A plan to save our forests
Last week our Nevada County Supervisors properly passed a resolution declaring a local state of emergency resulting from our overgrown forests coupled with drought, and the likelihood of catastrophic fire especially in national forests.
They resolved to ask Gov. Brown to get involved and work with the federal government to alleviate this emergency.
This Nevada County resolution was prompted by two Sierra County resolutions that affirmed the catastrophic fire peril in their county and throughout the Sierra Nevada, and proposed an action plan involving all Sierra Nevada counties. The shortfall of the proposed action plan is it seeks a “coordinated strategy directed by the federal government …”
Many are opposed to any plan of action led by the federal government because even as the federal government has become aggrandized and bloated, the public forests have become degraded, overgrown and a worse fire hazard than ever. If you are naïve enough to accept the conventional progressive view of the public sector — that more funding, more power, and more personnel translates to better public services — then you would expect our public forests to resemble a private garden of some potentate.
But that is not the case. The federal government has not earned the public trust to address the perilous catastrophic fire problem.
On Aug. 26 , before passing the described resolution, the supervisors lamented, “we have no power.” But this isn’t necessarily so and the comment has prompted me to share the following about power of the counties.
First, all Sierra Nevada counties need to draft or redraft their land use plans to foster logging, mining, recreational use, open roads, cattle grazing on all lands in the county. Yes, this will take work, but it is necessary.
Second, supervisors of the counties must familiarize themselves with coordination laws and their implementation. Here, they have county counsel, or if necessary outside counsel, to help guide them with the law and pertinent procedures.
Next, coordination demand letters should be sent to all federal agencies present in each county. This will usually be BLM, the National Forest Service, and Fish & Wildlife Service. The letters will spell out the land use plans for the forests of the county. Pursuant to the coordination process, each county should insist on compliance by each federal agency with their new, smart land use plans. Despite different coordination standards for different federal agencies, the county must insist on meaningful coordination with federal land managers as the county’s exercise of “power” under the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Assume the federal agency does not coordinate or respect the county land use plan. Here’s the where the county has some power.
To start, federal lands are treated like lands held by any other owner—they are subject to the civil and criminal laws of our state.
The elected sheriff of each county is the chief law enforcement officer of that county, which is a subdivision of the state and independent of the federal government. (See Printz v U.S., 521 U.S. 898 (1997); Kleppe v. New Mexico, 426 U.S. 529, 543 (1976); and Caha v. U.S., 152 U.S. 211, 215 (1894): “within any state of this Union the preservation of the peace and protection of person and property are the functions of the state government …”)
Most importantly, the county supervisors must support the sheriff of the county as chief law enforcement officer to deny the federal agency any law enforcement power, thereby removing their power to use force if they fail to coordinate with the county’s land use plan for the forest. This strategy is legally appropriate and avoids expensive litigation before government paid federal judges.
If a majority of rural counties in California were to get on the same page, the roar and effect would be so loud the federal government would have to pay attention. And, the counties can do it alone.
I believe this strategy would result in more prudent and productive use of our forest resources which in turn would improve the economic condition of rural counties. And, Nevada County could lead the way, as our own Supervisor Nate Beason is Chair of the Rural Counties Representative Council. For the welfare and safety of all, let us hope and pray for an effective plan to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire amongst all the Sierra Nevada counties.
Norm Sauer, who lives in Nevada City, is a member of The Union Editorial Board.
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