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Managing public land is complex

Common Ground
Bill Kight
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Recently I traveled to Washington, D.C. with a team that has worked together for the past three years. One last task remained, to present our findings to the executive management team of the U.S. Forest Service.

Most employees of the U.S. Forest Service will spend their entire career having never met the chief. Our team was scheduled to have forty-five minutes with our new chief.

As we stood in the hall of the old Yates building waiting our turn on the agenda, I looked at the pictures of the previous fifteen chiefs, all men.



Gail Kimbell is the first woman to be named U.S. Forest Service Chief. She has her work cut out for her. According to Associated Press writer Matthew Daly, her first appearance before Congress resulted in a less than gracious welcome.

Daly reported, “Defending the president’s request for the next budget year, Kimbell came under fire from all sides.”



He went on to say that Gail, “began her new post Feb. 5, the same day President Bush announced a budget request that cuts U.S. Forest Service spending by two percent and eliminates more than 2,100 jobs…”

We made our presentation, answered questions and left the executive session for a presentation for those forest service employees who wished to attend.

After lunch I was collared by a few people I knew who had questions and concerns about the consequences of adopting the policy we had written.

“Though the Indian tribes are different than other users of public land because of their treaty rights, there is one thing they have in common with everyone else,” I said.

“They want to be at the table and have a real say in things that affect them like all stakeholders who care about the land we manage,” I continued.

The main concern by those whose questions I tried to answer was how people in the field could be asked to do one more thing when their plates are already overflowing.

My answer to their concerns was simple, if only in my own mind. Federal land management agencies need to do business differently if we are to stay relevant in the coming decades.

Rather than merely consulting with tribes and other users, we must have true collaboration.

Rather than seeking public comment because we are required to under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA for short), we must build consensus through active and on-going collaboration.

This requires some heavy lifting in the arena of building relationships.

It’s not about doing more with less, but rather working hard with others who can help us carry out the mission of caring for the land and serving people.

Collaboration with those who don’t always agree with what we think is best can be messy business, but it is the right thing to do.

It’s also chaotic to first bring everyone who wants to be heard to the same table. But out of chaos comes creative order.

Working together is the only way to survive the complex challenges we face managing our public lands.

With over 25 years of experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories and concerns with readers every other week.


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