County fears BLM undercutting influence of local governments
Garfield County commissioners wrung their hands Monday over what they perceive as an effort by the Bureau of Land Management to undercut local government influence in public lands planning.
Among the 244 pages of BLM planning rules changes dubbed “Planning 2.0,” which county staff has yet to wade all the way through, are changes that deteriorate local governments’ priority in public lands planning, said Fred Jarman, the county’s community development director.
Such an approach undermines the county’s role in planning on items such as the BLM’s Resource Management Plans, and at the same time elevates public input from people well outside Garfield County, he said. The most recent RMP for the Colorado River Valley Field Office of the BLM was completed last summer.
These changes could remove local government from the center of the conversation and replace it with an outside advocacy group, which is a shift in the BLM’s philosophy, said Jarman.
Public lands make up 66 percent of Garfield County, and the local economy is dependent upon them, be that through oil and gas development, recreation or grazing, he said.
Jarman told the Post Independent he couldn’t yet give a concrete example of what land uses or policies might be threatened, saying he needs to dig into the planning rule changes further.
It would be like the BLM, while planning land management of a major Colorado River, going to an advocacy group in Vermont for input before going to the local governments, he said.
A letter to BLM Director Neil Kornze from commissioners called the proposed planning rule changes “perhaps one of the most significant substantive federal policy changes facing the West today.”
Under these changes, public comment would have a little more weight than those from local governments, said Commissioner John Martin.
“It would be a national move to do policy in the West for us,” he said.
“We’re not saying that other agencies shouldn’t be at the table. They should, but don’t push away your elected representative government,” said Martin.
The federal government historically has been required to ensure that its land use policies don’t conflict with those of the local governments. But that too would change under these rules, said Jarman.
Essentially, the burden of keeping federal and local land use policies compatible would be shifted from the BLM onto the county’s shoulders, he told the PI after the commissioners’ meeting.
“Garfield County is concerned with what appears to be a quiet effort by the BLM in Washington, D.C., to erode, if not eliminate existing requirements for the BLM to not only coordinate with local governments but to also ensure their planning efforts are consistent with local plans and regulations,” commissioners wrote to Kornze.
According to the BLM, this “proposed rule would provide the agency flexibility to plan across traditional administrative boundaries. The BLM director would also be provided discretion to determine future RMP boundaries.”
The agency has described the rule changes as moving toward a “landscape-level management approach,” and Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said he fears that means a “one-size fits all approach.”
“While advertised and promoted as simple procedural changes to improve the BLM’s decision making process with added transparency and involvement with local government, we believe the proposed rules may have the direct opposite effect,” commissioners wrote.
The BLM says it’s trying to become more transparent and available to the general public; “however, I believe this is an administrative play to really knock down congressional law,” said Jankovsky.
The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 has a lot to say about the federal government coordinating with local governments on public land planning, and the BLM looks to be putting itself above the law, said the commissioner.
The deadline for comments on Planning 2.0 is April 25, but commissioners are requesting 180 extra days to submit comments, saying that the 60-day window they had was not enough to vet the major changes or have sufficient public involvement.
If they’re successful, the new deadline would be Aug. 23. Commissioners are also requesting additional public hearings on the issue.
Jarman declined to comment on the likelihood of the BLM accepting the extension. But many other local governments across the American West that have the same concerns, and are pushing for more time to produce their comments, he said.
The PI was unable to contact BLM staffers in Washington, who were the only BLM personnel able to comment on the Planning 2.0 initiative.
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