County set to approve Natural Resources Plan

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(Photo by KEITH KINNAIRD) Commissioners Dan McDonald, Glen Bailey and Jeff Connolly gave conceptual approval to the Bonner County Natural Resource Plan.

SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioners gave conceptual approval on Jan. 18 to the county’s controversial Natural Resource Plan.

The 95-page document is meant to be a government-to-government conduit that provides Bonner County a seat at the coordinating table when state and federal resource managers impose restrictions on public land use for wildlife and habitat recovery projects.

“Coordination gives us — the people — a voice that we can have in no other way,” said Sherie Clipson, a member of the volunteer Natural Resources Committee which drafted the document.

Acceptance of the plan roughly follows political lines.

It is embraced by conservatives because it is expected to trigger a federal requirement that agencies coordinate with local government on public land-use matters. It also advocates for multiple uses on public lands.

It is viewed by moderates, meanwhile, as unsubtle entrenchment in the battle to strip federal control of public lands and an invitation to mine and log the forest.

Supporters and opponents of the plan converged during the commission’s public hearing on the adoption of the document.

Six people voiced support for adoption of the document, while 24 remarked in opposition during the hearing.

“It gives us a voice that matters,” said Danielle Ahrens, who urged commissioners to adopt the document.

Daniel Rose, another supporter of the plan, said that it could be a useful tool for people of all political stripes, in addition to those who are fighting the proposed silicon smelter in Newport.

“This is an asset for those against the smelter,” he said.

But opponents of the plan saw something more sinister and overtly political in the document. They noted that it favors resource extraction while ignoring climate change and downplaying the importance of water quality.

“There are a lot of statements throughout this plan that a lot of people don’t agree with,” said Sagle resident Susan Drumheller.

Others argued that the committee lacked political diversity and representation from state and federal agencies.

“This committee doesn’t give us a wide representation of viewpoints,” said Curtis Eberle.

The document also drew opposition from the Idaho Conservation League and the Idaho Forest Group, which maintains that logging on public lands has actually increased over the years.

Commissioners, however, viewed the document as a necessary tool that gave the county a say when restrictions are imposed.

“It does give us the ability to coordinate and force the feds to the table,” Commissioner Jeff Connolly said.

Moreover, commissioners struggled to find footing with federal officials in discussions over critical habitat designation for threatened caribou at Priest Lake.

“They had a problem coordinating in the past,” Commissioner Dan McDonald said.

Commissioners pulled up short on approving the plan because the board made a series of corrections and updates over the course of the meeting.

“It’s not at the point that I would like to see it,” Commission Chairman Glen Bailey said of the marked-up draft document.

After incorporating the edits, it will be subjected to legal review by the board’s legal counsel. Commissioners are scheduled to formally approve the document during their Feb. 20 business meeting.

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