Sublette pushes for changes to Mitigation Policy
by Cat Urbigkit, Pinedale Online!
March 22, 2018
Sublette County Commissioners Joel Bousman and Mack Rawhouser successfully led the charge to get National Association of Counties (NACO) support of efforts to overturn federal mitigation policies adopted during the Obama Administration.
During a recent NACO Legislative Conference in the nation’s capital, the Sublette County Commissioners sponsored a resolution - backed by the Wyoming County Commissioners Association (WCCA) - requiring federal agencies to revert to the mitigation hierarchy of "avoid, minimize, and mitigate" rather than a more recent federal directive which seeks a "landscape-scale" approach including a standard for a "net-benefit goal or, at a minimum of no-net-loss goal" for natural resources.
Bousman and Rawhouser argued that the Obama-era policies and directives exceeded statutory authority. If NACO is successful in getting the Obama directive revoked, federal agencies will go back to the traditional policy of first avoiding impacts to sensitive resources where possible; minimizing impacts if avoidance cannot be achieved; and providing mitigation (either on-site or off-site) for remaining impacts.
The Trump Administration has already revoked or rescinded most of the Obama federal mitigation policies, but some still linger in the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and Fish & Wildlife Service.
The Commissioners noted that the Obama-era federal requirements for compensatory mitigation and the goal of "net conservation gain," could delay federal planning processes and permit approvals for actions on federal lands. They argued that the policy inhibits economic progress and job growth, and that county governments "are concerned that using compensatory mitigation to purchase private property and transfer it to the federal government would remove such property from the local tax base and decrease revenue for local government."
The Sublette-backed effort successfully advanced through both the Public Lands Steering Committee and the NACO board of directors at their respective meetings.
In other news from the NACO trip, the two Sublette County Commissioners:
• Heard updates from top Interior and Agriculture Department officials about better ways to interact with local governments as cooperating agencies. Commissioner Bousman is the NACO lead on a USDA Forest Service project to develop a Forest Service Guidebook for working with county governments during federal planning processes undertaken pursuant to the National Environmental Quality Act.
• Presented a WCCA white paper explaining the barriers to wildfire suppression and fuel management under the Forest Service’s roadless management rules. According to Bousman: "Addressing this situation in the Wyoming Range is crucial to our ability to reduce the cost of fire suppression. In 2017, the cost of fire suppression consumed nearly 60% of the Forest Service’s operating budget, thus reducing the ability of the agency to manage the land."
• Commissioner Bousman presented a report on the Sublette County Forest Collaborative to U.S. Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke, and Commissioner Mack Rawhouser had an opportunity to speak directly with Chief Tooke about collaborative efforts to promote stewardship of natural resources, but the next day Chief Tooke resigned in wake of sexual misconduct allegations.