Retain Karen Skoog Pend Oreille County Commissioner

Op Ed for the Natural Resources Plan by Karen Skoog

woods_roadWhen people think of planning, they typically think of the Comprehensive Plan used to determine zoning uses, transportation, capital facilities, recreation, and housing. Many rural counties, especially those with a large percentage of public lands, have also officially adopted a Natural Resource policy that apply to the surrounding pubic land – both state and federal. The management of which impacts the county’s ability to function and serve local citizens.

County jurisdiction over federally managed public lands is limited, and local Natural Resource plans cannot mandate federal land managers to take specific actions. For example, a county cannot dictate in its plan that a certain amount of logging or grazing be done on a specific area. These decisions are with the authority of the federal agency. However, under NEPA law, the Forest Service must consider the objectives of local Natural Resource plans and how they should deal with the general requirements a county has of the surrounding public lands in order to meet the responsibilities counties have for the socioeconomic well being, safety, and culture of its citizens.

There are many state and federal agencies that are specifically tasked with protecting the environment. Additionally, there are congressional acts and state statutes that have outlined specific goals and have regulatory controls. The human environment is not ignored by these agencies and acts. They are also required to consider how actions will affect humans. Coordinating with local government using a local natural resource plan is how the agency will get the specific information it needs to take the human environment into consideration. Washington State requires by statute that counties protect the environment as well as natural resource industry, recreation, and open space. Coordination is also required. “Encourage the involvement of citizens in the planning process and ensure coordination between communities and jurisdictions to reconcile conflicts”. Overarching is the county duty to protect health safety and welfare.

Several states with large amounts of public lands have passed bills that grant state funds to counties for assistance with this coordination and natural resource policy effort. States realize that low population counties do not have the tax base to adequately fund the work needed to interact properly with the Federal agency in their counties. Wyoming bill 9-4-218 states in part; “Funds also may be expended for preparing and participating in environmental impact statements and environmental assessments, including analysis of economic or social and natural or physical environmental effects on the human environment. Funds also may be expended for coordinating and participating in rangeland health assessments.”

Natural Resource Plans typically include information about an area’s history, economic base, local customs and culture, and historic uses on public lands, as well as local government’s duties and responsibilities. A positive statement relating to the support by the community of a clean and healthy environment is important as well. A local Natural Resource Plan is an official county document laying out, in general terms, what management strategies are needed in order to fulfill its statutory responsibilities. We will continue to work with the US Forest Service and other agencies to “create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans” (NEPA sec 4331).