Guest opinion: Garfield lawsuit against BLM ridiculous | PostIndependent.com

Guest opinion: Garfield lawsuit against BLM ridiculous

Hattie Taylor

Hattie Taylor

It is unfortunate that Garfield County is suing the Bureau of Land Management to stop it from updating its outdated planning rules. In doing so, Garfield County is not standing with area communities, local stakeholders and the American public. Once again, the commissioners are siding with oil and gas companies, trade associations and some of the most extreme anti-public lands counties in the West.

It’s infuriating that the commissioners are spending tens of thousands of our tax dollars to wage this fight, per the Dec. 13 article in the Post Independent. This money could be spent to keep our libraries open, fund critical infrastructure needs and help alleviate the budget shortfall the county faces.

Instead, our county commissioners are earmarking scarce tax money to prop up the Texas-based group “Stewards of Liberty” in alignment with oil and gas lobbyists including the Western Energy Alliance, one of the loudest opponents of protecting the Thompson Divide.

BLM’s planning rules haven’t been updated in over a decade. The outdated rules are cumbersome, fail to account for updated information, and do not provide enough opportunities for stakeholders to weigh in early in the process.

These old rules often result in “revised” plans that are out of date as soon as they are finalized. Since new relevant information is excluded and important stakeholders are not properly engaged, planning under the old rules is usually challenged. The old process can take eight or 10 years, half the anticipated shelf life of the plan itself.

As evidenced by the industry-led pushback to new rules that Garfield County just joined, the old rules benefit powerful industries, with a bevy of attorneys and well-heeled lobbyists. But the old rules can leave local stakeholders and cash-strapped communities out in the cold.

The new rules provide several new opportunities for the public to weigh in and provide information during the planning process. They require a planning assessment prior to developing a land use plan that includes baseline resource environmental, ecological, social and economic conditions. The new rules also enhance BLM’s ability to utilize best available science, and they provide the agency flexibility to plan across traditional administrative boundaries.

This matters because watersheds, habitat and other public land resources don’t just stop where BLM lands meet the national forest. Simply put, the rules enhance public participation, require better science and information, and promote more flexibility in the process.

Updating the planning rules would engage communities early and help head off stalemates that often plague public lands planning and projects. Better planning could have avoided the fierce and continuing fight over the illegal Thompson Divide leases, could provide better input into future trail and recreational development, and would better avoid costly and time-consuming lawsuits and challenges.

Given that Garfield County is cutting its budget by $15 million, slashing hours at public facilities, laying off staff and telling all its departments to cut expenses, it is confounding our commissioners would vote to hand over tens of thousands of dollars to a Texas-based group with a dubious reputation just to fight better planning on local public lands.

It is ridiculous that the county opposes this agency effort to make its planning more responsive to local stakeholders and area communities, which despite claims by Garfield County the updated plans do. Indeed, the commissioners seem most upset that the public and local communities would have more say than they currently do.

Garfield County, as a local government and as a designated cooperating agency, still will retain its special role in public lands planning as this update cannot change existing federal law. That is why I support the BLM’s planning rule update, and I urge everyone to contact the Garfield County commission and ask that they do the same. If you think your tax dollars are better spent in Garfield County rather than in Texas, make sure that they hear that too.

Hattie Taylor is a small business owner in the Roaring Fork Valley, where she was born and is delighted to have returned.