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Ravalli County Commissioners seek "coordination" with feds



A group of Bitterrooters is working with Ravalli County Commissioners to craft a new policy that calls for returning the heavily forested region to a resource extraction-based economy.

"The genesis of the document was a group of citizens basically trying to save their city from the economic decline that they're seeing," says Nancy Ballance of the Bitterroot Natural Resource Recovery Committee, which is spearheading the local effort.

Ballance and other committee members say that increasing environmental restrictions on state and federal lands, which make up 77 percent of Ravalli County, have limited resource extraction and economic activity.

Balance says that's why about 30 locals helped to draft the 46-page "Bitterroot Valley Natural Resource Use Policy." It calls for greater county involvement in the management of forests, roadless areas and mineral extraction on state and federal lands.

Ravalli County Commissioners are holding a series of public meetings to vet the document. During a June 18 meeting, Commission Chair Suzy Foss said commissioners aim to use it as a blueprint to guide the lawmaking body. "It's just a policy statement."

Bitterroot National Forest Ranger Dave Campbell points out that the federal government already has a protocol for managing public lands. Guidelines are spelled out in individual forest plans that are crafted with scientific study and public input. "I'm just wondering how you think it would change," he asked commissioners during the June 18 meeting. "It's still not very clear to me how this is taking place."

The term used for what the committee and commissioners are working to achieve with federal and state governments is "coordination." In 2011, Foss invited the conservative nonprofit group Stewards of Liberty to conduct a training session on the strategy.

Dozens of rural communities across the country are working to implement coordination. The movement prompted Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak in January to officially respond to their efforts. He said that while counties are invited to lend expertise and analysis to discussions about federal land management, "It must be remembered that a local government, by virtue of its cooperating agency status, has no authority to impose specific provisions of county ordinances in forest plans."

Commissioners are scheduled to take up the issue again July 9 at 1:30 p.m.

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