This an excerpt from Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement co-published with Rural Organizing Project.
“Coordination” is a process which allows state, county, and other lower-level governments to give input to federal agencies’ land use plans, in an attempt to achieve consistency. While this process is mentioned in a number of federal acts, the Hard Right promotes an interpretation of it which is close to its doctrines of the county governments as holding more power than the federal government, including the notion that county sheriffs can decide what laws are constitutional.
Coordination is mentioned in federal acts including the Federal Land Management Planning Act (FLMPA), the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 1). The most commonly cited one is FLPMA. It says the Bureau of Land Management, should, to the “extent” it is “practical”:
- “keep apprised of State, local, and tribal land use plans,”
- “assure that consideration is given to those State, local, and tribal plans that are germane in the development of land use plans for public lands,”
- “assist in resolving, to the extent practical, inconsistencies between Federal and non-Federal Government plans,” and
- “provide for meaningful public involvement of State and local government officials, both elected and appointed, in the development of land use programs, land use regulations, and land use decisions for public lands, including early public notice of proposed decisions which may have a significant impact on non-Federal lands.”2)
The Hard Right changes the reading of this, following its tradition of redefining legal language for its own political ends. For instance, the American Stewards for Liberty, a Texas-based nonprofit which promotes coordination, claims that it provides local governments with “an equal position at the negotiating table with federal and state government agencies.” Joseph Rice, an Oregon Oath Keepers leader, says federal agencies must “coordinate to consensus”—thereby giving “veto power” to the lower governments.3)
Some individuals go further, claiming that federal agencies must accept the lower government’s plans. And Hard Right activists have promoted the idea that “local governments” include not just states, counties, and tribes, but also cities, water and school districts, sheriffs departments, and mining districts. Rice even claims that Committees of Safety—Patriot movement shadow governments—can invoke coordination as well.4)
The best-known promoters of the Hard Right version of coordination are the American Stewards of Liberty and its former president, Fred Kelly Grant, who keeps a busy speaking schedule. For them, coordination is a vehicle for anti-environmental politics; the Hard Right version seems to be invoked by local governments seeking to maximize resource extraction on federal lands, which they hope will revive moribund rural economies. The American Stewards of Liberty, for example, also tries to “delist” species from the Endangered Species Act, and encourages lower governments to commission their own environmental studies.5) Grant also loudly promotes the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory.6)
Federal agencies reject the Hard Right version. So does the Montana Human Rights Network, an independent watchdog, which says coordination means that federal agencies are required to take the opinions of local governmental entities into planning considerations, but only when “it is practical, upholds the laws governing public lands, and is consistent with federal law.”7) They base this on a legal memo which affirms that neither the Forest Service, nor the Bureau of Land Management, are obligated to conform to local government land use plans. (The memo also notes that coordination obligations are limited to the “land planning process,” and are not applicable to the “general decision making process.”) And it points out that—despite attempts by Grant and American Stewards of Liberty to redefine the term “coordination” itself to mean an “equal position”—the courts will defer to the agencies’ interpretation of terms used in their own acts, as long as they do not clash with Congress’s intentions.8)
Federal land-use agencies have also issued documents dispelling Far Right interpretations of coordination, and defining what the process entails. A Forest Service FAQ says:
Under NFMA [National Forest Management Act] and the planning regulations, the Forest Service is required to coordinate land management planning for the National Forest System with land management planning conducted by state and local governments. However, the Forest Service is not required to adopt recommendations made by state and local entities. In particular, the Forest Service is not required to incorporate specific provisions of county ordinances or resolutions into land management plans or to comply with procedural requirements, such as a requirement to obtain county approval before amending or revising a land management plan. Neither the statutes governing Forest Service land management planning nor their implementing regulations provide for more than an advisory role for state and local governments.9)
How coordination plays out in real life between federal agencies and local governments is more complex, however. It appears that local governments, like Oregon’s Baker County, sometimes invoke coordination, use their legally guaranteed entry point, and then—fuelled by Hard Right theories and tactics—attempt to widen the gap of how much say they have over land-use decisions on federal lands by insisting on the Hard Right reading. At other times—as with Oregon’s Josephine County—it seems that they start the process with the Hard Right version in mind, and end up agreeing with the regularly accepted one.
