Are Rural Communities Being Ignored?
By Apollo Fuhriman, Region 10 Advocate
In April, I met with county council members from Union and Wallowa Counties in Northeast Oregon. These elected officials described several significant long-term issues arising from federally owned lands. Approximately half of the land in these counties is controlled by the federal government, so timely implementation of federal regulations is crucial to the sustainability of the region.
Three key activities are being choked off by slow permit processes: streamlining grazing permits, harvesting burned out timber (which must be done rapidly to avoid rot and future hotter fires), and permitting dredging of previously dredged waterways. I was told that most grazing land in these counties that does not currently have an active grazing permit but is technically “grazing” land has been waiting for permits for 10 to 25 years. These counties are cattle counties. Without grazing land, the public resources (taxes), private business revenue, and job outlook are all bleak. Some suggestions are to turn over permitting or directly turn over the land to the county, the state, or the local federal offices with jurisdiction over the land.
In regards to forest fire land, “categorical exclusions” for lengthy environmental permits need to be streamlined so that the implementing regulations do not impede the laws that permit harvesting of burned out forests. This is a crucial aspect of preventing larger fires, as well as allowing the use of this resource in a timely manner.
Another significant problem is related to stream dredging and flooding in rural areas where the land is destroyed due to insufficient capacity in previously dredged water bodies. The problem is that the land is not available for use by cattle or to plant crops, but the land was originally not part of flood plains due to dredging of these water bodies. These are not spawning streams; rather, they are arterials. However, the counties have not been permitted to dredge them for years. This lack of capacity leads to flooding that destroys land instead of buildings. Since the immediate damage is to land rather than structures, these areas are not included in “state of emergency” declarations and do not receive the infrastructure assistance that comes with them. The council members’ suggestion is to revisit what comprises an “emergency” to include these lower-dollar areas. Over 15,000 acres are currently under water that are not usually flooded, and this could be remedied by capacity increases in the waterways.
These communities want to work, and they want to follow federal laws. They are trying to do so. However, in many instances, the regulations seem to impede the ability to use these resource lands. They rely on the federal regulatory agencies to process the permits in a timely manner.
Apollo Fuhriman serves as the Region 10 Advocate for the SBA Office of Advocacy, representing small businesses in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Fuhriman works with small business owners, state and local governments, and small business associations to bring the voice of Region 10 to Washington DC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.