The Wallowa County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to appeal the recently released Hells Canyon National Recreation Area Management Plan during a special meeting Monday morning.

The county has reserved $10,000 to pay for the services of attorney Karen Budd Fallon for the preparation and pursuit of an administrative appeal. The county is also expecting contributions to help cover appeal and legal expenses from individuals and other counties.

"But we're taking the lead," said commissioner Ben Boswell.

Boswell concedes that "Alternative W" developed by Wallowa County and "Alternative E-modified" preferred by the U.S. Forest Service are "not that far apart." However, the county board feels that the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process requires that "their alternative be reconciled with ours." Wallowa County's alternative has reportedly been endorsed by a dozen other counties.

Boswell noted that the county has long taken an activist stand in advocating that "valid and traditional" uses in the HCNRA be permitted, as stated in the original act creating the recreation area "where compatible." The phrase "where compatible" has become a huge issue, Boswell said, "but we say they are compatible; that's why they were included in the legislation."

While the "valid and traditional uses" are still included in the new management plan, grazing is now banned in the main HCNRA canyon, where all existing grazing allotments are already vacant.

"We think that's a mistake," said Boswell. "Grazing can be applied as a management tool, and it's a mistake to categorically deny it. ... That decision does not acknowledge valid and traditional management tools."

Boswell said that while members of the county's Natural Resources Advisory Committee were involved in consultations during the formulation of the management plan alternatives, "What was supposed to happen was a government to government session to reconcile the alternatives," said Boswell. "Procedurally we need to assert ourselves and still have a working relationship with the U.S. Forest Service."

The county has been working with that agency on a number of issues and projects, including the Joseph Creek watershed, the Blue Mountain land exchange, and Mount Howard-Alder Slope fuel reduction project.

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