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.)