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May 26, 2011 7:27 am

Commissions, conservation districts holding meetings on BLM plan

Written by CJ Baker

County commissions and conservation districts across the Big Horn Basin are hosting meetings to share with the public what they see as important in the federal Bureau of Land Management’s recently-released Resource Management Plan draft and also hear citizens’ take on the document.

On Tuesday, May 31, from 6 to 8 p.m., Park County commissioners will host a Powell meeting at the Multi-purpose Room at the Park County Fairgrounds to discuss the plan. On Wednesday, similar meetings will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Meeteetse Conservation District office and from 6 to 8 p.m. in Grizzly Hall at the Park County Library in Cody.

At the meetings, commissioners and conservation district officials will give their take on the plan, hear what the public thinks and encourage folks to make written comments to the federal agency.

When completed the BLM’s management plan will guide how millions of acres of public lands across the basin are managed — identifying special areas for protection and outlining where and how activities like oil and gas development, grazing and motorized recreation can occur.

Compared to how the lands are managed today, the draft plan preferred by the BLM would generally create somewhat tighter restrictions on the basin’s public lands in favor of greater conservation.

Steve Jones of the Meeteetse Conservation District said the upcoming meetings are an opportunity for the districts and commission to explain where they differ with the BLM’s preferred plan and what effects the plan would have.

“’Cause they won’t get it from the plan,” Jones said, referring to the roughly 1,800-page document’s daunting size and complexity.

The meeting will open with a presentation by Ecosystem Research Group (ERG), the private environmental consulting company hired by the Big Horn Basin’s commissions and conservation districts to help represent them in the planning process. The presentation will include maps showing how land use would change under the draft plan.

Commissioners also say they will detail the role they played as a cooperating agency in the plan’s drafting, working in the BLM’s closed-door meetings to alter the draft. Park County Commissioner Tim French said commissioners and conservation districts were successful in significantly reducing the additional amount of land that the BLM plans to protect as “wild lands.”

Following the initial 30-minute presentation, commissioners plan to open up the meeting for public comments, giving folks a couple minutes to speak their piece about the plan.

Commissioners initially discussed inviting people representing oil and gas, grazing and motorized recreation interests to speak to the audience, and “even the environmental community should probably be asked,” said Commissioner Joe Tilden. But that idea fell apart as commissioners wrestled with which groups should be given floor time. Instead, folks who want to speak will simply sign up.

“As long as everybody can talk, I think that’s all we’re looking for,” said Commissioner Dave Burke.

Attendees at next week’s meeting will be encouraged to submit written comments to the BLM about the draft plan. Written forms will be available at the meetings, and the county has set up a link on its main website, www.parkcounty.us, to an Ecosystem Research Group webpage where folks can submit comments on the plan.

That page differs from the BLM’s official online commenting site (available at www.tinyurl.com/BLMRMP) in that comments will not only be sent to the bureau but also copied and collected by ERG.

Park County Commission Chairman Bucky Hall said having copies of the comments submitted through ERG’s site will give the county the opportunity to “hold their (the BLM’s) feet to the fire” if commissioners believe the agency’s final plan doesn’t take the comments into account.

French said the comments will also help ERG prepare its the counties’ and conservation districts’ official comments — a document expected to total hundreds of pages. Commissioner Loren Grosskopf said it would also help commissioners understand what their constituents want.

All comments submitted to the BLM are public record and available to anyone.

The BLM is hosting its own meetings across the basin on the plan in June. An open house is scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Lovell Community Center on June 13, Cody’s Holiday Inn on June 14 and at the Park County Fairgrounds in Powell on June 15.

The BLM has said it wants specific comments on specific parts of its plan. The planning documents and further information are available on the bureau’s website, accessible at www.tinyurl.com/BLMRMP.

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