Officials reiterate opposition to BLM planning proposal
Time has not warmed some Western Slope officials’ feelings toward the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed changes to land planning rules.
The BLM proposed the changes as a way to update rules established more than 30 years ago and make it easier for the public to comment and contribute earlier in the planning process. The changes are part of what BLM calls its Planning 2.0 initiative.
County officials on the Western Slope worry that added public input will come at the cost of local input in planning areas, and those concerns were reiterated last week at the annual Energy and Environment Symposium in Rifle.
Many communities in the West already feel as if every decision pertaining to federal land is coming from Washington D.C. with little regard for local input, said Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky.
“We really feel as though … the western states have been colonized by Washington D.C. And it’s not much different than it was in 1776,” he said.
Garfield County has worked as a cooperating agency — a status reserved for tribal groups and governmental agencies — with the BLM on issues ranging from the greater-sage grouse to oil shale, and the end result is typically inconsistent with what is provided locally, Jankovsky added. With this new effort to broaden the range of voices heard, Jankovsky and others fear they will be canceled out.
“I’m concerned that the devil is in the details and if we don’t get this right it’s going to come back and bite us,” he said.
The Garfield County commissioner was not alone in his criticism
“We have cooperating agency status and my idea of cooperating agency is a two-way street not a one way,” said Mesa County Commissioner John Justman.
Those concerns have been some of the most frequently voiced critiques so far, said Leah Baker, division chief for BLM’s Decision Support, Planning and NEPA. In an interview April 21, she reiterated BLM’s point that the special provisions afforded to cooperating agencies would not be eliminated. Rather the rule, as proposed, would provide more opportunities for coordination with cooperating agencies, she said, adding that those opportunities would act as a mandate to “check-in” with cooperating agencies.
While the concerns are genuine, Baker speculated some of the issue might be on the communication front.
The concern is not that the BLM is stripping the rights of local governments and other cooperating agencies, said Rebecca W. Watson, former assistant secretary of land and minerals in the U.S. Department of the Interior, who now works in the private sector. Rather, the concern is that those agencies, which already feel ignored when it come to working with the BLM, will be drowned out by public input.
Environmental groups, which can mobilize and flood the BLM with comments from across the country, could end up having a greater say than local governments — entities that are already strapped and have limited resources — impacted by the BLM’s land use plans.
Input is a good thing, Watson added, but more needs to be done to work with those on the ground.
Baker said the BLM will continue to gather input on the proposed changes.
The comment period is open until May 25. To view the proposal, visit http://on.doi.gov/1Bz2hlE.
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