Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 5 sessions for 1 week, 4 hours / session

Course Overview

For the last century, precepts of scientific management and administrative rationality have concentrated power in the hands of technical specialists, which in recent decades has contributed to widespread disenfranchisement and discontent among stakeholders in natural resources cases. In this seminar we examine the limitations of scientific management as a model both for governance and for gathering and using information, and describe alternative methods for informing and organizing decision-making processes. We feature cases involving large carnivores in the West (mountain lions and grizzly bears), Northeast coastal fisheries, and adaptive management of the Colorado River. There will be nightly readings and a short written assignment.

Addressing Ecological Problems

The process of addressing ecological problems and issues is a continuing source of frustration and conflict. Unsuccessful, or marginally successful, frustration and failure characterize efforts in addressing environmental problems using the traditional regulatory model of passing legislation in what ever the jurisdiction applies, followed by the development of regulatory standards implemented by agencies formed for that purpose. Some problems are definable as point source problems and the traditional model can work well in those cases, e.g., tailpipe emission standards. Most problems, however, are non-point source and the ‘regulators’ are unable to point to a specific cause for the ‘problem’ we find. For example, agricultural runoff of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and sediment is a problem worldwide and more often than not defies successful regulatory efforts.

A major contributor to the lack of success is the high number of interests involved in the process. Using the Ag example, the number of land owners, commodity prices, supported or not, market forces resulting in high variability of product prices, coupled with the complexity of managing large tracts of land all conspire to bedevil attempts to reduce pollution levels. In addition, there are larger external interest groups interested in environmental improvement - proponents of open space, species at risk due to habitat loss and the groups interested in those species - add up to a bewildering array of interests, formal and informal, often at odds with one another with many pointing fingers in frustration and dismay at what seems to be the reluctance, even recalcitrance, of those ‘responsible’ to act in constructive ways.

It seems clear that the processes we’ve developed to address these problems are limited in ways we didn’t anticipate. One central question, then, is how to define the processes we use to address concerns we share in such a way so that we can collaborate in addressing issues of mutual concern.

The first step, perhaps, is to look at who has a stake in the process. Using our example, private landowners have the most at risk. Their livelihoods are at stake, their standing in their own community and the larger community as well, coupled with their justifiable pride in providing food and fiber for the rest us all come into play. Those with regulatory responsibility for addressing ‘violations,’ and environmental interest groups focuses on pollutant reduction and environmental restoration, look to the landowner for ‘responsible’ action. Note that everyone wants the best possible outcome, yet we often end up at odds with one another. The usual structures we use within which to address these problems seem inappropriate for the complexity of the issues.

One step that seems essential is to admit that we the citizenry are as or more responsible than those with formal regulatory responsibility for the problems we face. If environmentalists, for example, want the highest possible habitat values on land owned by others, it is incumbent on them, or us, to develop ways to compensate the land owner for the ‘products’ we want. Similarly, the landowner wants us to pay for products at a level commensurate with his or her investment, the land owner/producer has to be prepared to engage ‘outsiders’ in the land management planning process. The context within which these issues have to be addressed is one where the regulators who have formal standing in the process and the other interests must have equal standing in discussing and addressing the issues. Our common interest is one of sustainable ecological stewardship. That interest, or effort, must be coupled with a sustainable planning and implementation process based on broad equality and trust with a focused agreement on the best possible outcome. All parties must have an equal stake in the process and outcome and all parties must agree because if one constituent does not participate, the process will fail and the problems will continue unaddressed, as we all know to our sorrow. In sum, the process must be deeply democratic which, ironically, implies that planning groups should not vote; successful planning groups are best served by a carefully structured consensus process. Voting can very rapidly marginalize one or more stakeholders who, if marginalized, will leave the process and the problems will continue unchanged because the agreement of all stakeholders is required.

There are examples of successful collaborative environmental stewardship. The process appears to be cumbersome and slow, but only appears so. To incorporate all interests, a necessary condition of successful action, we must trust one another and have sufficient patience to work through the apparent conflicts to reach a point of common interest. We all want to be thought of as responsible; we all want others to see us as good citizens with a common interest in the world we leave for our grandchildren. The task is to use a structure suitable for that purpose. The traditional regulatory model if used for addressing process problems is bound to fail. The collaborative model of stakeholder equality has the best chance for success.