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Natrona County seeks public input on natural resource plan
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Natrona County seeks public input on natural resource plan

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Sage grouse

A male sage grouse tries to impress a group of hens, at left, in April 2014 near the base of the Rattlesnake Range in southwest Natrona County. Sage grouse estimates in Montana increased by 73% in 2020.

Natrona County consists of nearly 3.5 million acres of life-giving land. Twenty-eight watersheds feed hundreds of miles of rivers and streams. There are almost 2 million acres of identified core sage grouse habitat and an overall annual population increase of 0.5 percent.

And about 53 percent of land in Natrona County is owned by either the state or federal government.

What is done with that land affects that growing number of people living in the county. It affects tourism dollars and hospitality jobs, it affects wildlife and recreation, and it affects how the county plans for growth and development in the future.

Wouldn’t you like to have a say over how those things are impacted by the powers that be? Well, for the next few months, you can.

Natrona County is in the process of rewriting a component of its natural resource management plan so that state and federal government agencies know what the county’s expectations and priorities are for land and resource management.

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Say, for example, the Bureau of Land Management comes out with a new plan that directly conflicts with Natrona County’s plan. The bureau is legally required to consider the county’s plan and take it into account in its decision-making.

Without a clear county plan, the bureau wouldn’t necessarily need to consider the county’s concerns.

The county already has a natural resources management plan, and the plan as a whole will remain as is. What this process does is update Chapter Seven of the county’s existing plan, which deals with state and federal land use.

The Natrona County Commissioners have hired consultants, using money provided by the state, to reexamine this section of the plan. The consultants come through Montana-based DJ&A, an engineering and planning company with experience in natural resource management in Wyoming.

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In total the company is working with four Wyoming counties to develop these plans.

What the consultants and the commissioners hope to elevate is the “So what?” Why is this important?

In the simplest terms, the plan gives the county a seat at the table when agencies of the state or federal government have plans for public land in the state.

The plan provides a pathway for those agencies to communicate and coordinate with the county while providing them with detailed and crucial information necessary to make the most informed land management decisions.

That’s where Dessa Dale, DJ&A’s project leader, comes in. The public input she receives will help inform how the plan is shaped and what information gets focused on.

Neither state or federal law requires counties to have these plans, but in order for the county to have the greatest influence over how land is handled, the plan is vital.

But counties don’t have to update their plans annually. The push to do this now comes down to a piece of legislation passed by the state Legislature last year (House Bill 54, now House Enrolled Act 22). That bill provided counties with up to $50,000 to either initiate or rework their federal and state public land management plans.

The plan is comprehensive in its scope of natural resources and county demographic information, but it’s also limited to what they know about the county today, County Commissioner Forrest Chadwick said.

“This is what we have here today; it’s gonna change,” he said, explaining that what goes into the plan now isn’t the be-all and end-all of natural resource planning for the county. The plan can be updated.

If members of the public would like their input considered in the formation of the plan, they’re being encouraged to fill out a survey available on the Natrona County website or at s.surveyplanet.com/T-qNR8IB.

Getting these surveys turned in isn’t only important for public participation. Dale said it’s invaluable to have a written record of public priorities when forming the plan. Survey responses will be accepted through April, but for the input to be used in the report they must be finished by April 1.

A draft of the plan, with tentative recommendations for DJ&A, is also available on the county’s website. The county will continually update the webpage with documents and updates on the planning process.

Follow local government reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @morganhwrites

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Health and education reporter

Morgan Hughes covers health and education in Wyoming. After growing up in rural Wisconsin, she graduated from Marquette University in 2018. She moved to Wyoming shortly after and covered education in Cheyenne before joining the Star-Tribune in May 2019.

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