The Plumas County Board of Supervisors (BOS) approved a letter at a meeting Tuesday, March 8, inviting other counties “to form a coalition to explore legal and political remedies” to the Forest Service’s new travel management plans.
At the same meeting, Sierra Access Coalition (SAC) Executive Director Corky Lazzarino vowed to challenge the Plumas National Forest’s (PNF) travel management plan in court.
BOS Chairwoman Lori Simpson began the conversation by informing the audience, “All the appeals that were submitted, including Plumas County’s, were denied.”
Chester Supervisor Sherrie Thrall explained that Indian Valley Supervisor Robert Meacher was on the board when “the rural counties surrounding Plumas County had a group of supervisors that kinda met and coordinated and at some point the issues were taken over by RCRC (Regional Council of Rural Counties) and the group decided to dissolve.”
“Again we’re seeing the real benefit and mutual support, especially in our tough budget times, because no one county can afford to take on an issue as big as something like the Forest Service.”
Thrall suggested that the group would likely outlive the travel management issue and find new areas where the northern counties could collaborate.
“I believe we’re going to get a lot of support from other counties,” Graeagle Supervisor Jon Kennedy commented.
He elaborated that Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood’s recent comments at a tea party meeting, vowing not to enforce many of the new travel management rules, caused representatives from El Dorado, Sierra and Butte counties to contact Plumas officials with words of encouragement.
“Hopefully we can come to some resolution without all this litigation,” Kennedy concluded.
SAC circles the wagons
Lazzarino lamented that her group put a significant amount of time into creating suggestions for altering the travel management plan, only to have them all denied.
“Litigation isn’t something anybody wants to do, but the consensus of SAC is that we must take this case to court to lift the unreasonable restrictions that are being imposed on our public lands.”
Addressing the supervisors directly she continued, “Each of you has been extremely supportive of our position regarding travel management and I thank you for that. Now is the time to carry your support to the next level.
“SAC has consulted with two attorneys, and they believe we have a very strong case. Litigation is very expensive. Our attorneys estimate the cost to be $50,000.”
Lazzarino said her group was holding several fundraisers that would hopefully generate around $20,000, while she expected other user groups, businesses and private citizens to lend financial support.
“Now we are asking the counties to join us,” she concluded.
Although supervisors signaled their support for her cause, they did not directly address her request for funds, as it was not on the agenda.
Forest Service response
Plumas National Forest Supervisor Alice Carlton told Lazzarino, “The appeal resolution points that SAC put together were far above, and creative in their ideas, of anything else that came from any of the appeals.
“I would have really enjoyed and appreciated having the opportunity to participate with SAC during that appeal period to see if we could come to some sort of a negotiated agreement on some of those appeal points.
“Unfortunately, SAC chose not to dialogue and I know that they have to do that for legal reasons, but I did really look forward to working with SAC on some of those points.”
Despite Carlton’s apparent good intentions, none of the appeal meetings between PNF staff members and appellants led to negotiated agreements and it appeared the process gave her little authority to make changes to the travel management plan at that stage.
SAC was not the only group to decline participation in those meetings.
The Wilderness Society, arguing from the opposite perspective, also followed legal advice to skip those meetings.
Carlton added that many of the suggestions received in the appeal process conflicted with the National Environmental Policy Act studies the PNF had done, or they would have required new expensive studies.
Addressing the future, she added, “I invite working with the county, with SAC, with other user groups so that we can jointly move forward from this place of decision to hone this decision so we can get it better to meet your needs.
“One of the things that I talked to many of the appellants about is we need to prioritize because I don’t have the resources.
“I don’t know that anybody has the resources to take on everything at once and so I’m really encouraged that the county set up the coordinating council with regular meetings so that we can start tackling some of these issues and hit those that are the highest priority to the county first.”
At this point, Meacher motioned for Thrall and Eastern Plumas Supervisor Terry Swofford to be the county’s representatives on any coalition formed in response to the board’s letter.
Meacher chose those two because they were already on the county’s coordinating council, which has met extensively with the Forest Service on the travel management issue.
Several members of the audience chanted their preference for Kennedy to be on the committee, arguing that he had more free time as a new supervisor.
Meacher explained he wanted Thrall on the committee because her district had the Lassen National Forest on it as well “and this coalition needs representation on both in our county.”
Swofford agreed, and motioned for Kennedy and Thrall to sit on the committee.
Meacher seconded the motion with a laugh, commenting, “That’s the first time I’ve been here in 19 years that we made a decision like it was a game show.”