Sundance Times - Continuing the Crook County News Since 1884

County pushes local interests in forest plan

Commission to remain involved in USFS and BLM management plan updates

 

January 12, 2023



As a new year begins, the county commissioners have reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring that Crook County’s interests are represented in the updated management plans under development by the U.S. Forest Service for the Black Hills National Forest (BHNF) and, separately, by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for lands in northeast Wyoming.

Forest Plan

The BHNF management plan has caused considerable concern over recent months after many – including the commissioners – felt that the draft assessments being used to develop the update were flawed.

In particular, concerned parties including the commission and Governors Mark Gordon of Wyoming and Kristi Noem of South Dakota feel that a significant cut to potential timber harvests would have a devastating impact on the timber industry.

On Wednesday, the commission heard from Dru Palmer of Palmer Consulting, the consultant who has been retained to assist Crook and Weston counties on the Black Hills National Forest Plan update, as well as Crook, Weston and Niobrara counties on the BLM’s plan update.

Palmer is paid by the state to assist with the BHNF plan, she said, but works directly with the counties. For the BLM, she is funded by a 91/9 split, with the state paying the major portion.

As far as the BHNF plan is concerned, said Palmer, “Things continue to move.”

Palmer told the commission that she was unable to attend a meeting on December 22, 2022, due to a family emergency, but then-Commissioner Jeanne Whalen was able to represent the county. The intent of the meeting was to continue to impress upon the Forest Service that there should be a second round of draft assessments, Palmer said.

On December 29, Whalen represented the county again at a meeting of all the Wyoming and South Dakota counties within the Black Hills, the Wyoming Governor’s Office and state foresters.

Reporting the outcome of that meeting, Palmer said that South Dakota is behind Wyoming in its organization and is currently working to implement a parallel strategy for engaging in the plan revision process. The involved counties have requested around $950,000 from the South Dakota Legislature to assist in funding a county consultant and $450,000 for technical assistance from South Dakota State Forestry.

It’s promising that the two sides of the border will be “similarly organized”, she said. The counties are working to secure another meeting with the Forest Service later this month.

Palmer asked for guidance from the commission regarding the new point of contact for the BHNF plan. The point of contact for the BLM plan was changed to be Commissioner Fred Devish at the end of the year, and Palmer asked if the same should be done for the BHNF plan.

Devish responded that he would gladly take on the task. Commissioner Kelly Dennis suggested communicating with Whalen, who he said has dedicated a lot of time to the project and would likely be interested to continue.

The commissioners were in agreement that they would like to see Whalen stay involved due to her experience and the relationships she has built over time.

“I do have some ideas on where Jeanne could really assist us and it could be a big benefit to us,” said Palmer.

While it was decided that figuring out Whalen’s role moving forward was not something that needs to happen immediately, Devish pledged to do everything necessary to contribute to the process and represent the county’s interests moving forward.

A motion was passed to appoint Devish as the point of contact for the BHNF plan.

Senator Ogden Driskill also spoke to the commission regarding the BHNF plan, saying that there does seem to be some hope on the horizon in terms of convincing the Forest Service to redo the draft assessments.

Driskill promised to assist the county as things move forward and provide whatever resources he may have available. Whatever we get “saddled with” when the plan is updated will likely last for 25 years, he said.

Devish said the assessments were “definitely tilted” and he would like to see them redone.

“I do not trust their data,” agreed Driskill, stating that, if the path regarding timber that is suggested by those studies ends up being followed, “You won’t have a sawmill anymore.”

“It also will affect the grazing and you guys’s firefighting budget because I can assure you that, if we grow that forest the way they anticipate, you’re going to have big fires in the Bearlodge and the Moskee,” said Driskill.

It will be costly to remain properly involved in the process, Driskill said, but it needs to be done. He anticipated that money for the process will be appropriated during the current legislative session.

Devish noted that the BHNF plan will likely impact future management plans for Wyoming’s forests.

“What happens here is going to affect all the other forests in the state and I don’t know if any of them realize it or not,” said Devish.

“If you guys get rolled, they’re going to roll the rest of them,” agreed Driskill.

BLM

Chad Krause, the new field manager for the BLM’s field office in Newcastle, visited with the commissioners on Wednesday to introduce himself. He touched on the management plan that is expected to officially begin within the next few months.

The plan is the document that defines how the BLM approaches management of everything from livestock grazing and fire management to air quality and minerals on the lands it governs within northeast Wyoming. This will be the first time it has been updated this century.

Krause has been in the position for two months, he said, and hadn’t been there long when he heard that not everything had gone to plan with the office’s attempts to reach out to the public prior to launch of the official process.

“We tried to do some sort of front-loaded public outreach to let the public know that we were going to be working on revising this plan. That outreach didn’t go so well,” said Krause.

“It’s my understanding that, despite well-intended efforts, the message didn’t get to all the interested folks that might be out there. While that didn’t go well, the silver lining to that is: lesson learned.”

Krause stressed that Crook County will have “a seat at the table” as a cooperator moving forward.

“There will be a number of opportunities for public involvement and communication throughout that,” he said.

He clarified, in response to a question from Devish, that as the process begins, “We will solicit input from all interested stakeholders…We understand the multiple use mission and the importance of…’traditional way of life’ locally.”

Palmer reported that the county’s initial comments for the BLM plan were submitted at the end of the year.

“That process has not officially started with NEPA yet, we expect it to start around the second quarter,” Palmer said. Cooperating agency meetings are expected at that time.

 
 

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