Wallowa County RAC sets example for state

By Katy Nesbitt, The Observer December 31, 2009 02:26 pm
ENTERPRISE — Wallowa County’s Natural Resource Advisory Committee has become an exemplary group in making balanced decisions and is a good example for other organizations around the state, says John Williams, NRAC member and Wallowa County’s OSU Extension agent said.

The Wallowa County Commissioners created the Natural Resource Advisory Commission to assist the Forest Service in prioritizing projects funded under Title II of the Secure Rural Schools Act of 2000. 

NRAC is comprised of representatives from the timber, ranching and farming industries as well as regulatory agencies and conservation organizations.

Wallowa County has had a nearly perfect record of getting projects approved by the Resource Advisory Committee, said Bruce Dunn, chair of the Wallowa County NRAC and employee of RY Timber. The RAC is a regional committee that helps prioritize projects on federal lands.

“Wallowa County is a leader in the process of preparing projects for the RAC,” Williams said.

He has presented the process Wallowa County uses to other counties, including Crook. He emphasizes the importance of having private industry lead the process in these presentations.

The Secure Rural Schools Act was created in a time when there wasn’t much timber harvest occurring, said Jeff Fields of the Northeast Oregon Nature Conservancy and Resource Advisory Committee. When timber receipts were no longer a viable means to fund rural roads and schools, the act was created for a six-year time period. After it reached its “sunset,’’ it was reinstated for another six years.

Funds from Title I of the act go to roads and schools. Title II provides funding for projects on federal land otherwise not in the Forest Service budget, Fields said. The projects are chosen based on priorities that include job creation as well as forest health, forest road maintenance, fish and wildlife protection, watershed restoration and noxious weed control. 

Fields said Title II funds have been used to replace culverts to improve fish passage and to brush out roads making travel easier. Thinning, weed control, protecting aspen from over-browsing and campground improvements are other common projects.

To support the Title II fund distribution, Resource Advisory Committees were created with the intent of having a diversity of groups represented to recommend projects to the Forest Service, Fields said. It includes local government officials, representatives of native tribes, non-governmental agencies, timber, ranching and private citizens.

Fields, who recently moved to the Nature Conservancy’s Enterprise office from John Day, has been a member of the regional RAC since its inception. 

When the RAC was first established there was an open solicitation publicized for membership, Fields said. The local RAC covers the Malheur, the Wallowa-Whitman and the Umatilla national forests. The amount of money each county receives depends on how many acres of national forest are within its boundaries, Fields said.

January and February is the time frame NRAC and the Forest Service scope projects for RAC approval. This is in order for projects to be approved by RAC in time for the Forest Service’s field season in late spring.