Despite calls for the county to have “equal footing” with federal agencies through a legal provision known as coordination, the federal interpretation of the law does not appear to provide it.
Supporters of invoking coordination to improve a local government’s position in public land planning cite the word’s inclusion in the National Environmental Policy Act, National Forest Management Act, Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act and other acts, rules, policies and executive orders.
Some supporters distinguish between collaboration, cooperation and coordination, words that are found in many official documents that govern public land planning. Coordination is more than just joint planning, they say — it also means that the parties are equal in rank.
Many supporters often cite the work of Fred Kelly Grant, a Boise, Idaho, attorney who spoke publicly about coordination in John Day in November 2015. Grant formed a group to promote coordination called the Stand and Fight Club and wrote a guidebook on the subject titled “Coordination, Government to Government.”
In his guidebook, Grant claims that “Congress has mandated that every federal agency engage in the coordination process” and that “Congress also recognized that local government must have a position in planning and policy making that is superior to that of the general public.”
Supporters of coordination note that public land planning should take into account the economic needs of local communities as well as protect local customs and culture.
The Grant County Court adopted a Document of Custom and Culture as a resolution in May 1999. The resolution underwent two public hearings and substantial changes were made to the original document, which gave the resolution the process protection of an ordinance.
According to the document, the customs and culture of Grant County were formed by the people who settled here when Oregon was a territory and were passed down from generation to generation.
A common base of values were established, the document states, that includes self-reliance, independence, personal freedoms, unalienable rights and “common sense education system that instills in our children the love of God, family and country, which is the custom of patriotism.”
Customs cited in the document include mining, ranching, logging, hunting, trapping, fishing, firewood gathering and the harvesting of berries, mushrooms and other plant life.
Forest Service officials have a different interpretation of the meaning of coordination. In May 2017, Steve Beverlin, the Malheur National Forest Supervisor at the time, explained that the agency engaged the public simultaneously through collaboration, coordination and cooperation according to their legal definitions and frameworks.
Coordination requires the Forest Service to work with requesting agencies, such as the Grant County Court, to address discrepancies between federal and local planning documents, such as cultural or natural resource plans, Beverlin said.
The Forest Service must respond to the discrepancies but is not bound to follow the local plans, Beverlin said.
John Hagengruber, the state liaison for the Forest Service’s Region 1 office, explained the role of coordination between the Forest Service and county governments in a March 2014 memo to the Montana Environmental Quality Council.
“Based on recent local government resolutions or ordinances and letters to some national forests, it appears that some local government officials believe the (National Forest Management Act) coordination requirement means the Forest Service must incorporate specific provisions of county ordinances into forest plans or that the Forest Service must obtain local government approval before making planning decisions,” Hagengruber said.
“This position overstates the NFMA obligation of the Forest Service,” he continued. “The statute does not specify what actions are required to coordinate Forest Service planning with local government planning, and it does not in any way subordinate federal authority to counties.”
“Rather,” he continued, “the Forest Service must consider the objectives of state and local governments and Indian tribes as expressed in their plans and policies, assess the interrelated impacts of these plans and policies, and determine how the forest plan should deal with the impacts identified.”