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The Salmon-Challis National Forest and both the Challis and Salmon Field Offices of the Bureau of Land Management will be updating their decades old land management plans in the coming months. A group of citizens from Custer and Lemhi Counties are discussing ways to tackle issues that cross agency and county boundaries. Salmon Valley Stewardship and the Custer Extension Office will co-convene a meeting at theChallis Community Event Center on Tuesday, May 17, from 2 – 5 p.m.

I think it’s important to note that neither the Forest Service nor the BLM has officially started their plan updates, so while their staff are most welcome to attend, this is not an official agency meeting. In talking to other communities that have been through this kind of public lands planning, the advice I’ve received is to figure out early which of the many issues the agencies have to examine are of real interest to communities — figure out who should be at the table and who can be at the table.

Several groups in the area already work together on public lands issues. The Challis Local Sage-grouse Working Group, the Custer Natural Resource Advisory Committee, the Lemhi Forest Restoration Group, Stanley Fire Collaborative, Central Idaho Rangeland Network and Upper Salmon River Basin Watershed Project are examples. But in counties with more than 90 percent public lands, everyone is affected by public lands policies.

At the Challis meeting on May 17th, we hope to leave with an understanding of which issues are worth looking at from several different perspectives and who wants to pitch in and do the work.

I was encouraged when I sat down with the Custer County Natural Resource Advisory Committee last week. Although Custer and Lemhi Counties have so much in common, sometimes we talk ourselves into believing that we have more differences than similarities. But in our view, the communities of these two counties have learned lessons that can be shared, and we know we all face challenges that cross county — and public lands — boundaries. The Salmon-Challis National Forest and the BLM plans were finalized at a time when economic, social, and ecological circumstances were quite a bit different than they are today. Public land management agencies and communities have struggled with many of these changes. What if together we could re-imagine what the future of these public lands dominated communities could be?

I appreciate and share the guarded optimism of Jim Hawkins, chair of Custer County’s Natural Resource Advisory Committee. He said, “This is the ‘early bird’ approach, and I think it has real promise to bring a lot of people together and make a difference in these long-term plans. It is an opportunity to think outside the box and get ideas from each other.”

On May 17, the hope is that all kinds of people can express what they see as the roles and contributions of our public lands. And of course, you don’t have to be a resident to have a voice. They are public lands, after all. But we also need to figure out which pieces make sense to look at from a variety of viewpoints, which issues could be served by coming up with a common vision shared by a wide variety of interests and individuals.

We are planning to carpool from Salmon, so those heading to Challis from this part of the region can meet at Idaho Adventures at the juncture of Highway 93N and Main Street at 12:30 p.m. If you have any questions, please call Gina or Madison at SVS, 756-1686.

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