By Brian Addison
EASTERN OREGON – There is a shift in control occurring in this country away from the protections of civil liberty and personal freedom to a more centralized system of government. Nowhere is this great change more evident than in the mountains of northeastern Oregon, where the people face the closure of thousands of miles of forest roads, and the loss of motorized access to the abundant resources and recreational opportunities in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest (WWNF).
The forces pushing toward the latest change in federal land-use management include federal agencies, the well-funded private environmental preservation organizations and our political representatives – right down to the local level. A concerned local public is just awakening to the threats posed by the Travel Management Rule and to the potential loss of our freedom to access the public lands of the WWNF. In a few corners of northeastern Oregon there is growing outrage at what is perceived as another great western land grab by the federal government, this time under the veil of the 2005 national Travel Management Rule.
Wallowa-Whitman National Forest
The people of northeastern Oregon first learned of the Travel Management Rule in March of 2007, when United States Forest Service (USFS) officials held a series of public meetings to propose new motorized travel regulations for the WWNF. The USFS proposal included the removal of 4,261 miles of roads from the existing road-system in the WWNF; a change in forest travel policy to a system where all remaining roads would be closed unless designated as open; and, the elimination of all motorized cross-country travel in the WWNF.
After introducing the plan to the public, USFS and county commissioners received over 6,500 comments and signatures from local people opposed to the new travel management proposal. During the same time period, the USFS received only 200 comments from local residents supporting the plan.
Several local organizations also went on record to oppose the USFS closure proposal including the Eastern Oregon Mining Association, Baker County Livestock Association, the Eastern Oregon ATV Club and Forest Access for All. The Eastern Oregon Mining Association claims that the USFS travel management plan as proposed is “illegal,” in part because the proposal fails to adhere to the more user-friendly guiding document, The 1990 Blue Mountain Forest Plan.
Picture of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest
In June of 2008, after receiving the overwhelming opposition from their constituents, commissioners from the five counties of northeastern Oregon signed an agreement to cooperate with and to work under the leadership of the USFS during the expected two-year duration of the Travel Management Plan in the WWNF.
By signing the agreement, commissioners have combined Baker, Grant, Union, Umatillla and Wallowa Counties into one “cooperating agency.” Once the counties accepted cooperating agency status, the agreement then names the USFS as the “lead agency”.
The county commissioners finalized the agreement in June of 2008, but it was not until August that the agreement was obtained and distributed publicly.
In September, shortly after the agreement was obtained by the public, commissioners from all five counties were presented with a public request to terminate the agreement they’d made with the USFS. Instead of cooperating and working in a subordinate role under the lead of the USFS, commissioners were asked to retain their counties’ independence and governmental status and then to enter into a process of “coordination” working government-to-government with the USFS during the travel management planning project.
Several weeks after the request to terminate the agreement with the USFS, Baker County Commission Chairman Fred Warner Jr. traveled to Texas and attended a workshop given by the Stewards of the Range to learn more about coordination. After attending the workshop in Texas, President of Stewards of the Range Fred Kelly Grant traveled to Baker City and gave a three-hour talk on coordination.
Despite all of the attention toward coordination, and after nearly eight months of repeated requests from the public to terminate the cooperative agreement with the USFS, not one of the 15 commissioners from the five counties has done so and today the cooperative agreement and subordinate status of the counties is still in place.
When asked recently about why he hasn’t gone ahead and started the work it takes for Baker County to coordinate with the USFS during the Travel Management Plan, Commissioner Warner claimed, “I haven’t seen coordination work for communities.” Warner has made this claim several times but provides no examples of communities who had failed to protect local interests through coordination. Warner was quoted in a recent interview talking about using coordination in dealing with the placement of electrical transmission lines in the county but mentioned no plans to use coordination during the Travel Management Plan project.
If Commissioner Warner and the Baker County Commissioners still don’t fully understand the benefits and protections to local interests through the process of coordinating with the USFS, then maybe they should reread their own Baker County Ordinance 2001-1, which sets forth the requirement of the county to use coordination with the USFS and Department of Agriculture during all land management and planning actions that could potentially impact county interests, of which, access through and to locations in the forest are a priority.
In fact, Baker County Ordinance 2001-1 refers to the use of coordination no less than 17 times and cites the federal laws and executive order that, “requires federal agencies to coordinate actions and projects with local governments so impacts arising from federal projects may be identified.”
In light of the cooperative agreement recently signed by county commissioners and the USFS, two more quotes from Baker County Ordinance 2001-1 stand repeating. First, the purpose of the ordinance as stated by Baker Commissioners in 2001; “Adoption of this Ordinance is necessary to secure and promote the public peace, general welfare, health and safety of the citizens of Baker County through preservation of their customs, culture, and economic stability, protection and use of their environment, and endorsement of their constitutionally protected private property rights.”
