Ken Brown of Randolph, Utah, field director of the Western Counties Alliance (WCA), gave his quarterly report on the current activities of the group, to which Lincoln County has been a subscribing member for a number of years.
WCA is a non-profit organization, established for the purpose of giving western counties a greater voice in support of well-managed multiple use of public lands and natural resources in federal policies. It is the mission of WCA to promote a strong economic development atmosphere for counties alongside reasonable conservation of natural resources.
Brown discussed issues WAC is working on at present. He noted that he expected the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) payment to Lincoln County for 2019 to be received by June 30.
PILT monies are distributed on the basis of a formula in keeping with county population numbers. The bigger the population, the more PILT money given.
In the past Brown has said he feels counties such as Lincoln County are getting mistreated by the formula as Clark and Washoe counties receive a larger sum than smaller counties.
“But it is a fairly secure program because over the years there have been a lot of good education process put together by various groups as to the value of the program,” he said. In 2018, Lincoln County received $911,526 in PILT funds.
Brown spoke of one time he was asked why Congress should continue to fund PILT. “If they don’t,” he told the person, “be prepared to pay for services the counties cannot do. It would cost the federal government more money to provide these services and the service quality would decrease.”
Brown also discussed the Secure Rural Schools program which involves revenue-sharing payments to counties that have national forests through the U.S. Forest Service. The payments help provide numerous critical services including infrastructure, conservation projects, search and rescue missions and fire prevention programs.
Brown said the sage grouse program is on hold at the moment, after Western Energy Alliance filed a federal lawsuit to not have the sage grouse listed as an endangered species.
In regards to the wild horse and burro overpopulation issue, Brown said although WAC is working hard on the issue, “to get something done, make any kind of net progress on reducing the excess numbers in some areas is just an extreme challenge” as it gets so tied up in legal wrangling and delays.
On water jurisdiction, Brown said he appreciates Congress is not moving ahead very quickly with legislation to take over jurisdiction of nearly all sources of aboveground water in the United States, even rainwater and floodwater, and call them “waters of the U.S.”
WAC works with counties to put together a program to fight for access ways on federal land, the RS 2477 roads. This is a statute issued by Congress in 1866 that states, “the right-of-way for the construction of highways across public lands not otherwise reserved for public purposes is hereby granted.”
The original grant did not require being recorded and in 1866, constructing a road often meant using a trail many times and perhaps filling low places, moving rocks and placing signs, and thereby granted to counties and states a right-of-way across federal land when a highway was built.
Lincoln County has a number of roads that fit into RS 2477. Commission Chair Varlin Higbee noted to the Record, the county has given the BLM a list of such roads to recognize. “Slowly the BLM is working through these,” he said. “About five or six years ago, the roads on our list were studied on a GPS by the agency. They included two-track roads that lead to springs, to recreation areas, etc. Some have been maintained regular, others maybe only once every five years or so, or if they wash out to a point where you couldn’t even get a jeep through.”
However, Higbee said, “some are high-traveled roads which we have dedicated to be recognized under RS 2477 and the BLM has been working with us pretty good on this.”
However, he also recognized such level of cooperation is not always so good in some counties in some other western states.