Friday, March 16, 2012

Mr. Schoen goes to Washington

County commissioner meets with county leaders, federal agents


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Larry Schoen

Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen didn't let the flu stop him from attending the National Association of Counties conference in Washington, D.C., last week, managing to meet with county leaders from across the country as well as federal agents despite being rushed to the emergency room last Wednesday night.

The association's meetings were held Sunday through Tuesday, but Schoen remained in D.C. through Thursday to meet with federal agencies and leaders in support of the Wood River Wolf Project, a local program that helps ranchers use nonlethal methods of protecting their livestock from wolves.

Despite one missed day due to needed emergency room care due to a collapse apparently due to the flu, Schoen said the entire trip was very productive. While attending the NACo conference, Schoen had the chance to comment on issues from the Keystone XL Pipeline extension to "Good Samaritan" laws involving mine cleanup.

Schoen said he supported his committee's resolution to call for an expedited review and approval process for the pipeline, but not because he supports the pipeline itself.

"It was compromise language," he said. "It didn't call for outright approval of Keystone XL, just expedited review."

Schoen said one major development during the conference involved the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's healthcare act, which would require nonprofit hospitals such as St. Luke's Wood River to develop community health needs assessments and develop plans to meet the needs identified.

"The reason for this provision is that certain legislators felt that some not-for-profits were not behaving like not-for-profits," Schoen said.

The assessments would allow nonprofit hospitals to direct excess revenue toward fixing the greatest community health needs, such as indigent care.

The second part of Schoen's trip involved lobbying for the Wood River Wolf Project. The project, run by Defenders of Wildlife, helps ranchers use nonlethal deterrents to reduce wolf depredation on livestock.

Schoen, Defenders of Wildlife representative Suzanne Stone, former Idaho Fish and Game "wolfer" Carter Niemeyer and several Defenders of Wildlife staff members met with Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., as well as staff from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to discuss the project's funding and merits.

Schoen said he discovered that the federal government does offer funding for nonlethal deterrents, but that the state has withheld those funds while claiming that all funding is needed for compensation to those ranchers who have lost animals. Schoen said he felt confident those funds would be made available shortly.

"The net result is that I feel optimistic that federal funds would be available, genuinely available for local communities for nonlethal deterrents," he said. "This was a really successful trip."

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com

Wood River Wolf Project

For more on this program, search "Wood River Wolf Project" on our homepage, http://www.mtexpress.com




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