And, a quote from the Procedures section of the ordinance; “the following shall apply to all state and federal plans, projects and programs that affect of have the potential to affect the use of land or natural resources within Baker County, including the acquisition and disposition of land itself, to the fullest extent required or permitted by law, all federal and state agencies shall: Coordinate procedures with Baker County as equals.”
Eight years later, and the words quoted above must have gone forgotten by at least one of the currently serving commissioners because he was serving on the Baker County Board of Commissioners eight-years ago and helped sign Ordinance 2001-1 into law.
The USFS continues to work on a draft Environmental Impact Statement which considers the social and environmental impacts of their proposed travel management plan and the impacts of five other alternative travel plans for the WWNF that were submitted by various groups.
A team of 25 USFS employees led by Whitman District Ranger Ken Anderson began working on the draft EIS in September and the due date for the document has been pushed back after expectations that it would be complete by January.
The five counties have assigned one representative who attends the USFS travel management plan team meetings. The county representative is limited in releasing information from the planning meetings to the public however, after signing a confidentiality agreement with the USFS.
One member of the public from Baker County attempted to attend the USFS travel management plan work meetings when they began in September and was allowed to stay for the initial introductions and orientation, but was asked to leave once the planning work began. This person was asked to leave even after claiming the right to attend the planning work meetings by citing the Government in Sunshine Act, which opens agency meetings to the public.
As the people of northeastern Oregon await the draft EIS and final travel management decisions on road closures, there is a feeling among many, that their county representatives have placed local interests behind the access closure plan of the USFS. Some local people have given up hope that their commissioners will back out of the agreement with the USFS and have begun to prepare for the appeals process.
There is also the growing sense among some, that the Travel Management Rule is only one of many current attacks on freedom being carried out on the battleground of the public lands. The latest effort to shift control over public lands in the western states comes not only from the national Travel Management Rule, but also from recent court rulings favoring the concerns of the environmental preservationists over the economic and personal freedoms of the American people, from federal legislation that looks to revise mining laws in the US, and from proposed legislation looking to claim another 400,000 acres of the WWNF as a Wilderness Area.
For a more detailed discussion on the Travel Management Plan in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and the loss of civil liberties and individual rights please visit the web-log at address: forestaccessforall.blogspot.com
Edward Snook’s Note: Brian laid out this theft by our corrupt federal government very well, now, how about an answer, a plan of action that will stop government abuse dead in its tracks? If enough concerned citizens unfold their long-clasped hands, locate their backbones (which will be quite a chore for many) and make an absolute commitment to say NO MORE and then enforce that NO MORE, change will result.
6,500 local people opposed this proposal and 200 supported it. Where are the 6,500? These 6,500 absolutely must get together and discuss making a commitment to stop asking and start demanding. These people need to realize that their commissioners work for them and not for themselves.
They need to read their “Constitution of the United States of America!” A great place to start would be Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 which states, “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings.” This limitation on the federal government (Congress) is written in plain English – it absolutely prohibits the Feds from controlling, using, or occupying any of our public lands for reasons other that those specifically enumerated above.
Baker County Commissioner Fred Warner Jr. and all other commissioners from the counties concerned, upon entering office, swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, not to corrupted court rulings that distort and pervert it and certainly not to unconstitutional agencies of our federal government.
These commissioners are conceding and giving another large section of the farm to a federal agency who has already stolen a majority of it. Answer: The US~Observer is a watchdog newspaper like those that existed decades ago. When corrupt public officials or individuals start their chicanery the Observer is there. We investigate thoroughly and upon obtaining the proof of the illegal or wrongful act(s) we confront the official or individual and give them the opportunity to stop whatever it is they are involved with. If they refuse to accept the facts of the situation and stop their corrupt or illegal actions then the Observer attacks them publicly with the truth in the form of newsprint. We literally ruin the corrupt person’s reputation, just as it should be. We continue our attack until the person does a complete “about-face” or until they are shamed into moving from the job or community where they are conducting their dangerous agendas.
What if every time these commissioners from eastern Oregon and USFS Ranger Anderson went out in public people started pointing fingers, whispering the word thief? What if they were publicly humiliated every time they ventured out of their home? Sounds harsh, but this is the ONLY solution that is sure to work. Each day we watch our wonderful country slip further into perverse degradation. Most producers have been destroyed by vile environmentalist’s organizations and the laughable federal courts that assist them.
Keep “coordinating” and keep slicing up the pie and soon there will be none left. Just go find a logger, if you can, and you will find that he will be in full agreement with me.