Public Lands “Collaboration” is Lousy Management

Collaboration is a process of playing two sides off against each other in order to create enough guilt in one or all parties that a compromise is reached. The primary problem is that it is specifically not based on science or best available data, thus eliminating the concept of best management practices and the long-term needs of the resource to maintain the natural values of the landscape. It becomes about me-now.

Collaboration is not about right and wrong or about intrinsic values. It is a cop-out on the part of administrators and/or land managers to not have to do the work required of them – generally hard work – in order to achieve good management decisions. Agency budgets have been slashed repeatedly making it impossible to do a good job, making collaboration a fallback tool.

Ultimately, it’s a process that gives validity to those whose activities are either illegal, incompatible, or so damaging to public resources that they have been or are being restricted for that very reason. Within the normal data- and science-driven decision making process of land management agencies – at least the goal thereof – these peoples’ views lack substance and thus should not be incorporated into management. These peoples’ actions go against the concepts of best management practices and fly in the face of best use of the land resource because of their high impact. It certainly is not a process of planning based on science, best available data and best management practices.

It’s irresponsible to think that resolution of management needs and ultimate fate of public lands has nothing to do with something far broader than the “vocal local.” Agency managers use it as a way to get out of doing the necessary work that is actually required of them through well-established legal and regulatory mandates. So-called public interest groups on all sides use it as a way to raise money and their profile. The politically motivated use it to reach another successful failure in achieving the lowest common denominator.

The Gallatin Range is an integral part of the last essentially intact temperate ecosystem on Earth. The most guilty players in the Gallatin Forest Partnership are the so-called environmental groups who have chosen to defy everything they claim to have historically stood for in order to curry political favor, new donations or something equally as shallow. It is unconscionable. These groups should not be selling the future of our natural heritage down the river.

High-impact activities have intensified to the point where they’re no longer compatible with long-range land management goals of agencies to meet their obligations of conserving the resource, thus requiring a collaboration process to justify misuse of the landscape. The concept of best management practices, using science and best available data, does not allow these high-impact users the unlimited access they desire to meet self-centered, short-term recreation desires.

Collaboration should not be based on a me-now approach. The only way it can work is if everyone agrees that it is about what is best for the long-term values of the resource. This is ambiguous. There are infinite examples of those entering into collaborative processes for all the wrong reasons. These lofty ideals are lost in practice, disappointingly. The Gallatin Forest Partnership is the classic case.

A long-time conservationist wrote that if the future is to be determined by citizen collaborations, then a parallel track should be implemented based on science that would evaluate natural characteristics of the landscape. This track should consider the long-term future of the natural resources and recommend management actions to protect and maintain these values so future generations will experience a natural landscape as we did because of the efforts of those who have gone before.

Wait! Isn’t that what current laws and regulations already require of land managers? Isn’t that what environmental groups say they believe in?

Rick Meis was a co-founder of the Madison Gallatin Alliance in the late 1970s and was a co-author of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness proposal.