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Commissioner candidates address ag issues at forum

Commissioner candidates address ag issues at forum

Nov 1, 2012 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Multiple use of public lands was a major theme at a forum for county commissioner candidates sponsored by the Fremont County Cattlewomen. Candidates Doug Thompson, Nathan Maxon, Pat Hickerson and Stephanie Kessler attended the forum Oct. 27 at the Riverton Holiday Inn.

Twenty women listened to the candidates speak about agricultural issues. Each candidate introduced him or herself, and then each answered four questions from the moderator, Darling Vaughn, and several from the audience.

The Fremont County Cattlewomen is an organization of women that supports the ranching industry, promotes beef and educates others abut beef products.

Kessler, the Independent challenger in Ward 4, drew the number to speak first.

"I am someone who thinks grazing is important on public lands," she said. "I believe in multiple use absolutely. I don't think you need to require every use on every acre of land."

Ward 5 Republican incumbent Thompson answered questions next.

"That multiple use activity provides our revenue stream," he said.

Thompson also said he wants to get the most compatible uses of public lands.

"There are people who say they are for multiple uses but not for all areas," he said.

Next was Nathan Maxon, Independent challenger for Ward 5.

"My understanding is that (multiple use) is recognition of all the different uses on the public lands and providing a place for them," he said. "These uses need to be managed and planned. There needs to be a place for everything, but not everything can happen in the same place. Responsibly managed and planned grazing does not conflict with many other uses."

Pat Hickerson, the Republican incumbent for Ward 4, spoke last.

"Our (county) land use plan goes through the land use," he said. "We try to define why that's important to our county and explain why we need a reasonable amount of public land for those uses. Then we compare it to whatever is happening in the Federal arena and say 'Hey, you're not accounting for this.'"

Working together

The candidates also talked about how they would work with citizens and government agencies around land use.

"You have to represent many diverse interests," Kessler said. "My approach would be to be open to learning from diverse users of public lands. I've seen how intensive oil and gas development can be an exclusive use. I would be careful siting these uses, taking into account how other uses might be diminished."

"A lot of people have characterized the commissioners' position as trying to usurp the federal government," Doug Thompson said. "That's not what we do. We're just asking them to obey their own regulations."

"My understanding of working with (government agencies) is as a cooperator," Maxon said. "The commission's role is in the planning process with agencies."

"I've seen what can happen when you don't work well with the agency," Hickerson said. "So I'm a little more motivated than most to maintain what we have in the agricultural community and maintain access to public land."

Lois Herbst asked the candidates what percentage of the Bureau of Land Management district has a regulation on it.

"Most of the land has some sort of designation," Maxon said. "I believe approximately 50 percent of the field office is open for oil and gas development with little restriction."

"(Restrictions on land) overlap and overlay, so pretty soon it becomes pretty difficult to do what we need," Hickerson said.

"The BLM plan is still a draft," Kessler said. "We're going to see a change."

"I think there's about 5 to 7 percent of BLM land that doesn't have some kind of regulation," Thompson said. "Overlapping regulations and restrictions have a detrimental affect to our economy."

Another audience member asked what role the county commission should play in regard to land use.

Kessler said the commission should ensure that the public has a chance to participate when government agencies make decisions regarding land use.

"They have an obligation to listen to commission," she said.

Thompson pointed to what he had done while in office.

"I wanted to open the process up to the public," he said. "I have open forums with the conservation community, recreation community and user groups."

"I think I would represent all the interests in the city equally," Maxon said. "I'm not going to play favorites."

Deanna Crofts' family owns a cow and calf operation, and she was in the audience Saturday.

"My interest was in hearing all of the candidates," she said.

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