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NACo Public Lands Steering Committee, Subcommittees & WIR Report - 2012 Legislative Conference


Posted Date: 
April 10, 2012
Contact: 
Greg Chilcott, Ravalli County Commissioner

Tyler Hamman, staff to the House Natural Resources Committee reminded us all that Secure Rural Schools authorization ends September 30 of this year.  He told us that there are (different) bills in the House and the Senate.  The House (Representatives Bishop and Hastings) proposal seems intent on generating resource recovery revenues for the Treasury and counties.  The House bill would also authorize full funding of PILT for 5 years.  It provides a formula that averages harvest levels from 1980-1999, multiplies that average by 60% and sends 65% of that to counties. One concern raised was the loss of infrastructure to produce products.  The Senate (Senators Murkowski and Bingaman) is proposing another 5 year extension.

Dustin Van Lieu, Executive Director of the Public Lands Council discussed their concerns with the preferred alternative for the final Forest Planning Rule released by the USDA on January 26th.  The preferred alternative generally focuses on and elevates ecosystem services, sustainability and preservation over multiple-use, which is a clear deviation from the statute that governs management of the National Forests. The Planning Rule includes very familiar language (Secretarial Order 3310 and America’s Great Outdoors Initiative) to manage to “protect and maintain wilderness characteristics”.  He indicated that the Omnibus Appropriation Act provides a rider that protects grazing for 2 years.  However the President’s proposed budget includes a $1.00 per AUM administrative fee (approximately 75% increase) on USFS and BLM lands.  Finally HR1996, Equal Access to Justice Act, amendments are slowly moving through Congress and he anticipates a vote in the House this spring.

Brent Keith, Acting Executive Director, Council on Western States Foresters shared the Council’s concern that the Planning Rule does NOT include government to government relationship language.  While speaking about the Endangered Species Act he indicated he anticipates a 20% increase in listed species by 2016.

Chief Tom Tidwell, USDA Forest Service stated the focus for the USFS is increased work and more restoration on the forest.  This would be accomplished by treating more acres, increasing saw timber harvest as well as biomass.  The five (5) focus points are: performing NEPA analysis at “landscape levels” (10,000+ acres); providing long-term stewardship contracts, making infrastructure investment more attractive to the private sector; outreach to new partners (ie- water boards) to improve higher levels of efficiency; implementing the new Planning Rule as it is will cost less and be less time consuming; and finally, simplify the budget process by reducing the number of budget lines and adding flexibility in expenditure. Chief Tidwell reminded us that collaboration is the key, has been the key and continues to be the key to implementation of plans.  He told us that Congress has provided an “objection process” as an alternative to the appeals process.  He clarified that objections will occur prior to the Record of Decision (R.O.D.) and appeals happen after the R.O.D.. He recognized the importance of SRS to both counties and schools and the President’s budget proposes a 5 year reauthorization.  He pointed out that inventoried roadless area are a much lower priority than restoring forest lands with roads and active forest management is necessary to maintain habitat.

Bill Imbergamo, Federal Forest Resource Council, applauded Chief Tidwell’s commitment to actively manage forest lands.  He discussed the 9th Circuit Court’s decision to define forest roads as industrial infrastructure, which makes them point source polluters under the Clean Water Act.  This decision has a huge potentially negative impact if not overturned by the Supreme Court or amended legislatively.

Tom Harbour, USFS, discussed the Cohesive Strategy as it applies under the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act (FLAME Act).  This is a multi-year effort to meld landscape, community and fire response creating fire adapted communities.  He discussed the resources available nationwide to suppress wildfire, this includes nearly 10,000 firefighters, 900 engines, 100 hotshot crew, 400 smoke-jumpers and 11 air tankers.  He anticipates increasing the air tanker fleet to 18-28 over the next few years.

Randy Phillips, USFS Liaison to NACo, is working on developing MOU’s with two (2) local governments in California defining how the USFS will manage federal lands and how the local governments will participate.

Cynthia Moses-Nedd, BLM Liaison to NACo, offered counties the BLM Desk Guide to Cooperating & Coordinating with local and federal agencies.  She advised counties NOT to keep local plans and policies a secret, and to share them with agencies as early as possible.  Increasing tourism and recreational opportunities on federal lands is a new focus for her agency.  The idea is to generate and enhance revenues for communities.  Cynthia also shared a success story on the appropriate implementation of the Antiquities Act.  Through a very public process starting at the grassroots/local level, a national park was designated in Virginia.

We reviewed, debated and passed the following proposed interim resolutions:

Resolution to Support the Community Forestry Conservation Act of 2011 and the Use of Community Forestry Bonds:  This act would authorize the use of municipal debt (Community Forestry Bonds) as a tool to keep working forests working in communities.  It would allow non-profits to buy private timber lands with approved sustainable timber harvest/management plans. 

Resolution on Restrictions Against Use of Land in Proximity to Wilderness or Wilderness Study Areas:  This resolution opposes any defacto federal restrictions not explicitly enacted on the use of public or private lands in proximity to designated Wilderness or Wilderness Study Areas. 

Resolution Urging Congress to Establish Community Forest Trust Pilot Programs:  Essentially this designates specific USFS land (outside of Wilderness designations) to be managed by states on behalf of counties and schools.

Resolution on Local Law Enforcement on Public Lands:  Urges the federal government to recognize County Sheriffs as the chief law enforcement officer with their jurisdictions and encourages federal agencies to coordinate with local governments by executing cooperative agreements identifying funding and responsibilities for each entity.

Resolution on Retirement of Grazing Permits on Federal Land:  Urges Congress to oppose the Rural Economic Vitalization Act (H.R.3234), which would allow for the permanent retirement of grazing permits by allowing non-ranching third parties to buy-out grazing permits.

Resolution Supporting the Transfer of Certain Federal Lands to State Ownership:  Supports the transfer of specially identified federal land to state through an application process, coordinated by a formal gubernatorial petition process.

Resolution on Good Samaritan Environmental Laws:  Supports “Good Samaritan” legislation limiting liability for voluntary, cooperative efforts aimed at measurably improving and protecting water quality impacted by mining activity where there is no financially responsible party.

Greg Chilcott | gchilcott@rc.mt.gov | (406)375-6502