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Commissioners aim to adopt Natural Resource Policy

By Michael Howell

The Ravalli County Commissioners have decided to expand their efforts at coordination with state and federal agencies beyond elk management and predator control to the management of all the county’s natural resources. The citizen sponsored effort began last November with a public meeting in Darby to address the declining economy and what was perceived to be the mismanagement of the natural resources on the Bitterroot National Forest which covers about 76% of the county’s land base.

In December members of the group met with the County Commissioners to express their concerns. The result was the establishment of the Bitterroot Natural Resource Recovery Committee (BNRRC) which was tasked with the development of local land use plans to guide the county in coordinating with the state and federal agencies.

According to Nancy Ballance, spokesperson for the group, through monthly meetings, work sessions and independent research, members gathered land use information and statistics from private industry, private law firms, and relevant government agencies and, using the resource use policy adopted by Flathead County as a starting point, developed their own draft proposal for resource use in Ravalli County. That draft proposal was presented to the Commissioners at a packed meeting on April 26 where it drew favorable as well as critical comments from the public. Those in favor generally agreed with the aim to take Ravalli County back to a more resource extraction based economy. Many of those opposed to the plan were critical of the process used in forming the draft plan and claimed the general public had not been involved. Some were critical of the commissioners’ efforts at “coordination” in general.

At a subsequent meeting last week the commissioners decided to use the draft plan presented by BNRRC as a starting point for developing a county plan. The process will include a series of bi-weekly public meetings, starting on June 18. The 44-page draft document will be reviewed and revised section by section based on the comment received.

Commissioner Greg Chilcott said that the plan as presented was “a good starting point” for developing a natural resource use policy that he considered essential for coordinating with the powers that be over land use management in the county.

“We used this same process in developing our Predator Control Policy,” said Chilcott, when asked about the plan. “It worked well in that case. Fish, Wildlife and Parks took our policy into consideration and are in agreement with much of it. We hope to have the same kind of participation and success in fashioning this policy for natural resource use.”

Commissioner Suzy Foss was also supportive of the effort. She had high praise for the work done by the citizen’s group to produce the draft plan. Foss said that the process used was very open and anyone interested could have participated if they desired. She said she considered the plan a good starting point and looked forward to the public vetting process.

“We are looking for sourced data from the public, just as we did in the case of the Predator Policy, not in people’s personal feelings or anecdotal comments,” said Chilcott. He said there will be plenty of opportunity for anyone interested to participate in the forming of a final policy.

“We are accepting all proposals for consideration,” he said.

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