Full transcript of the HCN Interview with Gale Norton, along with Kit Kimball, communications officer with the Interior Department, and Matt Kales of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The concise interview is located at (HCN, 5/24/04: A champion of 'cooperative conservation': Interior Secretary Gale Norton)
HCN is particularly interested in hearing from readers who have
on-the-ground experiences with the successes and failures of Gale
Norton's four-C's of cooperative conservation. Drop us an email at
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HCN: Tell us about some conservation
efforts taking place in the West based on the “Four
C’s” where you’ve played a key role.
Norton: Well, that’s a good cue for us
showing how we’re putting our money where our mouth is. We
have been working to create partnerships for conservation through a
number of different programs. We have vastly increased the amount
of funding that is available for conservation partnerships. In
2005, the president’s budget proposes over a half-billion in
cooperative conservation programs. Those are a combination of
existing programs, like partners for Fish and Wildlife; it has been
around since the 1980s. We have Fish and Wildlife people who
provide technical assistance to farmers and other landowners. We
work with them to provide funding for on-the-ground conservation
projects that very often include wetland conservation , but could
be a variety of different types of habitat enhancement. We provide
some funding; they provide some funding as well. I’ve visited
areas where we have the landowner, the Department of Agriculture,
including the local extension office, local university biology
professors and citizens’ groups all involved in wetlands
HCN: Are there
some specific projects you could steer me towards?
Norton: We’ll have to give you some
Colorado examples, um…
There’s the San Luis Valley Ecosystems project that typifies
the partnerships program. These are wetlands restorations and
maintenance programs on private lands, and they’re for
migratory waterfowl. And they are basically teeing off of existing
wildlife refuge programs at the complex down in Alamosa/Monte
Vista. Sandhill cranes are an endangered species we are focused on,
but it has protected all sorts of waterfowl.
HCN: Are you working with the San Luis
Ecosystems council, or is it generally a relationship between
private landowners and the government?
Kales: In the general sense, the San Luis
project has been a model operation between the federal government
and private landowners. I’ll get back to you on the details
of the groups involved. But some of the smaller land trusts in the
San Luis Valley have taken part in the program. But the initial
thrust starts when private landowners contact the Fish and Wildlife
Service, and start a discussion. They say, “We have
endangered species on our land and we want help.” The key is,
they are voluntary, not mandatory.
HCN: These programs are described as using
government to remove barriers to citizen participation, to empower
themselves to take care of their community. Where else is this in
action in Western projects in the works right now?
Norton: One that is going on is a different
program we created, based on one that Gov. Bush created in Texas.
We actually have two similar programs, so you might see it referred
to in a couple of different ways -- the Private Stewardship Grant
Program and the Land Owner Incentive Program -- and together, I
think, we refer to them as the Species Protection Partnership
Program. Maybe we should have called them by the same name and
called the federal side and state side, because the main difference
is through the landowner incentive program, we work with the states
and they run the programs.
Through the Private
Stewardship Grants, we operate directly through the Fish and
Wildlife Service. Both projects together are designed to
voluntarily enhance habitat for endangered, threatened or at-risk
species. Those are VERY exciting. These projects get people
enthused about endangered species. And as we all know, enthusiasm
is not the way landowners usually react to finding out they have
endangered species on their property. Through this project, we are
able to work on all types of habitat enhancement, including one for
the Gunnison Sage Grouse.
I was just at a site in Alabama
that is a conservation bank for the gopher tortoise. They are
relocating some of the tortoises there to get them away from
development areas and provide an ideal habitat for them. The
developers, if they decide to move a tortoise, have to pay the
long-term costs for enhancing the areas that take care of the
tortoise, and it gives us the opportunity to manage an area that is
going to be protected. So, we provided a private stewardship grant
to further that effort.
I was at another site in Long
Island, New York. It’s a beachfront area and endangered terns
nest there, right out on the beach. If you told the people with
this great beachfront property that they wouldn’t be able to
use it because terns nest there, they probably wouldn’t be
too happy. Instead, we worked with local communities, the Nature
Conservancy and birdwatchers to locate areas where birds are
nesting. People have now heard about the birds, people are
enthusiastic about the community effort to protect the birds, and
they are willing to fence off areas while the birds are nesting and
help watch out for them. So, we’ve really seen a lot of
community enthusiasm for protecting the birds. That’s the
kind of thing we’d like to see as a response to endangered
species. We think it’s a great tool to add to our toolbox of
our endangered species program.
