A lot of folks around the West are frustrated with federal land management agencies these days.
Our federal public lands are facing a lot of challenges, like catastrophic wildfires, the spread of noxious weeds like cheatgrass, public land grazing conflicts, conflicts over energy development, and the loss of key wildlife habitat. Agencies are running in circles trying to deal with these conflicts while making resource management decisions that will determine the future of multiple uses on our public lands. Simultaneously, agencies also must manage myriad lawsuits from multiple interests unhappy about the decisions being made. It seems the West is shrinking as more and more people are competing for our public land resources.
As sportsmen, we have our own list of priority public land policy issues: maintaining quality, unfragmented habitat; rehabilitating habitat that has been damaged; and improving existing habitat to make it more resilient and productive so that fish and wildlife can thrive. All of these are important aspects of public land management. We understand the need for development of our natural resources and recognize that economic vitality involves choices and compromise. But we also understand that in a world where high quality, undeveloped wild places are becoming scarcer, it is imperative that we work to identify and protect these public places through balanced management.
As federal agencies try to plan for the future, all these issues come into play. Blaming the agencies for everything wrong in the West is easy, but in reality agency decisions are usually the result of agency mandates – which can have controversial outcomes. Important to remember as well is that these policies and laws result from various interest groups working within the system to advance their particular interests. Often these groups are at odds with one another, and the agency is left to sort out the conflict and formulate a compromise, leaving both parties unhappy about the outcome.
Sportsmen must take action ‘early and often’
This might sound like a fatalist’s view, but to the contrary, the takeaway is that we all have a responsibility and a right to work within our democratic system to put forth our interests and values – and then see to it that these interests and values are implemented. Sportsmen are often conspicuously absent from agency decision making processes and sometimes fail to get involved until they are reacting to decisions that already have been made. Instead, we must get involved early and often.
Earlier this year, the federal Bureau of Land Management launched a new initiative to revamp its long term land use planning processes. Dubbed “Planning 2.0,” this initiative will comprise the most comprehensive overhauls of the BLM’s planning process in decades.
Recently, representatives from the TRCP and some of our partners attended meetings convened by the BLM in Denver, Colo., and Sacramento, Calif. These meetings began the process of gathering public input on Planning 2.0 and discussing how the BLM might make this process as effective as possible.
Altogether, the Denver and Sacramento meetings attracted close to 150 participants. In addition to representatives from a number of sportsmen’s organizations, the off highway vehicle community, other environmental and conservation organizations, state and local agencies, wild horse advocates and citizens at-large were represented. Each meeting lasted about four hours and included “breakout sessions” so that participants could discuss the goals set by the BLM for Planning 2.0
Some of the themes that emerged during the breakout sessions included the following:
- Public involvement in the 2.0 process is a must – and should be maximized.
- What is the definition of “landscape-level” planning? What is the BLM’s definition, and how will these boundaries be defined?
- How will baseline data be gathered? How will “citizen science” or data gathered by citizen groups and other non-governmental organizations be compiled and used?
- How can the BLM do a better job of enabling public engagement in the process?
Ultimately, some of the key takeaways comprised the following:
- The BLM doesn’t have a clear definition of what defines a landscape, what elements would define boundaries, and how priorities would be set for various interests, e.g., wildlife, grazing, energy development.
- The BLM must review what has and hasn’t worked with other agencies, particularly the U.S. Forest Service, with regard to public engagement and the process of gathering and integrating data and information provided by the public.
- How will this new process improve the status quo regarding how politics impacts the process – and to what extent will powerful special interests such industry groups still be able to manipulate it to fit their agendas?
These meetings are just the beginning. Sportsmen and sportsmen’s interests must be at the table, working with other stakeholders to find common ground and resolving the conflicts that will inevitably arise. The TRCP and other partner groups will be providing input and advocating on behalf of sportsmen and wildlife conservation throughout this process. We hope this will lead to better policy – as well as conservation of some of our most important and valued Western public lands.
If future generations of Americans are going to enjoy our outdoor heritage, abundant wildlife and unspoiled landscapes, then we all have to get involved and make our voices heard. To learn more about Planning 2.0, visit the BLM website.