By Michael Howell
The county commissioners declined an invitation from local State Representative Theresa Manzella to have Karen Budd-Falen come and make a four-hour presentation to the County Commissioners about a Land Use Plan for Ravalli County. Following a stream of public comment, all against the proposal, and in response to the commissioners’ reluctance to place Budd-Falen on the agenda, Manzella stated in the end that she was going to arrange for Budd-Falen to come to a private meeting, on private property, that would be invitation only and the Commissioners would receive an invitation to send two members, not a quorum, to the meeting.
Manzella said that she had the money to cover the expenses for Budd-Falen to fly in and provide the services. When asked who was paying the expenses, Manzella said “citizens,” but could not identify any off the top of her head.
Budd-Falen is currently giving workshops around the state on how to develop a land use plan and why one is needed. The workshops are meant primarily for government officials. She has been active in the movement to place federal public lands in the control of the local governments.
Manzella said that Budd-Falen would provide help specifically oriented to the county’s issues, such as the issue of Wilderness Study Areas. She said that she was interested in working with Senator Steve Daines, who had requested that people submit historical evidence about use of Wilderness Study Areas so they could move Congress to release some of the 94,000 acres in the Sapphire Wilderness Study Area.
“These are the kinds of things that I’d like to see Karen help us out with,” she said.
Manzella said she was also looking for solutions to the forest fires the valley is suffering from. She said that citizens should make their stand on the Montana Constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment and force the Forest Service to do an environmental impact statement if they want to “let it burn.” She said the “let it burn” policy could be interpreted as a “planned fire.” She said that now that we know about the chemicals that are being released into the atmosphere it makes the smoke a serious concern. She suggested that the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) should be able to stop the air pollution based on the state’s constitution.
Commissioner Greg Chilcott said suing the federal government over the fires was not a practical solution.
Commissioner Jeff Burrows said that after a rough start with the Forest Service he has learned to work with them instead of against them and it was a much more productive way to proceed.
The commissioners were in consensus that the county’s current Natural Resource Use Policy is in need of an update. But Burrows wondered how Budd-Falen’s work would fit into that.
Manzella said the natural resource policy was a good start but it needed some teeth, some means of implementing the goals it outlines, and this would be the Land Use Policy that Budd-Falen would help write.
When Burrows looked at some information provided by Manzella, he stated that the laws being referred to are actually the laws governing adoption of a growth policy.
“It seems like what you are talking about is creating a Growth Policy,” he stated.
In the end, Burrows suggested having Budd-Falen respond to some questions from the commissioners in writing about the difference between a Natural Resource Use Policy, a Land Use Policy, and a Growth Policy, and about the other issues dealing with coordination status and cooperating agency status.
Commissioner Chris Hoffman said, “We are talking about a full meeting of the board that is a public meeting and this isn’t the way we generally do that sort of thing, with a committee meeting and then bringing it to the board. I guess I don’t want to be involved if it devolves into the same sort of controversy that we’ve seen swirl around some of these issues and, to be blunt, I don’t want to see this become some kind of partisan fight. I flat out won’t participate if it turns into a debate about whether we are going to put management of public lands in the hands of the county and the state.” He said the county has done a great job working with other agencies.
Commissioner Burrows said, “What hasn’t worked with the Forest Service is the stick. The olive branch has worked a lot better.” He said that when they go there now for consultation he can see that there is a lot of respect.
“We don’t stand on legal issues and threats of lawsuits,” Burrows said. “We try to work together and get things done for the community.”
Several members of the public spoke and all spoke strongly against the proposal. They called it a divisive and counterproductive process and urged the commissioners to consider a full public process if they were contemplating updating their Natural Resource Policy or a new Land Use Policy. They expressed disbelief, for the most part, that Budd-Falen would not be promoting privatization of public lands.
Others claimed that the funders of this proposal should be made public.
“If people are going to come in from out of state with funding and want to change our processes we need to know where that money is coming from,” said Archie Thomas. “We need to know that right up front.”
Faced with reluctance on the part of the commissioners to place Budd-Falen on the agenda, Manzella ended the discussion by proclaiming that there would be no public meeting. Instead, she said that she would arrange a private meeting on private property by invitation only and invite the commissioners to send a couple of representatives if they so choose. No date was set for the meeting but Manzella had mentioned earlier that Budd-Falen would be available for a meeting on November 17 and 18 in Ravalli County.