Pressures on under-budgeted federal agencies that oversee public lands—the employees of which are sometimes literally under attack from more radical Patriot movement and other land use activists—appears to have some level of success in wringing concessions to county land use desires, even though agencies are not legally obligated to provide them. High Country News writes that, “Federal managers acknowledge that they meet more frequently with local officials in counties that have passed coordination resolutions and drafted resource policies—but not because they’re required to heed those plans.” (They also report that the Bureau of Land Management has done joint trainings with the American Stewards of Liberty.)10)
It’s not clear why counties who invoke coordination get more attention. It may be a case of “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” where counties that have been ignored by federal agencies are now brought into dialogue. It may also be true that federal agencies are worried that a county that invokes coordination is already rife with Patriot movement politics, and it is better to make compromises rather than risk a Bundy Ranch or Malheur National Wildlife Refuge-style armed standoff.
However, other counties have not had such positive results. Craig Sullivan, the head of the County Supervisors Association of Arizona, testified during discussion about a 2011 coordination bill in the Montana legislature. Sullivan said a similar bill, passed in Arizona, did nothing to facilitate federal-local cooperation; its only effect was to give voters the idea that county supervisors could control federal agencies.11) Counties that are insistent on pursuing the Hard Right interpretation may also empty their coffers on lawsuits that are bound to fail.
Travis McAdam, former executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network, says Hard Right advocates of coordination have “merely put a new face on the longtime anti-government doctrine of county supremacy.”12) During this movement, popular between 1991 and 1994, counties passed ordinances to try and gain control over federal lands—including six in Oregon.13) Catron County, New Mexico, passed one saying the federal government had to have county approval to change public land use. On a more extreme note, Nye County, Nevada, challenged the legality of federal ownership altogether, claiming that these public lands belonged to the state. The Nye County ordinance was struck down by the courts, but Catron County rescinded their ordinance, and instead claimed “joint lead agency status” under coordination language in the Public Rangelands Improvement Act. The county said it gave them “equal footing” with the Forest Service; the agency claimed it did not diminish their authority, but signed a Memorandum of Understanding anyway.14)
The American Stewards for Liberty makes the clever argument that coordination is completely different than county supremacy. The group turns arguments about local authority on their head, instead affirming that Congress has “exclusive power over the federal lands.” They then argue that since the federal government is the highest authority, and coordination is based on federal laws, therefore federal agencies are obligated to coordinate with lower-level governments.15) In reality, their views are a continuation of the second tactic employed by Catron County used during the County Supremacy movement: re-reading federal coordination clauses to give the counties more power than the agencies have granted them.
Coordination in Oregon
This Hard Right version of coordination has attracted very mainstream support, and the Oregon Republican Party includes it in its platform.16) There are also at least six Oregon counties where the Hard Right version of coordination, or one influenced by that approach, has been pushed. The proposal often bubbles up following one of Fred Kelly Grant’s paid seminars to local governments.
The chair of the Josephine County Commission brought Fred Kelley Grant to town in July 2011, where he gave a two-day seminar on coordination, one for county sheriffs and one for the public. Immediately afterward, the county commission and county sheriff pursued coordination efforts—although to what extent these complied with the regularly accepted version of the concept varies. The county commission has pushed a version of coordination influenced by Grant numerous times, starting in at least 2010. As of August 2016, they currently have established cordial relations with the Forest Service but apparently have had no success with the Bureau of Land Management. The former sheriff, Gil Gilbertson, also invoked coordination in 2011, claiming the right to keep roads open. The Jefferson Mining District in southwestern Oregon also claims right to coordination.17) It appears that while activists pressing the commission for coordination adhered to the Hard Right version, the current county legal counsel says that coordination does not mean that counties can dictate land use to the federal government.
