Saturday, January 9, 2010

Pulblic Lands Management, California Style

Land plan’s architects defend work

Written by Walt Cook, The Union Democrat January 08, 2010 11:57 am
Who edited it? Who paid for it? Who’s sponsoring it?

Those were the questions logging expert Mike Albrecht and Tuolumne County Supervisor Teri Murrison were immediately hit with when a proposed policy critical of environmental restrictions on federally managed lands was officially unveiled at Thursday’s session of the county Board of Supervisors’ Planning Committee.

Some committee members — like Supervisor Paolo Maffei and Southern Tuolumne County Planning commissioner Millie Beranek — worried that the plan might be the work of the Texas-based property rights group, the American Stewards of Liberty, to which Murrison has ties. The group, once known as Stewards of the Range, has had frequent clashes with environmental groups over the years.

Murrison, the chairwoman of the planning committee, which advises supervisors on policy issues, confirmed Maffei and Beranek’s suspicions — sort of.

She said it’s possible portions of the proposed policy could have been lifted from the American Stewards of Liberty literature. The 80-page document is an amalgamation of ideas from various sources, she said.

Murrison said the proposal was funded by a local charity, the Sonora Area Foundation, and put together by the Twain Harte-based Tuolumne County Alliance for Resources and Environment, a group that, in part, represents logging interests.

Those claims brought quick clarifications from foundation board member Jim Johnson, as well as Albrecht, who represented TuCARE at Thursday’s meeting.

Albrecht said though the final document was edited by TuCARE member Melinda Fleming, TuCARE was an equal partner with various entities and individuals — from the local Farm Bureau to sportsmen groups — who worked on the plan.

Johnson, meanwhile, said the money — about $2,000 to $4,000 — technically came from one of the many “donor-advised funds” that make up a portion of the Sonora Area Foundation’s total funding. Approval to fund the proposal was made during the tenure of former foundation leader Mick Grimes, who retired about a year ago, he said.

“Our understanding is it was an (economic development) grant, which in our position is nonpolitical,” Johnson said. “We do not want to grant to any political source. We still think that’s what we did.”

Normally, such policies are developed by county staffers and paid for by county funds.

In the view of Murrison, Albrecht and their supporters, the policy document does pertain to economic development, as it is an attempt to give the county more negotiating power with federal officials when land-use plans are developed on public lands. Their reasoning is: If the county can get more access for motorized vehicles, grazing areas are opened up and logging companies have access to a steady supply of wood, the county will get more tourism dollars and have more jobs available.

“We need a healthier economy. That’s the focus of this,” said Albrecht, who blames “increasingly restrictive” federal policies for leading to the fall closure of the Standard Mill.

For some, the politics of the proposed policy are undeniable.

John Buckley, director of the Twain Harte-based Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, said the document clearly has an anti-environmental bent and is consistent with the American Stewards of Liberty’s ongoing effort to get rural county governments to pass land-use policies.

The American Stewards of Liberty touts such land-use policies as tools to get the federal government to give local governments a special place at the bargaining table. Federal laws mandate such cooperation, the group says. Buckley disputes that claim.

Buckley said the group wants to turn the clock back on laws that protect the environment to benefit select groups. He accused Murrison of using her clout as a supervisor to get the planning document before the full Board of Supervisors, which has the ultimate say on whether the policy is adopted. A vote isn’t expected to happen for several weeks, following further planning committee meetings.

Now that the proposed land-use policy is before the planning committee, its appearance before supervisors is all but guaranteed.

Last year, the Board of Supervisors agreed to include a county-federal coordination policy discussion on the committee’s agenda, a move that set in motion the current proposal.

That vote stemmed from a 2007 resolution supervisors passed that asserted the county’s intent to coordinate with federal agencies on land-use issues. The American Stewards of Liberty commends the county on the group’s Web site for the resolution.

Beranek said the county staff should have been responsible for implementing the directive, not private interests, to give the public adequate representation.

Maffei, meanwhile, who voted in favor of that 2007 resolution, said if he had any inkling that the American Stewards of Liberty might be involved in a subsequent policy development, he would have voted “no.”

Over the past year, Murrison has brought American Stewards of Liberty representatives to speak to county officials. She, in turn, has spoken at two of the group’s events, once in Texas and once in Colorado.

Maffei suggested if the policy is to move forward, its language should be softened.

“You’re not going to have a good relationship with (Stanislaus National Forest) Supervisor (Susan) Skalski if you start by hitting her over the head with a two-by-four,” he said.

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