ENTERPRISE — Eastern Oregon county commissioners will make their voice heard Dec. 12-14 when Pacific Northwest Regional Forester Jim Peña presents the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision in Washington, D.C.
The Blue Mountains Forest Plan has been under revision since 2003 and is a guiding document for the Malheur, Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman national forests. Susan Roberts, chairman of the Eastern Oregon Counties Association, said a draft of the plan released in June had significant changes in grazing requirements from a draft released in January.
“We were concerned that those changes would have an economic impact on our local communities,” Roberts said.
Fearing increased stubble height along endangered species-bearing streams in public grazing allotments would reduce grazing and harm local economies, Harney County Commissioner Mark Owens and other members of the association asked Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, to intervene on their behalf with the federal agencies.
“We want to make sure they are addressing economic conditions as well as ecological in the plan’s revision,” Owens said.
Roberts said the association members wanted an opportunity to speak directly to federal fisheries staff face-to-face instead of communicating through the Forest Service, a request that was somewhat out of the ordinary.
“The plan had not gone to formal consultation with the regulatory agencies and we wanted to get some things ironed out before that,” Roberts said.
Justin Discigil, Walden’s communications director, said the congressman has worked closely with Eastern Oregon counties throughout the 14 years the Blue Mountains Plan has been under revision.
Discigil said Walden, at the association’s behest, raised the counties’ concerns with the Blue Mountains Plan with the new chief of the Forest Service, Tony Tooke, shortly after he was appointed this fall.
“Congressman Walden wants to make sure the voices of the people on the ground are heard in this process,” Discigil said.
Seeing significant headway in meetings with the federal agencies, Wallowa County Commissioner Todd Nash said he asked if Eastern Oregon could send a representative to meet with Forest Service officials when Peña presents the plan to Forest Service leaders in Washington, D.C.
“When we started to see effective changes with all of the agencies in the room I thought it was of value, as cooperating agents, for someone from one of the counties to be in that presentation,” Nash said.
In a rare move, Peña extended an invitation for one commissioner to join him in Washington.
“It’s important for our agency to be transparent about this process and everything it entails, so I was happy to extend this invitation,” Peña said. “Many of these counties have signed a memorandum of understanding to formalize their role as a cooperating agency with the Forest Service as part of this forest plan revision, and all of them are important partners in this effort.”
Owens, who will represent Eastern Oregon counties, said having cooperating agency status means more than having an opportunity to review an agency’s plan and submitting comments.
“The biggest challenge with any federal management plan is not being at the table during consultation,” Owens said. “Cooperating status doesn’t do any good if we can’t drive the direction of an alternative.”
Along with Peña, Owens said he will attend a Forest Service director staff briefing, a deputy chief briefing and a briefing with Chief Tony Tooke. Nash and Owen will both meet with Dan Jiorn, Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment.
“We will meet with him to talk about grazing the areas we did not have success like pace and scale of timber harvest, transportation and elk corridors,” Owens said.