March 24, 2010 — Lassen County’s Board of Supervisors unanimously approved sending a letter to President Barack Obama and Ken Salazar, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, expressing its concern regarding the lack of public input into the possible designation of 3 million acres in the Modoc Plateau as a national monument.
The proposed designation came to light last month when an allegedly secret document was released by the Western Counties Alliance. The alliance attributes the leaked document to Congressman Rob Bishop, the ranking Republican member of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee and Chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus.
On March 9 the board unanimously approved letters to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, Congressman Tom McClintock and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger opposing the designation.
“We respectfully request that you not create any new national monument without thorough public consultation with the state and local governments which will be most directly affected by such action,” the board wrote.
According to John Ketelsen, county administrative officer, the Bureau of Land Management conducted a study of the wilderness areas in the Modoc Plateau back in 1980. Ketelsen noted the area included both public and private lands and, “The intention of this memo is to say, ‘We’d rather have a public process to trigger this,’ recognizing there’s a history of not involving the public and that it might be done by executive order only. We would request they take notice of this process, which has gone through a public review and follow the recommendation of the BLM.”
According to Ketelsen, only a small portion of the area under consideration qualified for a wilderness designation when studied by the BLM.
“There is relevant history governing the Modoc Plateau,” the board wrote. “In the early 1980s significant portions of this area were placed into a ‘Wilderness Study Area.’ It was subsequently studied and a report was submitted to congress and the administration in 1991 regarding the suitability of specific areas for permanent designation as ‘wilderness areas.’ The report contained recommendations for large portions of the areas to be released back to ‘multiple use.’”
District 2 Supervisors Jim Chapman said, “What we need to do is make sure the historical picture doesn’t get lost. While it’s easy for BLM or anybody to say the two (the BLM study and the national monument designation) are not connected. One affects the other … and that’s the purpose of the letter.”
District 5 Supervisor Jack Hanson said the designation could have an impact on possible wind energy projects and transmission line routes that could be constructed through the north county.
The board also lent its support to HR 4703, cosponsored by congressmen Tom McClintock and Wally Herger, a bill that would “prohibit the further extension or establishment of national monuments in California except by express authorization of congress.”
“Lassen County, as with many counties in the intermountain west, is already burdened with substantial federal and state ownership of land and assets within its boundaries thereby reducing opportunities for economic development,” the board wrote. “The county, therefore, would be strongly opposed to any additional restrictions on the public use of these lands through the establishment of the Modoc Plateau as a national monument. The responsible, sustainable use of the resources on these lands is critical to the citizens of Lassen County and their quality of life.”
District 1 Supervisor Bob Pyle asked what the national monument designation means.
Hanson responded, “Each one of them is tailor-made, so to speak. Each national monument will allow certain uses and disallow other uses. They’re all kind of different.”
Other areas under consideration for the designation according to the leaked document include the San Fafael Swell in Utah, the Northern Plateau in Montana, the Lesser Prairie Chicken Preserve in New Mexico, the Berryessa Snow Mountains in California, the Heart of the Great Basin in Nevada, Otero Mesa in New Mexico, the Northwest Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Owyhee Desert in Idaho, an expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in California, the Vermillion Basin in Colorado, Bodie Hills in California, the Cedar Mesa Region in Utah and the San Juan Islands in Washington.
The board also sent copies of the letter to U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Congressman Tom McClintock, state representatives Dave Cox and Dan Logue, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Modoc County Board of Supervisors, the Washoe County Board of Supervisors, the Nevada representatives in congress and Shawn Curtis of the U.S. Forest Service.
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