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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Land use plans raise locals’ ire

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Land use plans raise locals’ ire


By TERRI HARBER

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Virtually every seat was filled in the Baker County Courthouse meeting room on Wednesday with people concerned about two federal land use plans.

And nearly a dozen members of the audience, including miners, ranchers and recreationists, stood up to tell county commissioners why they’re upset about the BLM’s draft management plan for the Baker Resource Area, and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest’s Travel Management Plan (see related story below).

Commission Chairman Fred Warner Jr., was absent, so Commissioner Tim Kerns took his place as the presiding official.

The BLM’s Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) affects more than 428,000 miles of public land in Baker, Union, Wallowa, Malheur, Morrow and Umatilla counties in Oregon and Asotin County in Washington.

“What this county needs is more jobs, not more lock-ups,” said Allan Chase, who lives in Union County but also owns property in Baker County.

Several people commented that county officials didn’t have an opportunity to provide input on this phase of the RMP because the BLM never contacted the county. However, “federal law requires it,” said Holly Kerns, county planner. 

Among concerns she verbally outlined for the commissioners was the inclusion in this document by BLM officials of a transportation plan within it. She described it as “a sneaky way to start the process” for the upcoming BLM transportation plan. 

Baker County was due to file its appeal with the BLM today. When Commissioner Carl Stiff asked whether there had been enough time to be thorough before he and Commissioner Kerns ultimately approved sending the appeal document, residents responded that it had to be done Friday or that any objections wouldn’t be given credence by federal officials.

A variety of proposals in the RMP aren’t in accord with the county’s Natural Resources Plan, which was approved in December 2010, according to the county’s appeal. Using the height of grazing stubble as a long-term management standard for land use isn’t “sound science,” according to the appeal. 

Another objection raised is a lack of clear provisions to ensure those with permits would be allowed to travel on most BLM land using off-road transportation to manage their cattle, especially when the need comes at night or on a weekend.

Needing permission every time is not feasible,” Holly Kerns said. 

Also challenged is restricting mining access and withdrawing mineral entry from sites where surface mining regulations are “completely adequate to manage mining within those areas,” the county asserts. 

The National Mineral Policy Act of 1970 requires the BLM “to facilitate the development of minerals resource” so the plan must drop these restrictions, the county argues.

The appeal document consists of more than 60 pages and only about half of those are from county officials directly.

The other plan that brought the big audience Wednesday is the Travel Management Plan (TMP) for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. It’s likely the county will file objections about aspects off this plan as well. About five weeks remain before the deadline for filing appeals.

Christine Witham, a spokeswoman for the local four-wheel drive group called Locked and Loaded Off-Roaders, pointed out some areas of concern.

A section of North Powder River Road between Summit Lake trailhead and Cracker Saddle would be closed to off-highway vehicles that are less than 50 inches wide.

North Powder River Road is considered historic under Revised Statute 2477, the law that allows local use of old roads and rights-of-way within federal lands, because it had been traveled at least a century ago and predates federal jurisdiction. 

County officials designated the road as a local right of way in 2009 to ensure the Forest Service doesn’t close it.

Commissioner Kerns said the R.S. 2477 designation might need to be tested for local authority. The BLM declared in December (as part of a wider statement about the rule) that it didn’t have the authority to make binding determinations on the validity of R.S. 2477 claims.  

“The BLM may, however, make informal, non-binding, administrative determinations for its own land use planning and management purposes,” according to information posted on the Bureau of Land Management website, blm.gov 

Witham also said she didn’t “see any reason” for motor vehicle restrictions on Bennet Peak, near Eagle Creek.

And those not happy about the Forest Service’s TMP asked how they could comment about the plan without there being detailed maps to review. Without them, they can’t see clearly where road closures and restrictions are occurring.

Local miner Ed Hardt asked Baker County Sheriff Mitch Southwick whether law enforcement would be stepped up. Southwick replied that his department wouldn’t be enforcing BLM or Forest Service administrative rules, such as the road closures and various other restrictions, planned by the feds.

The commissioners also approved sending a letter to the Forest Service. It will point out the lack of maps highlighting changes stipulated in the Travel Management Plan. Those interested can’t see potential complications and comment knowledgeably about them before the appeal deadline. 

In other business Wednesday:

• County Forester Lane Parry talked about plans to harvest timber from county holdings. The income from this harvest would help the county pay for Parks and Recreation Department needs. The highest priority areas for harvesting are in and near Puzzle Creek, where two tracts could bring the county an estimated $46,000. Two other tracts in Puzzle as well as one in Fizz Springs are lower priority but could bring another $61,000 in profit if handled correctly, Perry reported to commissioners.

• Approved an agreement for holding jail inmates from Union County at the Baker County Jail when space is available. Union County will pay $53 per prisoner held each day until July 1, when the price rises to $54 per prisoner, per day.

• Accepted a bid for landscaping and irrigation work at Holcomb Park by Hampton Paving, which would be paid $145,231.06 — the lowest bid.  

• Reappointed Dale Denson to the Transient Lodging Tax Marketing Committee and Craig Ward to the Economic Development Council.

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