Coordination with Counties – Lincoln National Forest Plan Revision

Since Sharon has invoked my name twice recently, and not particularly correctly, with regard to the role of local interests in national forest management, I thought I would refocus that discussion on how this is supposed to work for local governments during forest planning using a current example that came along.  It involves the participation (or lack thereof) by a county in New Mexico in the forest plan revision process for the Lincoln National Forest (where a final revised plan is expected soon).

The 2012 Planning Rule §219.4 requires “coordination with other public planning efforts.”  It requires a review of “the planning and land use policies of … local governments, where relevant to the plan area,” which must be displayed in the EIS for the revised forest plan.  It concludes, “(3) Nothing in this section should be read to indicate that the responsible official will seek to direct or control management of lands outside of the plan area, nor will the responsible official conform management to meet non-Forest Service objectives or policies.”

On March 1, the Eddy County Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution opposing the revised plan.  They stated that, “it is clear that the USFS failed to review, consider and identify planning conflicts between Eddy County and the proposed plan.”  Those alleged conflicts include:

  • would increase restrictions for cattle ranchers with reduced cattle grazing levels and increased financial burdens on cattle producers
  • “creates large areas restricted and potentially inaccessible to the County to fulfill its public health and safety duties”
  • “creates areas that will no longer allow proper wildlife management control increasing the danger to Eddy County citizen’s lives and property”

Eddy County’s resolution asked for a “coordination agreement” between the County and the Forest Service, “To establish roles and responsibilities for both parties, ensuring the citizens of Eddy County are still provided with the necessary services they depend on.”

I would agree that these are all arguably things that should be considered by the Forest Service, depending on what the specific plans or policies of the County say regarding these issues.  (Unlike some earlier attempts at county “coordination,” they do not attempt to claim they have their own plans for national forest lands.)  There is also nothing wrong with a “coordination agreement” to establish roles and responsibilities for “planning efforts,” but this is not something recognized by the Planning Rule, and is not a requirement.  Moreover, the roles and responsibilities for national forest management are established in federal law and regulations; what local residents “depend on” does not dictate national forest management (as indicated by the highlighted language above from the Rule).

In this case, it appears that the County is also trying to close the barn door too late.  According to the Forest, “In 2019 we reached out to Eddy County, inviting them to become a cooperating agency (in accordance with NEPA), which would have allowed them to be more deeply involved in the process of developing the plan, however we received no response from the county. Additionally, Eddy County did not provide any official comments on the forest plan to us.”  (Failure to comment on the plan about the omissions they claim here would disqualify them from filing an objection and probably from suing.)



9 thoughts on “Coordination with Counties – Lincoln National Forest Plan Revision”

  1. Jon – I am curious about the FS’s attempt to communicate with the county…was it only by letter? If “yes”, I would say the FS did not do enough.

    • I only know what I read here and what the regulations say is required of the Forest Service. §219.4(a)(1) “Outreach” only says the responsible official “shall engage” the public “using a collaborative process where feasible and appropriate.” I would assume the type of outreach and degree of collaboration depends on the issues and relationships, but Larry’s comment suggests collaboration might not be feasible or appropriate in this case. You would categorically expect more than a letter, Tony?

      • Yes. If the FS wanted a more effective relationship with the county government, I suggest that their outreach reflect that, namely solicit a county’s participation in person. That could be informal or formal (like attending a county commissioner meeting).

        Yes, I know…that effort is not likely to be an open-arm welcoming by the county, but at least it shows respect towards the county government, regardless if you agree with them (or not). Plus, if the county chooses to ignore the in-person invitation and sit back and not engage, they are not likely to receive much favor from a judge, especially if the FS shows effort to engage.

  2. The Trump Organization ruled the Forest Service in 2019 but now that Democrats are in power three red counties with Republican commissions want to sue? What a shocker! Otero County Commissioner and Trump disciple, Couy Griffin is alleging voter fraud and defying the Lincoln National Forest’s plan revision while a Texas group calling itself American Stewards of Liberty with ties to the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion has presented anti-Earth resolutions to a receptive Otero County Commission. ASL chair Margaret Byfield is the daughter of a couple from Nevada who grazed their cattle without permits on federal land. Getting domestic livestock off public lands can’t happen soon enough.

    • Here’s a little more on the “American Stewards of Liberty:” “The Otero County Commission entered into an agreement with non-profit organization American Stewards of Liberty to assist the County in “dealing with issues involving all aspects of endangered species and Federal land use planning,” the agreement states.”

      The agreement (linked to this article) also says, “American Stewards are experts in dealing with Federal and State agencies regarding private property rights, Federal land use planning and the Endangered Species Act, and can assist Otero County with updating the County Comprehensive Plan with regards to property rights issues, endangered species, and prospective endangered species.

      More of the Sagebrush Rebellion, and a good chance they are overstating the county authority over national forest management.

      PS – The forest plan revision is an issue in the local election:
      One of the R candidates interviewed actually says the FS is “doing the best they can.”

  3. Jon, I’m sorry if I got your previous statements about the role of local people, collaboratives, and local elected officials in decisions about federal lands wrong. I think it would be worth a post for you to lay out your concepts about this in one place.

    As to the county, sure they should have been involved in the process. This sounds like fundamentally a relational problem between these folks and the FS. Fixable or not? I don’t know.

    • I’m not very knowledgeable beyond what I’ve said here. For what it’s worth, my opinion on collaboratives would depend on how well their constitution and operations serve a broader constituency. I have said that local people need to find a “group” (often local government) to amplify and help legitimize their interests (and you might not have agreed with that). I also believe that it should be the role of the local Forest Service manager to make sure the national perspective is represented in the face of local opposition (but I doubt if that is part of their job description).

  4. Here’s another example of what counties are doing – a “Natural Resources Management Plan.”

    This sounds like past efforts that have attempt to create unauthorized local plans for national forest lands, something the Budd-Falen law firm might be expected to advocate. Unfortunately, the article’s false characterization of the regulations I quoted above is likely to mislead the public and create false expectations: “Management must ensure to the best of their abilities that their actions don’t conflict with the policies, laws and goals that local governments outline in the plan.” I hope the Forest Service corrects that.

    One interesting twist is that, “Planning and Zoning Commission members Bern Hinckley and Mikell Platte suggested it should place a stronger emphasis on the importance of outdoor recreation.”

  5. Serendipitously, along the lines of our discussions about the Nantahala-Pisgah plan revision (,
    here’s the other side of this coin – an objection from a county to not protecting some national forest lands:
    “Buncombe County’s economy is especially dependent on recreation, tourism, and scenery.”
    However, I don’t think there are as many of these kinds of county governments (I recall one recently in Colorado), and at least this one is not implying that the federal government is obligated to honor county wishes (the objection letter looks more like typical NEPA issues).


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