Last Thursday Commissioner Talbot and myself were asked to attend an AOI (annual operating instruction) meeting with a rancher. This rancher is one of our constituents and I have attended many meetings with them with regards to a couple of permits on the Beaver District of the Fishlake National Forest. As a matter of fact I attended an AOI meeting with this rancher on April 19th with the same ranger and range con.
Mr. Padilla started the meeting by questioning if this was an AOI Meeting or some other type of meeting, a strange introduction at best. He then went on to say that if it was an AOI meeting, AOI meetings were to occur only between the permit holder and the forest service and nobody else was allowed in the meetings, he made special note to indicated that included myself and Commissioner Talbot. He went on to explain that the meetings had to be kept "pure" as he said it.
I explained I have attended many AOI meetings, have seen a variety of other attendees at AOI meetings and have even been requested by the US Forest Service to attend AOI Meetings. He continued to hold his ground and stated that if he allowed the elected representatives into the room he would have to allow any interested party into the room.
We went on to discuss a number of issues that were outside of the AOI scope of things, Mr Padilla re-iterated that we would not be allowed to represent our constituents in the AOI portion of the meeting.
We took a break at about 10:30 and Mr. Padilla discussed some other permit challenges we are facing and then went on to state that the meetings needed to be kept pure.
We attempted multiple times to argue the point and allow us to represent our constituents because they had requested our attendance. In the end we were not allowed to participate in the AOI Meeting. Mr. Padilla stated that if he allowed us in the meeting he would have to allow environmental groups to attend as well. I find it very disturbing that Mr. Padilla places un elected special interest environmental groups on the same plane as elected representatives.
I think this is a dangerous precedent being set and is absolutely unacceptable. I have stepped in several times during prior AOI meetings to stop requests by the USFS that would have put permit holders in jeopardy.
I feel it is critical for elected representatives to be able to attend these crucial meetings with their constituents if the constituents feel they need representation.
Since the meeting I have talked with many elected representatives, farm bureau personnel, ranchers, and retired rangers, and state and congressional staff. None have had this experience and none feel it conducive to cooperating trusting relationships between ranchers and the US Forest Service. Needless to say, I'm not a happy camper.
I have elevated this to our Utah Delegation in Washington, DC as well as our Attorney Generals Office, Department of Agriculture, and Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office.
Just my $.02 it appears that it will be much easier to coerce and bully ranchers if their elected representatives are excluded from meetings with permit holders.
Update: So yesterday I spoke with the Forest Supervisor who stated that he knew of this rule excluding anyone but USFS and permit holders from AOI Meetings. I ask for the documentation and reference to the rule, regulation, law, directive etc. and was told they are researching it.
Mr. Padilla stated that he would send me the references upon his return to the office, that was a week ago.
After I sent the following letter, he called today and said he hadn't forgot me and hoped to get the rules, regulations, directives, laws to me by Friday.
I find it suspicious that this rule was readily available at a moments notice to expel us from the AOI meeting but seems rather elusive and requiring research when I ask for copies and references...... Things that make you go hmmmm.
I still haven't received a written explanation to your removal of myself and Commissioner Talbot from the Ten Mile Allotment AOI Meeting.
Per our discussion on Wednesday May 11th, I had requested you provide a written explanation for excluding elected County Commissioners from the AOI Meeting.
As you know, we were requested by the permittee to attend the meeting in an advisory capacity. Commissioner Talbot traveled nearly 200 miles round trip for this meeting and I traveled over 100 miles.
We don't take our constituent requests lightly and do our best to represent them in the best possible manner. We were very disheartened to have been excluded from the meeting at your direction.
I have attended several AOI meetings in the past, some even at the request of USFS personnel. In my opinion our attendance has been a win-win, as we often can provide resources or perspective that improve the overall resource outcome.
I hope there is written policy to support your actions, please provide all relevant rules, regulations, guidelines, policy and law that would support such a decision. I trust that you have sufficient backing to support your actions. Your rationale that gives NGO's and elected representatives invited by their constituents the same status is an extremely troublesome perspective.
Regardless, your actions did little to foster a trusting, working, relationship between elected officials and USFS personnel.
Thanks in advance for your prompt reply,
"With the BLM in San Juan County the environmental groups are running the meetings. If you want your eyes opened, just read a few of the emails between SUWA'S attorneys and the BLM regarding Monte Wells. It is one thing for the BLM and SUWA to tag team against a commissioner - after all, elected... officials are the only people bring political affordability to the table - but to go after a civilian like Monte is despicable. And the reason the BLM went after him is only because Liz Thomas with SUWA and her friends in the BLM decided he deserved to suffer. How dare he tell the truth about the BLM's illegal closure of the road in Indian Creek. How dare he expose their wanton l destruction of ancient sites with their mastication equipment. How dare he reveal their unholy alliances in terms of the PLI, the Bears Ears proposal, wind energy, SITLA land exchanges, etc., etc., etc. And what is their chosen course? Why, obliteration of course. It is their answer to any opposition. Why would this come as a surprise to anyone? It is the nature of things for power to expand and liberty to yield. These agencies would like to shed the bridle of political accountability. They have rejected the old notions of government by the people. That is why carrying a pocket copy of tile Constitution will get you jailed. They hate the Constitution. They hate political accountability that comes with elected officials like Commissioner Darin Bushman who places duty ahead of personal security and profit.
It is a sure indicator of the antisocial personality to attack the wrong targets. Put honest people in jail. Prosecuting honest journalists. Attacking people like Dr. Redd and his family. Prosecuting Jay Redd just for showing up at our protest. Going after fraudulent convictions of hard working and honest men like Ken Brown. Throwing people like Dylan Anderson in jail for showing up at a public bird refuge.
I don't know what it will take before we throw these lying, coniving, special interests off our backs, but I have a feeling the time to do so is now."
San Juan County Commissioner