RBC I The White River and Douglas Creek conservation districts held five meetings last week to introduce area communities to their Land and Natural Resource Use Plan and Policy project.
Development of the plan and policy is a joint effort with the Rio Blanco County Commissioners for the benefit of the county, its residents, visitors and workers. The effort is being paid for on nearly a 50/50 basis between the districts and the county.
Callie Hendrickson, executive director of the two districts, spoke to 40 citizens gathered at the Meeker Library and a group of 25 at the Rock Creek School on Piceance Creek May 28. May 27 she spoke to 20 on the Colorado Northwestern Community College Rangely campus and to 12 at Sleepy Cat near Buford.
The programs included presentations from consultants who will gather and organize data and put the communities’ policy desires into the plan. The contractors are a team of Cheyenne attorneys, Karen Budd-Falen, and her law firm, plus Y2 Consultants LLC, a Jackson, Wyo., natural resources and engineering firm owned by Brenda Younkin.
Budd-Falen explained that while federal laws require agencies to consider local “custom and culture” in their land and natural resource decision-making, it’s virtually impossible locally to truly influence federal decisions unless a county has organized its basic economic, resource, demographic and historic information and desires to become a plan and policy.
With a complete plan and policy in hand, county citizens are “in position to get the federal agencies to follow federal law by considering the county’s plan and policies which helps build better partnerships between all the parties,” Budd-Falen said. The law, through these relationships, can give the districts and the county “cooperating agency” status, allowing them to participate from the very beginning of any decision-making process.
Younkin described the expected timeline of the project.
Data-gathering for the county will continue into the fall, and that will include documenting the myriad of federal activities currently under consideration or expected. She stated that the team and the districts plan to be very transparent, and if anyone’s concerns or factors aren’t represented, it won’t be the consultants’ fault, but the citizens’ fault for not participating or paying attention.
Younkin said to expect public scoping meetings on the data gathering and draft policy statements perhaps as early as September.
The team is expecting to have the final proposed plan and policies in place for presentation to the county commissioners by February or March 2016
In the meantime, she said the public should expect monthly progress reports, updates, meeting minutes, maps and documents with available comment opportunities online and hardcopy comment procedures and forms.
The districts, through the office in Meeker and District Manager Priscilla Sheridan, will serve as the communication and outreach hub. Phone her at 878-5628, Ext. 4, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The project website, just now being fleshed-out, is RioBlancoLUP.com. For project contact, the email address of RioBlancoLUP@gmail.com has been established.
The fifth presentation interaction conducted by the visiting consultant team last week was with the local steering committee that has just been formed.
Hendrickson reported steering committee members and their represented interests include: Bill Hume, Rangely business and economics; Doug Overton, Meeker business and economics; Sheryl Robertson, west end custom and culture; Connie Theos, east end custom and culture; Chris Uphoff, Piceance custom and culture; Jeff Kirtland, oil and gas; Tim Mantle, Piceance livestock; Kelly Sheridan, stockgrowers; Tiffany Jehorek, NRCS; Rocky Pappas, outfitting recreation; Troy Osborn, OHV recreation; Bailey Franklin, wildlife; Gary Moyer, timber; and Alden VandenBrink, water.
Budd-Falen emphasized her fifth-generation ranch background from the Budd and Sons Ranch outside Big Piney, Wyo., in Sublette County, having BLM and Forest Service permits. She has earned a solid reputation through the years representing local natural resource and ranching interests involving conflict with the federal government. After law school at the University of Wyoming, she worked in Washington, D.C., for the Reagan Administration in the Interior Department for the assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management, overseeing the Bureau of Land Management, Minerals Management Service and the Office of Surface Mining. She later worked as an attorney for the Mountain States Legal Foundation. One of her current cases involves ranchers near Cedar City, Utah, who claim BLM hasn’t kept the number of wild horses, which they say have badly overused range resources, under control. In April in that case, U.S. Federal District Judge Dee Benson ruled that the lawsuit should move forward.
Younkin stressed her ranch background, having grown up on a Nebraska livestock operation and going to the University of Nebraska. She admitted having experienced some shock when she moved west and discovered trees. Her resource and engineering firm, which has been in business since 2010, employs some 15 people. She holds two rangeland management degrees, including a master’s of rangeland resources from Utah State University, and has specialized in assisting public land grazing permittees with renewals, vegetation analysis, monitoring, National Environmental Policy Act documentation and preparation.
Kent Walter, the field manager in the BLM White River Field Office spoke up at the Meeker meeting, urging county residents to actively participate in the conservation districts’ plan and policies project. He pointed out that the process won’t be lengthy and it won’t be so encumbered by the rules and bureaucracy that federal processes involve.
He expressed his personal enthusiasm for the effort.