Interior supports collaboration

  In "Riding the middle path," (HCN, 12/8/03: Riding the middle path) High Country News explores the efforts of Owyhee County citizens to achieve consensus on how to manage thousands of acres of public lands. The article rightly points out that this effort is an arduous one, as folks with widely varying interests, dreams, and backgrounds struggle to find common ground. The article errs, however, in its characterization of how the Bush administration greets collaborative efforts and wilderness protection. Fostering cooperative conservation and collaborative partnerships lies at the heart of Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton’s vision of public-lands management.

Our cooperative conservation grants have climbed from around $350 million in 2001 to $431 million in 2004. We have launched three new programs tailored to enhancing private stewardship and cooperative conservation. We are engaged in training, some organizational restructuring, and addition of people devoted to coordinating collaborative efforts.

We have initiated a number of collaborative efforts and supported other ongoing efforts, such as the Sonoita Planning Partnership outside of Tucson, a sage grouse protection effort in Nevada, and the 11-state High Plains Partnership. Interior has also reinvigorated Resource Advisory Councils (RACs) within the Bureau of Land Management and revised land-management guidance documents to enhance cooperative conservation.

Collaboration, as your story points out, is difficult. However, the growing extent and duration of these efforts attest to their promise and, in many instances, their effectiveness. The test of success is not whether every single collaborative effort succeeds. The test is whether the growing momentum toward cooperative conservation, on balance, reduces conflict while fostering healthier lands and thriving communities. We believe many of these efforts are meeting that test.

Lynn Scarlett and Rebecca Watson
Washington, D.C.

The authors are assistant secretaries of the U.S. Department of the Interior.