MONTROSE – Questioning the work it does, and whether or not Montrose County will have a voice in the organization, the Montrose Board of County Commissioners is hesitant to provide $5,000 in funding to the Public Lands Partnership.
The funding request was before the commissioners at their regular meeting in Montrose on Monday, May 6. The request caused some heartburn for commissioners Ron Henderson and David White, and was continued to a June meeting, so that White will have the opportunity to attend the next PLP meeting beforehand.
The nonprofit relies on its local government organizational members, including the cities of Delta and Montrose, as well as San Miguel, Ouray, Montrose and Delta counties, to provide funding for its basic operations. In turn, PLP uses that funding as leverage to garner grant funding in order to complete projects on the region’s public lands.
“We have taken on and done a lot of collaboration on all kinds of issues,” PLP Executive Committee Member Jim Free told the commissioners. “We have brought millions of dollars into the county through collaborative weed-management programs and native plant programs…We are sort of known for our applied activities.”
For instance, the Uncompahgre Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Partners project, a 10-year forest recovery project covering approximately 555,300 acres on the Uncompahgre Plateau, was awarded the U.S. Forest Service’s Chief Award. The project includes forest restoration that involves prescribed burns, mechanical treatments, timber harvests, invasive species treatments, native plant establishment, and trail and road relocations. The project received a 10-year, $8.5 million grant.
Founded in 1992, PLP is a nonprofit organization comprised of diverse stakeholders throughout the region, including local governments, federal land management agencies, concerned citizens, business leaders, and representatives from local interests such as ranching, recreation, logging and conservation. It is the mission of the PLP to promote public education and awareness of economic and environmental issues related to the public lands in the region, while providing a forum to air different sides of natural resource issues.
While all three commissioners said the work the PLP has done in the past has been beneficial, they expressed concerns about Montrose County having a voice within the organization, and wondered if the organization represents natural resource extraction interests as well.
“What I want to hear is, do we have the same goals of encouraging and working to make federal lands available for use for logging, grazing, etcetera?” Commissioner Gary Ellis said. “Do we share the common goal of this?”
“The PLP has that goal in terms of sitting down and coming up with solutions,” Free said. “We are advocates at keeping decision making at this level.”
Henderson and White both expressed concerns that the county may not have a voice in the organization. Henderson said he stopped attending meetings when he “couldn’t get any traction” in regards to resource extraction.
“From my perspective, the PLP has done a lot of good over the course of 20 years or so,” White said. “My only reservation is in that vein. Will we have a voice, a participatory voice?”
The discussion came moments after resident and tri-county Tea Party member Elaine Pigford invited the Montrose commissioners to a 7 p.m. event on May 16 ,where Utah State Rep. and constitutional advocate Ken Ivory will speak on the topic of taking local control of federal lands.
Henderson used that announcement as a point of emphasis during the PLP funding request discussion.
“I want to thank you for being such a good public service announcement for Ken Ivory,” Henderson told Free.
It was generally agreed upon during the discussion that federal dollars should flow directly to public lands projects, and that it’s a shame that isn’t the case. Instead, to get projects completed locally, a grant-funding mechanism must be in place. And without an organization like PLP in place, Free said, those grant dollars will not make it into the region’s economy.
“You have to play by their rules,” Free said.
“I feel like we are being played,” Henderson said, of the federal government. “I feel like some day we are going to have to say no and go ahead and live with the consequences. This is another shout out to go and listen to Ken Ivory.”
Resident Wally Smith agreed.
“I am tired of the game plan in Washington, D.C.,” Smith said. “If we do play that game, we will be communists, or Marxists, whatever. We are the losers…Somewhere we have to take a stand and say I am through.”
Despite the questioning as to whether or not the county should fund PLP, Ouray District Ranger Tammy Randall-Parker emphasized the importance of the PLP and that the region is lucky to have such an organization.
“What they have done is build a wonderful table of trust where people can come together, share and disagree,” Randall-Parker said. “People trust each other and can openly talk about these things.”
Ellis made a motion to approve the funding request but without a second from Henderson or White, that motion died. White then made a motion to continue the discussion until June, after he is able to attend the next PLP meeting. That motion was unanimously passed.