A recent whirlwind trip to Washington, D.C., by Grant County Commissioner Jim Hamsher and four other Eastern Oregon county commissioners focused on natural resource issues, including forest management.
“It was a very worthwhile trip,” Hamsher told the Eagle, noting that Chris French, the Forest Service’s acting deputy chief and reviewing officer for forest plans, contacted the group a week later to see if they had any more questions.
“He’s a good gentleman,” Hamsher said, adding that he believes “a lot of the head butting will come to an end” over forest management disputes.
Hamsher joined Harney County Commissioner Mark Owens, Wallowa County Commissioner Todd Nash, Baker County Commissioner Bill Harvey and Union County Commissioner Donna Beverage for the March 1-7 trip to the nation’s capital.
The primary reason for the trip was to talk with Forest Service officials about exempting the counties from the Forest Service’s travel management plan, Hamsher said.
“We’re still awaiting word on that,” he told the Eagle.
Hamsher, Nash and Harvey, who serve on the National Association of Counties’ Public Lands Steering Committee, attended the 2019 legislative conference.
The list of officials Hamsher met with included Agriculture Undersecretary James Hubbard, Agriculture Acting Deputy Undersecretary Daniel Jiron, Forest Service Legislative Affairs Director Doug Crandall, Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen, Agriculture Undersecretary Senior Advisor Debbie Pressman, Interior Deputy Director of External Affairs Tim Williams, Interior Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Andrea Travnicek and Interior Deputy Solicitor for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Karen Budd-Falen.
Hamsher also met with Sen. Ron Wyden’s advisor for energy and natural resources and took part in a news conference with Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley where Secure Rural Schools and payment-in-lieu-of-taxes funding was discussed.
The busy visit also included attending a speech by Kellyanne Conway and receiving updates from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and HUD Secretary Ben Carson about how counties can plan for a future economy.
Hamsher said he spoke with officials about how the Forest Service should coordinate its management plans with county governments. Local officials addressed the need for better cooperation in the objections they submitted to the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision, which has been scrapped by the Forest Service.
“That was one reason why they want to reset this whole thing,” Hamsher said.
Hamsher noted that in French’s March 14 letter to Region 6 Forester Glenn Casamassa, French said that “I expect you to engage with local, state and tribal governments, elected officials, the public and other interested stakeholders.”
“People are hopeful,” Hamsher said. “The public’s voices are being heard.”
The Eastern Oregon Counties Association responded right away to French’s instructions to the regional forester about withdrawing the record of decision for the forest plan.
“It had become clear for our association that the proposed plans were not workable for our communities,” the EOCA said in a press release. “In the development of the plan revisions, the Forest Service had not heard or understood how the custom and culture and economies of our communities are intertwined with our forests.”
The EOCA credited French for hearing their objections and taking action. The EOCA also said it supported leadership changes from the regional office on down.
“With the rebuilding of trust, we can work together for our common goal of forests that support our local communities’ social, economic and ecological values,” the EOCA said.