Muscle-flexing largely for show

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners passed a new ordinance Wednesday that requires federal agencies to consult the county on any changes in land-use laws or procedures that would affect county residents. Commissioners admit the strongly worded resolution may have little effect. They're probably right.

What's more, if all they really wanted was what they refer to as "a seat at the table," they already have that. What they don't have — and won't get with an ordinance passed only by them — is any real ability to influence the outcome.

Officials with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management say they already take pains to communicate with county officials when land-use decisions affect local governments and local residents. Jim Whittington, spokesman for the BLM's Medford District, says his agency tries to make sure local and federal land-use planning flow together — provided the county plans are consistent with federal rules.

There's the rub.

We suspect the county commissioners would really like to be able to reject federal changes they don't like — such as the creation of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, for instance. The monument was created after extensive public input, although some local officials opposed it.

County commissioners say there is precedent in federal statutes for requiring coordination with local governments. They point to language in the National Forest Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.

They emphasize that the ordinance adopted Wednesday is designed not just to require the kind of coordination that already takes place. It also would require federal agencies to notify the county of proposed changes in advance of public notice, provide the opportunity for input and make practical efforts to resolve conflicts.

We still have our doubts, but this is uncharted territory. The Association of Oregon Counties says Jackson County's resolution is broader than anything on the books in any of the state's other 35 counties, and goes beyond the agreements AOC maintains with federal forest agencies.

Time will tell. But we'd bet the ordinance won't change things much. When push comes to shove, the federal government tends to get its way.

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