KANE COUNTY – In a challenge of new resource planning rules adopted by the Bureau of Land Management, Kane County has joined counties in five other Western states in a lawsuit against the Department of Interior.
The group filed suit Monday in U.S. District Court, District of Utah, challenging the BLM’s new resource planning rules, which county officials believe will severely impair the county’s ability to work on future planning and management issues to the detriment of their citizens.
Kane County; Big Horn County, Wyoming; Chaves County, New Mexico; Custer County, Idaho; Garfield County, Colorado; Modoc County, California; and the Dona Ana Soil and Water Conservation District in New Mexico are all petitioners in the lawsuit.
The suit alleges that the BLM failed to coordinate with local officials and provide meaningful involvement in developing the new rules, significantly diminishing counties’ rights under the Federal Land Policy Management Act, known as FLPMA.
The federal management act requires the BLM to coordinate with local governments on land-use inventory, planning and management activities and to resolve inconsistencies with local land-use plans, county officials said, and the new rules allow only limited local government involvement.
“We recognize the BLM is charged with managing public lands,” Kane County Commissioner Jim Matson said in a written statement. “But we are charged with protecting the people and the resources within our county. We have the institutional knowledge of how the resources should be managed and what our community’s need, which often times means we are the agency’s strongest critic. It is easier for them to plan if they can keep local governments on the sidelines where we are unable to hold them accountable.”
BLM’s resource management plans determine the level of resource use, including grazing, rights-of-way, timber production, outdoor recreation and mineral exploration and development. The plans also designate areas for special restrictions and control access to public lands.
About 87 percent of Kane County is federally controlled, county officials said, and most counties in the West have more than 50 percent of their land base owned by the federal government.
BLM has taken the position they will coordinate with local governments during the cooperating agency process under the National Environmental Policy Act, the suit alleges.
NEPA requires federal agencies to consider the effects on the environment in making decisions. However, the NEPA process is not intended to resolve conflicts with local land use plans and programs, Kane County officials said, and rules governing NEPA require local governments sign agreements with the BLM and keep all discussions and materials confidential.
“Because the 2016 Planning Rules significantly impair the informational and coordination rights of local governments, the BLM will be making program and project decisions without the consideration of the specific issues important to many local governments in the West, including Petitioners,” the lawsuit alleges.
“The new rules fail to recognize that we are authorized by law to represent the public in our county,” Garfield County, Colorado, Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.
“We are charged with protecting the health, safety and welfare of the people in our community. The public should be allowed to hear our concerns and the BLM should not be afraid to answer our questions and defend its position in the public view.”
The BLM’s new planning rules have been adopted to implement two Obama administration programs, the Department of Interior’s Climate Change Adaptation and Landscape-scale Mitigation Programs, the suit alleges, and the Interior Department made no effort to comply with the National Environmental Protection Act in adopting and implementing the plans.
Washington County officials are aware of the lawsuit and have been in contact with representatives from Kane County, Deputy Washington County Attorney Celeste Maloy said.
“We are weighing our options, but we haven’t made any decisions regarding whether to join the suit,” she said.
“Washington County commented on the proposed BLM 2.0 rule during public comment because we were concerned about some of the changes. We will continue to keep an eye on the lawsuit and the final rule to protect the interests of the citizens of Washington County.”
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.