How are the conservation banks taking shape here, out West?
Norton: Those programs are really in
their infancy. We really only have a few examples across the
country of active conservation banks. Obviously, it depends on the
species and particular situation. But if it is something that is
biologically appropriate, it becomes a win-win situation.
HCN: What about working within the Four
C’s and large swatches of land out West? Are there any
programs where you could take a look, and see this is your
philosophy in action?
Let’s see what the best examples are -- some Colorado
HCN: Well, we cover the West
all the way to California, so you don’t have to restrict it
to our state.
Norton: The Las Cienegas
area in southern Arizona is a place where ranchers and
environmentalists have come together to find common ground.
It’s still a working landscape; they’ve done a lot to
restore habitat to its natural setting. So, that has been a very
efficient cooperative approach.
High Plains Partnership covers an 11-state region -- a little
further east than you all go -- but it protects a whole variety of
the prairie habitat. And there are a number of endangered species
involved, and a lot of different organizations involved, and
we’ve been providing funding as one of the partners.
HCN: Was that initiated during the
don’t know when it started. It’s something that was in
existence, and we started providing additional funding when I heard
There’s also the mountain plover project
we have out here in Colorado. It involves the Colorado Division of
Wildlife, Colorado Farm Bureau, Audubon Society, and U. S.
Geological Survey and Fish and Wildlife Service. Mountain plovers
like to nest in plowed ground, and obviously that is hazardous to
their health when tractors start coming through. But as long as you
don’t disturb the nest, the plovers continue to like that
habitat, even as it’s cultivated. So the agreement is that
farmers call in 72 hours before they start farming or plow a field.
The Audubon Society or another partner sends out a biologist to
find the nesting spots and marks those. Then, when the farmer goes
out to plow, he avoids 10 feet around those sites. That protects
the birds, allows the farmer to earn a livelihood, and works well
for all the partners. The biologists are monitoring it to make sure
it works for the Plover, but the initial indications have been very
good. That was something that we just launched the agreement on
HCN: What causes some
partnerships to work, and some to fail? For instance, the
Bitterroot grizzly bear reintroduction project that was duked out
with all sorts of parties in Idaho and Montana — It seemed
like all the Four C’s were in line, but the Interior
Department struck it down (HCN, 7/30/01).
Norton: The big concern there was the effect of
grizzlies on the … [Cell phone rings.] With predators, there
are many challenging issues. We’re learning with our
experience with wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming how difficult
it is to deal with the major predators. Hopefully, we will be able
to learn from that experience. We’ve had to tell Wyoming that
their regulatory programs are not sufficient to take the wolves off
the endangered list.
Predators make it much more
difficult to find consensus. It’s a lot easier to agree about
birds and plants than about animals that endanger people and
livestock. Especially with the predators, one of the things that
gets these programs going on a local level is for our land
management agencies to build partnerships with surrounding
communities and landowners. Each one has their own programs whereby
local managers can compete for grants, and each project would
enhance some part of the environment on or adjacent to federal
lands. Most of the cooperative conservation plans include private
and public money, so it allows us to leverage our funding to
accomplish even more than we could with federal dollars alone.
HCN: A project that sparked a lot of
debate here in Colorado is the Roan Plateau. In 2001, the Roan was
identified by President Bush as one of the top 10 priority areas
for energy development. As the management plan was being debated
… all five city councils in the county, environmental groups,
hunting organizations and ranchers endorsed Alternative F.
[Alternative F would have allowed energy companies to drill along
the base of the plateau. but not on top; it also would have
established 22,000 acres of wilderness study areas.] But
Alternative F was eliminated as an option by Interior (HCN,
9/1/03). What happened with Alternative F, and where does the Roan
Plateau project stand right now?
Norton: That project is currently being
internally analyzed, and we are looking at options for that, and we
anticipate that, and anticipate that soon we can come out with some
alternatives that allow the project to move forward and satisfy
HCN: Beyond the
alternatives the public commented on in the opening two years of
Norton: There have been a
lot of people looking internally at what management options make
sense, and we will be able to announce soon what those are.