In Baker County, County Commission Chair Bill Harvey has pushed coordination. After taking office in January 2015, Harvey and his supporters in the county’s Natural Resources Advisory Committee created a Natural Resources Plan, usually the movement’s first step in invoking coordination.18) When Grant spoke at a Baker City banquet in May 2015, he said it was the seventh time he had come there. He returned in August 2015 to give a three-day seminar, which featured County Commission Chair Harvey as “emcee/moderator.”19)
In Grant County, Sheriff Glenn Palmer deputized eleven people to create a “Natural Resources Plan” modeled on Baker County’s; all of this was apparently done in secret. In October 2015, Palmer announced to the county commission that he was invoking coordination, and asked for the commission’s support. They eventually turned him down for a more collaborative approach.20) Fred Kelly Grant also spoke in John Day, the largest town in Grant County, at the end of November 2015.21)
In Wallowa County, Commissioner Paul Castilleja has attended Fred Kelly Grant talks, and has pushed for coordination.22)
In Crook County in February 2016, a private group, the Crook County Natural Resources Political Action Committee (tied to the Central Oregon Patriots group), brought Baker’s County’s Harvey to Prineville to give a seminar on coordination.23) The PAC developed a natural resource plan and attempted to get the county commission to adopt it. The scheme won the support of three county commissioners or judges at one point, although in August 2016 it was rejected.24)
Last, the Harney County Committee of Safety was touted as having the powers of coordination. Josephine County Oath Keepers’ leader Joseph Rice said, in the meeting held directly after the January 2, 2016 march (and while the occupation had just started), that, “The Committee of Safety that’s formed, what’s unique about that, is that is the establishment of a governmental entity. That forces BLM, in their own policy, they must coordinate with you. It becomes no different than a school district, a mining district, or a fire district; they’re pseudo-government entities.” It is unclear, however, if Committee members believed this themselves.25)
|1.||↑||The American Stewards of Liberty name a number of other acts, including the Endangered Species Act, Travel Management Plan Coordination Regulations, Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act (16 USC 2003), Metropolitan Transportation Planning (23 USC 134), Homeland Security Organization (6 USC 101), Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (16 USC 1271), Clean Air Act (42 USC 7401), and Clean Water Act (33 USC 1251). See “Key Federal Statutes,” American Stewards of Liberty, www.americanstewards.us/programs/coordination/key-federal-statutes|
|2.||↑||Section 202 (43 U.S.C. 1712) in U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management and Office of the Solicitor, eds., The Federal Land Policy and Management Act, as amended (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management Office of Public Affairs, 2001), http://www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/wo/Communications_Directorate/legislation.Par.3647.File.dat/FLPMA.pdf, 4. Similar language appears in the Bureau of Land Management’s A Desk Guide to Cooperating Agency Relationships and Coordination with Intergovernmental Partners, 2012, 21–23, www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/wo/Planning_and_Renewable_Resources/NEPS.Par.93370.File.dat/BLM_DeskGuide_CA_Relationships.pdf.|
|3.||↑||“Coordination Overview, part 1 of the 3 part series,” American Stewards of Liberty, www.americanstewards.us/programs/coordination/coordination-overview. Joseph Rice uses the phrase “coordinate to consensus,” including in an interview with the author, July 17, 2016.|
