Oregon’s Crook County, encouraged by Trump administration policies and challenges to federal authority over public lands, has moved to take over thousands of acres.
PRINEVILLE, Ore. — Encouraged by the Trump administration’s pro-development policies, an Oregon county wants to take some control over federal lands that cover half of the high desert, mountains and forests within its borders.
The three-member Crook County Court governing body unanimously approved the Natural Resources Policy after a public meeting last week in which people spoke passionately for and against the policy.
A sign at the building’s entrance asked attendees to leave their weapons in their cars, and they were told by County Judge Seth Crawford to be respectful of each other. Crawford is the elected county administrator, not a courtroom judge.
The policy notes that “timber harvest, ranching, farming, and mining are the lifeblood of Crook County’s economy” and that “humans are entitled to an equal opportunity to use federal and private lands for both recreation and economic growth.”
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At least two other counties — Owyhee County in Idaho and Baker County in Oregon — have enacted similar provisions.
The Crook County policy was drafted by a political- action committee created by a group known as Central Oregon Patriots that backed Crawford in the election a year ago.
“This plan puts Crook County front and center in an aggressive challenge of federal authority on public lands,” said Sarah Cuddy, of the environmental group Oregon Wild who attended the meeting.
Patrick Lair, a spokesman for the Ochoco National Forest, said the Forest Service would have to wait and see how the county pursues the new policy. The county’s opinions are valued but are just a part of federal considerations, he said.
“As a federal agency, we have obligations to take input from all citizens and stakeholders, not just those who live closest,” Lair said.
The 1,330-square-mile national forest once supported five sawmills. All the mills were shuttered years ago as logging took a plunge.
Crook County Court previously considered the policy more than a year ago — before elections shifted the political landscape. Federal Bureau of Land Management district head Carol Benkosky warned it would create an adversarial relationship with federal agencies.
Since then, Wyoming lawyer Karen Budd-Falen, a key figure in the county supremacy movement, advised the county about modifying the plan.
Budd-Falen served on President Donald Trump’s transition team and has been mentioned as a possible nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management.
The movement that Budd-Falen has championed since the 1980s pushed to ensure federal land managers’ plans were consistent with the “customs and cultures” of the counties in which the federal lands were located, said R. McGreggor Cawley, a professor of environmental politics and public administration at the University of Wyoming.
Opponents of the Crook County policy predicted federal agencies will ignore it, and they fear it could spark an armed takeover such as the one at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge two years ago.
The new policy takes effect in 120 days.