As a policy statement, Baker County's draft Natural Resources Plan contains much that we like.
The 47-page document emphasizes how important the million acres of public land in the county are to our economy and to our quality of life.
Those acres, which comprise slightly more than half the county's land, contain, among other vital resources:
andbull; the bulk of the water that we drink, use to grow crops and that sustains fish and wildlife;
andbull; the grass that nourishes many of the cattle that are a mainstay of our economy;
andbull; the majority of the forests, meadows and mountains that attract hikers, hunters and other visitors whose patronage benefits our local businesses
Yet, because two federal rather than local agencies - the Forest Service and BLM - control the vast majority of those million acres, it's possible that the interests of Baker County residents won't be taken into account when those agencies decide how to manage the land.
The draft plan lays out this concern succinctly: "Planning decisions by
federal agencies have the potential to impact Baker County's fiscal,
social and environmental costs to the detriment of our local economy."
The county's plan, though, is designed to avoid such problems.
And it seeks to do so by encouraging federal agencies to make
management decisions "in coordination, cooperation and collaboration"
with county officials.
Further, the plan urges federal officials to try to ensure that their
decisions are consistent with the objectives listed in the county's
One of those objectives that's especially noteworthy calls for federal
agencies to strive to manage public lands for "multiple uses." That
notion, which has supposedly guided federal land management for more
than three decades, is that public property can and should supply a
full suite of resources - old growth forests and two-by-fours, forage
for livestock and for wildlife, clean water and air, which benefit all
The key passage in the county's draft plan is this: "Multiple use shall
be inclusive rather than exclusive, thereby avoiding pitting one use
against the other."
That principle should guide all decisions about managing public land.
After all, that land belongs to all of us, but we don't all agree on
which of the land's resources are the most important. Some of us value
lumber more than the old growth forest, or would rather drive on a road
than hike through a wilderness area.
The county's point, and one we agree with, is that the government, in
managing these lands on our behalf, should seek to satisfy everyone's
wishes, at least some of the time.
To make us all happy all the time is, of course, impossible.
And to that end we hope nobody who reads the county's plan comes away overestimating the document's power.
Although the plan states that federal agencies must assure that their
decisions are "consistent with" the county's goals, we don't believe
that will happen in every case.
For instance, the county plan calls for federal agencies to cut all
trees killed by fires, insects or disease "before additional loss of
economic value occurs."
The Forest Service has not always fulfilled that goal in Baker County.
And the county, regardless of what its plan says, lacks the legal
authority to force the Forest Service to log a particular stand of dead
Nonetheless, we think it's worthwhile for the county to set forth, in
plain language, a list of the general principles local officials deem
important in managing public lands.
The draft Natural Resources Plan does so. And we hope the county will
refer to it often in its future dealings with federal agencies.