|4.||↑||“Who Can Coordinate?,” American Stewards of Liberty, www.americanstewards.us/who-can-coordinate. In Oregon, county sheriffs Gil Gilbertson and Glenn Palmer, as well as the Jefferson Mining District, have invoked coordination. Joseph Rice has claimed the power for the Committees of Safety; telephone interview with author, July 17, 2016.|
|5.||↑||“Delisting,” American Stewards of Liberty, www.americanstewards.us/delisting; Joshua Zaffos, “Counties use a ‘coordination’ clause to fight the feds,” High Country News, May 11, 2015, www.hcn.org/issues/47.8/counties-use-a-coordination-clause-to-fight-the-feds.|
|6.||↑||Ryan Sabalow, “Fred Kelly Grant talks Agenda 21, ‘coordination’ with local activists,” Record Searchlight (Boulevard Redding, CA), January 23, 2012, www.redding.com/news/fred-kelly-grant-talks-agenda-21-coordination-with-local-activists-ep-375305599-354531551.html.|
|7.||↑||See Montana Human Rights Network, “Recycled County Supremacy Gains Traction, Lacks Legal Basis,” Montana Human Rights Network, November 2, 2012, www.mhrn.org/publications/specialresearchreports/MHRN%20Report%20-%20Coordination.pdf. See also Kenneth P. Pitt, “Legal Analysis of the Montana Senate Bill—SB117, Entitled ‘The Montana Coordination Act of 2011,” Montana Human Rights Network, June 26, 2012, www.mhrn.org/publications/fact sheets and adivsories/Final Legal Memo on Coordination.pdf.|
|8.||↑||Kenneth P. Pitt, “Legal Analysis of the Montana Senate Bill—SB117, Entitled ‘The Montana Coordination Act of 2011,” Montana Human Rights Network, June 26, 2012, www.mhrn.org/publications/fact sheets and adivsories/Final Legal Memo on Coordination.pdf.|
|9.||↑||U.S. Forest Service, “Frequently Asked Questions: U.S. Forest Service Coordination with State and Local Governments,” three page flyer. The Wallowa-Whitman Forest Supervisor, Thomas Montoya, sent this to Baker County Commission Chair Bill Harvey, along with a letter, dated November 19, 2015, discussing the meaning of coordination. PDF in possession of author.|
|10.||↑||See Joshua Zaffos, “Counties use a ‘coordination’ clause to fight the feds,” High Country News, May 11, 2015, www.hcn.org/issues/47.8/counties-use-a-coordination-clause-to-fight-the-feds.|
|11.||↑||Montana Human Rights Network, “Recycled County Supremacy Gains Traction, Lacks Legal Basis,” Montana Human Rights Network, November 2, 2012, www.mhrn.org/publications/specialresearchreports/MHRN%20Report%20-%20Coordination.pdf|
|13.||↑||The six were Coos, Grant, Lake, Union, Wallowa, and Wheeler. See Rob Eure, “Land Grab,” Oregonian, July 24, 1995, A1, www.oregonlive.com/search/Oregonian (behind a paywall).|
|14.||↑||Elizabeth M. Osenbaugh and Nancy K. Stoner, “The County Supremacy Movement,” Urban Lawyer 28, no. 3 (Summer 1996): 500–501, 508; Susan Schock, “Civil Unrest: County Movements Declare War on the United States,” in The Second Revolution: States Rights’, Sovereignty, and Power of the County, ed. Eric Ward (Seattle: Peanut Butter Publishing, 1997), 150–51.|
|15.||↑||“Coordination, the 4 ‘C’s’, and Supremacy,” American Stewards of Liberty, www.americanstewards.us/programs/coordination/coordination-the-4-cs-and-supremacy.|
|16.||↑||As happens in some cases, it is difficult to tell if the Oregon Republican Party is invoking coordination in the normally accepted manner, or in the fringe interpretation—although the language of “economy, culture, and history” implies the latter. Their platform says, “We strongly support and encourage the ‘Coordination’ process, as defined by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, by local governments to ensure federal projects are consistent with local plans, economy, culture and history.” See section 5.1 in “Oregon Republican Party 2015 Platform as amended October 24th 2015,” Oregon GOP, https://oregon.gop/sites/default/files/pdfs/ORP_2015_Platform_as_AMENDED_2015-10-24.pdf.|
