As changes starting happening with the transition of our government, many things are going to be drastically different than they have been for the past 24 years. Why 24 years? That was the last time we had the type of seismic change. I know, George W. Bush was the 43rd President, and he was a Republican and ran things much differently than President Obama. The shift of people (appointees, heads of agencies, etc.major) in Washington hasn’t been this disruptive since President Clinton took over from George H. W. Bush in 1994. I know there significant changes between President Carter and President Reagan, but I’m not old enough to remember that. What’s my point?
People on both sides of the political spectrum and those outside of the United States are very curious as to how things are going to operate from this point forward. With these changes, many people, depending on you vantage point, are either concerned or eager to see the United States privatize some of our Federally controlled natural resources. This includes the US Forest Service (193 Million acres) and the Department of Interior (247 Million acres).
Some conservation and recreation groups fear the selloff of these lands to private entities that would restrict access and potentially damage the lands by development. Conservative lands rights groups are suggesting that these lands should either be managed by another agency (State or County) or potentially be sold to benefit the public with better management than the agencies have done in the past.
I get the concerns of both sides. That’s why I am committed to continued collaboration on the management of our federal lands regardless of what happens. We have benefited greatly from understanding the concerns of others when it comes to land management. We have learned that much of the time when people voice concerns either in favor of protection or for active management, that we are usually talking about two separate landscapes under the same umbrella.
Knowing that we can have meaningful discussions on what types of activities and management practices are appropriate for the greatest number of people in a particular landscape is important. Likewise, we find out where and why it’s important to set lands aside for Wilderness or some other conservation designation. It’s only then that we can start to have a meaningful dialog about details. That’s not to say that everything gets the consensus thumbs up.
In our case, the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition (NEWFC), has been meeting for what is now our 15th year. We have a tremendous amount of common ground, but we still have plenty of areas where we are still learning and other subjects where we don’t have consensus agreement. I understand that I’m talking only about forest management. The same process needs to be perfected for grazing, recreation or all types, and land use agreements.
Not agreeing isn’t a problem as long as there is still room for discussion. In the case of management, we monitor what we are doing on the landscape to either get buy-in from skeptics or confirm that the execution didn’t achieve the desired outcome. We have done this type of effort on dozens of projects and have many more in the planning stages. In many cases, NEWFC has better agreement and is ready to do more than the forest service management. Some of that is due to budget and personnel constraints, but it also has a great deal to do with the organizational structure and process of the USFS.
I may not see eye to eye with Forest Service employees all the time, but I’m not blaming this on individuals. This happened long ago at a much higher level. The group tasked with providing oversight and direction (Congress) dropped the ball repeatedly in the past 3 decades. This is a topic in, and of itself. I’ll save that for another time.
My point is this. Political forces come and go. We get republican administrations that want to streamline business practices and then we get democratic administrations that believe we need to focus on conservation of our resources. The fact is that we need to do both and we can do both. That is why I am 100% committed to collaboration.
Talk to those that have positions that are different than ours to find the common interests that lie beneath. Once we know the interests of others we can find ways to both manage and protect in ways the meet both objectives.
If we continue to wait until “our person” gets in there to fix it, the solutions will be short lived. We will be on a constantly swinging pendulum and those of us that live in areas affected will feel the brunt of it.
We must focus on solutions that are not political. Solutions must work for the most number of people, and we need to have the conviction to stand up for what’s right even when it’s not our cause. This mean conservation, backcountry, and recreation groups need to stand up for actively managing appropriate lands. On the other side of the equation, the forest industry, grazing, and motorized recreation groups need to stand up for wilderness and conservation areas that have been negotiated and agreed to.
Only by doing things in a collaborative way over the long term can we properly manage our lands for the greatest good for the greatest number of people.