By Kelsey Milner, President, Bitterrooters for Planning
As you may be aware, our county commissioners are in a public process of editing a draft policy for natural resource use on all land within the county, including that managed by federal and state agencies. This draft policy can be examined at: http://rc.mt.gov/planning/default.mcpx. This could be a good idea; given the stresses of an uncertain future (pick your favorites: an ailing economy, rising population, energy costs, dysfunctional government, climate change, resource scarcity, etc), it would be wise for us to carefully consider how natural resources might best benefit the county – both in the short and long terms. A good policy would help guide acceptable development, protect our resources, and provide a consistent, community approved basis for constructive interactions with federal and state land management entities. However, in the present case, the policy under review by the commissioners is fatally flawed and should be rejected.
First, based on a unique and controversial interpretation of federal law, our commissioners are claiming (with paid guidance from American Stewards of Liberty (ASL): firstname.lastname@example.org), a special, government to government, status (which excludes ordinary individual citizens) with the USFS which, they say, allows the county to insist the USFS coordinate their management activities so as to be consistent with relevant county policies. They claim this special relationship is in addition to and occurs prior to the normal USFS coordinating process of scoping and acquiring public (including county government) input. The commissioners unanimously adopted this special definition of “coordination” as a county policy in April 2011 and have consistently expressed their intent to use it to secure greater county control over management of federal land. In order to implement “coordination” on natural resource use on federal land, a county natural resource use policy is required. The draft policy under consideration was prepared by unknown persons in a decidedly non-public process and appears quite similar to a “coordination” policy document prepared for Flathead County. This so called “coordination” is a frontal assault on one of our national treasures – public land managed for the good of all U.S. citizens. All citizens should be outraged that our County government would presume to represent us on public land issues! Similar efforts are under way in counties throughout the West.
Equally worrisome are the resource goals contained in the draft document. They clearly reflect the opinions of those who believe that local control of federal land, resource extraction, reduced regulation, unrestricted capitalism, and reliance on free markets will bring the increased prosperity we all desire. Many of us believe this is a recipe for disaster, as it is, in our opinion, the same philosophy that has allowed us to foul so much of our planet and contributed to the economic and social woes we currently suffer. We believe non-consumptive uses of our resources (through recreation, tourism, hunting and fishing, retirement, etc), combined with locally sustainable production and consumption of agricultural and woody biomass products (electricity, bio-diesel, bio-char, lumber, value added wood products) should be the cornerstone of our resource based economy. More fundamentally, we must more fully appreciate that humans are part and parcel of nature and that we must control ourselves if we wish to survive. We can no longer assume infinite resources or an ever expanding economy. We must achieve sustainability. Those who argue for opening up the public land to resource exploitation are living in a previous century and viewing the past through rose colored glasses!
Most unsettling has been the disregard for the public. From the very beginning, the process seems to have followed the suggestions in the ASL Coordination handbook to keep things under the radar. Public input has been largely restricted to line-by-line editing of the draft resource use/coordination policy. As a consequence, substantive, constructive input from citizens with differing views is virtually impossible. Suggestions to step back and open the process up to the general public and to consider alternative resource use policies have gone nowhere. This is a serious breach of the public trust. Because natural resources are of such profound importance to our valley, it is imperative that there be broad community discussion of resource issues as part of formulating a county policy. To help foster this discussion, a number of us have drafted an alternative policy that we think offers a more realistic and rational view of our relationship to our natural resources and how we can best achieve sustainable benefits from them. This policy can be downloaded at: https://sites.google.com/site/bitterrootvalleyresourcepolicy. Please compare this policy to the one under review by the commissioners; the differences are significant and will lead to very different futures. If, like me, you are alarmed at the tone and content of that draft policy, now is the time to take action. Talk to your friends and neighbors and alert them to the dangers of the version the commissioners are reviewing. Attend one of the review sessions scheduled every other Monday (see schedule at: http://rc.mt.gov/commissioners/schedule.mcpx ), hear for yourself what your commissioners and the folks pushing this policy have in mind for our valley, and then register your displeasure with the process and its goals. Call your county commissioners and urge them to exercise some statesmanship; schedule review of alternative policies and permit all the people of Ravalli County to participate.