|17.||↑||Jim Foley, “Mining Districts: A Concept Reborn,” ICMJ’s Prospecting & Mining Journal, 81, no. 2 (October 2011), www.icmj.com/article.php?id=1453; letter from Arthur Sappington (Jefferson Mining District) to Mr. Pena (USDA Forest Service), dated October 20, 2014, www.jeffersonminingdistrict.com/letter_to_pena_12_ 2014refWalden.pdf.|
|18.||↑||Joshua Dillen, “County, Forest Service discuss coordination,” Baker City Herald, October 2, 2015, www.bakercityherald.com/Local-News/County-Forest-Service-discuss-coordination; letter from Thomas Montoya to Bill Harvey (file code 1950), November 19, 2015, PDF in author’s possession.|
|19.||↑||For the May banquet, see: Kerry McQuisten, “Fred Kelly Grant, Rep. Kerry White come to FAFA event,” Baker County Press, May 22, 2015, http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/2015260133/2015-05-22/ed-1/seq-1.pdf and http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/2015260133/2015-05-22/ed-1/seq-10.pdf; The 10th Amendment Institute of the Stand and Fight Club Inc, “Coordination 101,” one-page flyer, Forest Access for All, http://forestaccessforall.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Coordination-flyer.pdf; The 10th Amendment Institute of the Stand and Fight Club Inc., “Coordination 101,” event program, Forest Access for All, http://forestaccessforall.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Coordination-101-Daily-Program.pdf. As emcee, see Fred Kelly Grant, “Letters to the Editor,” Baker City Herald, September 2, 2015 (updated Feb 13, 2016), www.bakercityherald.com/Letters/Letters-to-the-Editor-for-Sept-2-2015.|
|20.||↑||George Plaven, “Grant County sheriff demands coordination with Forest Service,” East Oregonian, October 9, 2015, www.eastoregonian.com/eo/local-news/20151009/grant-county-sheriff-demands-coordination-with-forest-service; Sean Hart, “Local collaborative awarded $4 million in federal forest restoration funding,” Blue Mountain Eagle, April 5 (updated April 6), 2016, www.bluemountaineagle.com/Local_News/20160405/local-collaborative-awarded-4-million-in-federal-forest-restoration-funding.|
|21.||↑||Flyer for Fred Kelly Grant talk on “Coordination,” November 28, 2015, John Day, Oregon. PDF in possession of author.|
|22.||↑||Paul Castilleja, email to author, July 19, 2016.|
|23.||↑||“Public Presentation: ‘Coordination’,” Facebook event for February 20, 2016, www.facebook.com/events/945547642203123. The event itself was recorded and is online: “Coordination meeting #1,” YouTube video, 57:41, posted by “Crooked River Currents View,” March 4, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ISxfkIalHA; “Coordination meeting #2,” YouTube video, 57:36, posted by “Crooked River Currents View,” March 4, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHpPuPtMaoo; “Coordination meeting #3,” YouTube video, 24:45, posted by “Crooked River Currents View,” March 4, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=xN39GR–rpc.|
|24.||↑||“Jason Chaney, “Citizens to form local natural resource plan,” Central Oregonian, February 2, 2016, http://pamplinmedia.com/ceo/162-news/291526-167892-citizens-to-form-local-natural-resource-plan; Amanda Peacher, “Crook County Leaders Unexpectedly Table Natural Resource Plan,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, July 20, 2016, www.opb.org/news/article/crook-county-leaders-table-natural-resource-plan; Minutes of Crook County Court, “Discussion of Natural Resource Planning,” Crook County, Oregon, February 3, 2016, 7–8, http://co.crook.or.us/Portals/0/minutes February 3 2016.pdf; Amanda Peacher, “Crook County Rejects Controversial Natural Resources Plan,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, August 30, 2016, www.opb.org/news/article/crook-county-rejects-natural-resource-plan.|
|25.||↑||“Jan. 2, 2016 Town Hall Meeting,” YouTube video, 1:08:00, posted by “Liberty Under Attack,” April 11, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3t1SopHD18; see around 5:23. Harney County Committee of Safety members did not respond to emails regarding this.|