Mono Supes blast BLM, proposed WSA legislation
Salt in an open wound. A paper cut with lemon juice on it. Call it what you will, but after all the hoopla and gnashing of teeth that came as part of an earlier push for release of the Bodie Hills Wilderness Study Area, the last thing Mono County’s Board of Supervisors wants to take up at the moment is anything having to do with wilderness.
Nonetheless, the Board did just that earlier this month, in the form of a pair items pertaining to public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The first was a letter from James Wesley Abbott, Acting State Director for the BLM California, regarding a proposal by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar for a bipartisan wilderness agenda to designate areas of public lands that have strong local support for permanent protection as wilderness under the Wilderness Act.
The second was what, if anything, to say in response to H.R. 1581, the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act of 2011, currently circulating through the U.S. Congress, which if passed would release millions of acres of wilderness study areas nationwide, including the Bodie Hills in Mono County.
Abbott’s letter relayed an idea from U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking states, tribes and local communities to identify so-called “crown jewel” public lands, specifically administered by the BLM. The lands would then be forwarded to Congress for consideration as new “wilderness” areas. Several Democratic and Republican congressmen have already lobbed in ideas for lands in various states, including some in California by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-49th District.).
Salazar said in a separate letter that he planned to take any lands submitted for the overall list to Congress on Oct. 15, leaving the Board only a handful of weeks to mull submittal of any lands and vet those through public process … hardly enough time, the Board generally concluded.
The Board, however, slammed the brakes on joining that process, particularly regarding the Bodie Hills WSA.
“Bodie Hills isn’t a crown jewel wilderness. Congress has been reluctant to do its job and has been complacent these many years,” District 4 Supervisor Tim Hansen posited. “People use them for enjoyment but one day it’ll be locked up and people will say, ‘Wow, we should have done something about that.’”
As to H.R. 1581, only Hansen was vocal in his support for the sweeping measure. “I’m for 1581, because I think most of my constituents support it, and it’s widely supported across the U.S. WSAs are being misused to lock up these areas,” Hansen said, reiterating his previously stated positions on the matter.
Supervisor Byng Hunt also reaffirmed his stand, but in the negative. “I stated my case four weeks ago. I’m totally opposed to 1581; it’s too blanket, universal and one-sided,” Hunt said. As to Secretary Salazar’s issue of ‘jewels,’ Hunt indicated he thought Salazar’s intent was essentially good. “I think he wanted to get a handle on some areas that are relatively non-controversial trying to get more information out of local communities. Either the communities are behind it or they’re not,” he posited. “That said, it’s not appropriate for us to take any action.”
Board Chair Hap Hazard was against generating any response to either item. “Both are out of town, out of this area,” he reminded his fellow supervisors. “If [Secretary Salazar’s plan] is a chance for us to say we want to be given an assurance that if we work together and have a stakeholder interest, then he should give us a period of time, and a commitment that [Congress] is going to follow through and resolve it. Otherwise, I’m not interested in going backwards.”
“My preference is to oppose 1581,” Supervisor Larry Johnston remarked. “I do appreciate Secretary Salazar’s letter … sometimes these decrees are just handed down from the government. At least this is an ‘asking’ thing. That said, I don’t’ think I’d like to nominate something that hasn’t been vetted through public process. And I don’t think we should have to ask permission from the federal government to preserve things we think are worthy.”
“I don’t think federal officials can give anyone assurance they’re going to act on anything, especially at the county level,” Sally Miller said during public comment on the items. “I don’t see that the public is banging on the doors to negotiate another Hoover-style blanket piece of legislation.” Miller added that, given what she thinks is a historically controversial topic of wilderness vis a vis the Board and the community, there should be more “responsible constituent-level conversation between parties who don’t necessarily agree with each other.”
“There’s work to be done, and it truly has to happen from the ground up before it comes before the board again,” she concluded.
The Board came to consensus on no reply to either item, except, as Hunt suggested, on an individual basis between elected representatives, without speaking on behalf of the Board or the County.