CANYON CITY - A pair of closely aligned initiatives seeking local control of federal forestlands easily qualified for the Nov. 5 ballot in Grant County.
Signature gatherers had until Sept. 5 to submit 189 signatures, the requirement based on population, to qualify their initiatives for public vote. Dave Traylor of Mt. Vernon and Nick Sheedy of John Day each met this threshold easily. Traylor submitted 305 qualified signatures, Sheedy 303 qualified signatures by last Thursday's deadline.
Their likeminded initiatives ask voters to essentially seek congressional authority to take control of federal forests and set up a commission to run them.
Sheedy's resolution asks voters to "lawfully petition the United States Congress to dispose of all land in the public domain in Grant County, in the State of Oregon, and transfer title of said land to Grant County."
Traylor's initiative declares: "The People of Grant County, acting out of love for our way of life, the health of our communities and our natural environment, and with the desire to live in harmony and prosperity, shall assume the responsibility to manage public lands within Grant County by creating a commission comprised of seven commissioners to be elected at-large by the People of Grant County. The commission shall be called the Grant County Public Forest Commission and shall have jurisdiction to create and administer policies for lands and natural resources in the Public Domain within Grant County."
Both measures elaborate on their rationale within about two pages of explanation. Both cite forest fires as the common threat to Grant County.
"Catastrophic fires are imminent and pose a real and present danger to forest health and to the residents, property and communities in Grant County," Traylor's measure reads. "Over 325 square miles of forested land within Grant County have burned in the past 15 years. An emergency situation exists and immediate action to reduce unnaturally heavy and dangerous fuel loads are necessary."
Sheedy's resolution states: "The suppression of fires on land in the Public Domain over the last 100 years has allowed excessive growth of timber and other flora, creating congested forest conditions and unnaturally dangerous wildfire fuel loads. Federal agencies have failed to take adequate measures to reduce the risks of catastrophic wildfires."
Sheedy, a professional logger, has conducted fuels reduction work on private land on Little Canyon Mountain, a mining and recreational stronghold overlooking and closely neighboring Canyon City. The Bureau of Land Management has been asked to complete similar treatments of heavily stocked federal forest on the mountain, where dead trees raise concerns among landowners of extreme fire hazard. The Prineville District of the Bureau of Land Management is looking at its management options (see related story).
Traylor, a small-mill owner, has long pursued active management of lands in Grant County. He advocated for and witnessed passage in the spring of a pair of local-contral initiatives aimed at federal land management and property rights.
On May 21, Grant County voters, by a margin of 1,512-745, passed Measure 12-38, which declared "a right of citizens to participate in stewardship of natural resources on public lands." The primary target was the 1.46-million-acre Malheur National Forest, which encompasses 1.12 million acres of Grant County, or about 39 percent of the county's land mass.
Traylor said of the new measures, "The Forest Service could still work with us in an advisory and work role, but we would be in control."
He added, "It's not going to be like the Forest Service is the enemy. The Forest Service hasn't been able to function as it should."
County leaders, although they sympathized with citizens' frustration over the stoppage of public-lands logging and buildup of fire fuel, voiced skepticism that the measures' passage would make a difference.
"I don't see that it's going to make any difference except to put the county in a liability situation," said commissioner Leonard Trafton.
Grant County Judge Dennis Reynolds said he saw signs of progress from federal land managers after passage of the May ballot measures.
"It will never happen fast enough to suit me, but I'm convinced they're dedicated to making it happen this time," he said.