that the habitat needs in terms of sunshine and shade could be almost the opposite. After 15 years of working on the NEPA process to renew grazing permits in the Upper Green, the forest service is advising permittees that they now plan to insert a 4th alternative likely implementing further restrictions on grazing in toad habitat. If the Forest Service plans to move ahead with a 4th alternative for the toad, we asked them to start over with the planning process, including scoping, as a means to provide cooperating agency input, permittee input, as well as public input, into the planning process. We supported using "adaptive management" as the agency implements the Record of Decision.
We asked the Forest Service to re-enforce the use of "Good Neighbor Authority" on Wyoming Forests.
Department of Interior Socio-Economic Head Robert Winthrop and NEPA Planning Staff: We briefed Robert Winthrop about the project in Wyoming counties to develop a socio-economic baseline as a means for counties to more effectively participate in the federal planning process. There appears to be strong support from DC for counties to develop the means to play a stronger role in the socio-economic part of planning, including project level NEPA. This economic baseline information can also be used for counties to help identify opportunities for enhancing economic diversity.
Wyoming Commissioners discussed concerns about the Planning 2.0 initiative being worked on in DC. Planning 2.0 is being promoted as a means to create a more efficient planning process, enhance opportunities for collaborative planning, and plan across landscapes and at multiple scales. Counties expressed concern that the "cooperating agency" role of local and state government would be diminished. Also concern that landscape scale planning, especially if directed from DC, would result in less input from the local level, and decrease the opportunity to use "adaptive management" during implementation of a record of decision. BLM plans to issue the Proposed Rule in the summer of 2015, and the Final Rule by summer of 2016, with the Final Planning Handbook issued in the fall of 2016. Wyoming Commissioners were assured that counties will have the opportunity to be involved. We will need to follow up.
Thank you for the opportunity as a commissioner to represent Sublette County in these critical natural resource issues. Please feel free to visit the NACO website at www.NACO.org and also feel free to call me with any questions.