HR 622: the financial timebomb

Last week Chaffetz withdrew HR621, and there was much rejoicing from outdoors people from all walks of life. It seems in the following celebration of “victory” everyone forgot about HR622. For many folks who haven’t lived out West it might be difficult to understand exactly how important this is. I will use an example from a place I’ve spent some time to illustrate.

Granite County Montana is a beautiful, and I feel in my heart, a magical place. It’s total land mass is 1,730 square miles and it’s population fluctuates around 3,000 residents. Just take the summary description from their published Growth Policy Plan:

“The County is largely mountainous and contains portions of Beaverhead-Deer Lodge and Lolo National Forests. The Continental Divide crosses the southeastern boundary and the Sapphire Mountains define the western boundary. A section of the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness area lies along the southeastern boundary.”

Yeah, that’s an amazing place to get into the backcountry!!! Did you know I’ve seen a wolverine in the wild? That happened in Granite County. Biggest herd of elk I’ve ever been in the middle of during hunting season, Granite County. I’ve got some go-to spots for fly fishing on the dog days of summer, a few of the best are in Granite County.

Why do I have so many great memories in this small place? Because it’s wild. 65% of the entire county is public land! Interestingly only 2% is state land. That means 63% of that county is comprised of those national forests and BLM land. River access is available on the Clark Fork River, Rock Creek, and Flint Creek. There are hiking trails, horse trails, and camping spots all over the place. All of this is a short drive from the airport in Missoula.

Now that you have an idea of what the landscape makeup is, let’s talk about those people. About 3,000 people living on a relatively small part of the land. There is one full time sheriff, and 3 other people on the payroll. The day I was a victim of a hit and run the sheriff was out of town on business and nobody else was authorized for overtime. We were left to sort it out and with a handshake I was told by the good, slightly drunk, doctor that he would pay my auto body bill for the damages to my truck. He never paid, answered his phone, or responded to any letters sent leaving me with a $3,000 bill and no police report to start legal proceedings. From my experience I would say the cash poor county can’t even afford to maintain an appropriate payroll for what they already should be enforcing. If you read into the Growth Policy Plan, they actually site “poor and untimely law enforcement” as a major object of concern as well as their inability to fund appropriately via existing revenue.

If HR622 passes it will mean no federal funding for law enforcement on 63% of that land. It’s not clear from public documents how many of the 41 tax paying Federal employees in Granite County are serving in a capacity that would be eliminated by HR622 if it passes.  The 4 law enforcement people working for the County already would then be given the duty of patrolling the extra hundreds of square miles that wouldn’t be under the jurisdiction of federally funded officers. Also those square miles are the hardest to get too, which also makes them the most expensive to patrol. If you read about the state of the County’s patrol vehicles, I’m sure they couldn’t get to many of the places that the well equipped high clearance 4×4 trucks with Federal plates can go.

Although spread out over many miles, Granite County is a small place. Only a few thousand people live in the entirety of it, and I consider some of them friends. I am amazed by how far they can stretch a budget and how many services they can provide given their budget limitations. I hope that nobody takes any of this as a slam. I present this as information for people who have no context to how important federal funding is for the places that are made up by federally controlled lands. The tax payers of Granite County can barely break even with maintaining what they have, to double or triple the burden of law enforcement would bankrupt the county.

It would just be nice if our elected officials would stop introducing stupid bills that would create far more problems than they would fix.