HCN: By the BLM’s own estimates,
40 percent of the plateau’s public acreage is already open to
energy development. What do you anticipate the increase will be of
that 40 percent?
Norton: Wait and see.
HCN: When can we expect that decision?
Norton: I think the recommendations
will come out within another month or so.
HCN: So how have the Four C’s played into
energy development on the plateau? In the beginning, the process
was open, and now it’s moved internal?
Norton: We have to, as the federal government,
examine the info that’s been presented to us and that’s
the stage we’re in right now. You have to remember that it
was a petroleum reserve.
HCN: Yes, it
was oil shale in the late ’70s — but that industry came
and went pretty quickly, leaving that community busted.
That’s why the public process has been so involved. How will
that be accounted for in these upcoming decisions?
Norton: It really is premature for us to be
talking about how this is going to turn out.
But on the
energy development front, we have worked with several conservation
organizations, and brought together CEOs of energy companies and
land mangers to talk about BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES -- about how
to balance the energy needs with habitat protection and other
environmental aspects of energy development. We found that to be a
very helpful process, and the BLM has been working on best
management practices for a while now.
applicable to any BLM management, no just the Roan Plateau.
[NORTON WALKS ME THROUGH THE POWER POINT PRINTOUT,
LITTERALLY READING EACH PAGE.]
[SOMEWHERE IN THERE I
HCN: So when the Interior
(Department) is looking at energy development, what role is
industry playing in developing these best practices, specifically,
improved technology for energy development? Can you describe to me
any of these technologies that may be implemented on the Roan
Norton: Again, you’re
asking about a specific area, and I can’t really comment
about the specific area, but I can tell you what’s happening
generally across the West.
involving a large chunk of land out here, there was a suit that
came out in Utah, and the Interior settled by stripping 2.6 million
acres of wilderness protection from wilderness inventory areas and
opened them up to energy development. Is this part of the Best Use
Practices, and how did the decision come about?
Norton: Let’s first finish running though
this. [BACK TO POWER POINT PRINT-OUT]
HCN: Obviously, Interior has done a lot of work
on the Best Use Practices. Has energy development moved to the
forefront of the Interior’s priorities?
Norton: No, we have multiple-use
responsibilities. We do have serious energy needs for the country,
we are aware that natural gas is especially in demand because of
its air quality benefits: 90 percent of new power plants have been
natural gas-powered. We want the natural gas because it’s
beneficial, and we need someplace to get it. We work within that
reality. Our process is a land-use planning process. We have to
look at each individual area to see what makes sense for that area.
We look at areas that are appropriate for recreation, wildlife,
different areas that may be appropriate for energy activities. We
ideally balance all of those things. Our responsibility for BLM
lands is multiple-use, meaning a variety of needs and uses.
HCN: So what happened in Utah with
your settlement (with then-Gov. Mike Leavitt) that stripped 2.6
million acres of “wilderness inventory areas” of
wilderness protection, and opened them up to energy development?
The public identifies wilderness inventory areas — it
doesn’t fit into the Four C’s doctrine?
Norton: First of all, we start with the legal
reality that Congress reserved for itself the right to creating
wilderness areas. We think that it is appropriate to look at
preserving natural areas as one aspect of our land-use planning
process. As we go through our plans, we will look at the qualities
of different areas to determine what makes the most sense. In some
of the Utah areas, we looked at some that are adjacent to existing
oil and gas activities that are not visible from recreational use
areas, that don’t have exceptional values, and have made
those available for leasing. We have looked at other areas and
decided they should not be available for oil and gas leasing. And
so our local land managers have been looking at each individual
area and, through the public involvement process, deciding
HCN: So, on
one hand we have the public designating wilderness inventory areas.
It doesn’t fit into the Four C’s doctrine because of
It’s a question of [pause] how you consider things in the
land-use planning process. We view it as appropriate to take
everybody’s opinions and put them on equal footing into the
land-use planning process. There are others who think that we
shouldn’t put all those values on equal footing. From a
statutory perspective, the decision about wilderness is one that
Congress should decide. And frankly, as I sit here in Colorado, I
reminisce about my days here working with Sen. Hank Brown on
wilderness legislation for Colorado. What you have to do is get all
the sides involved to decide what should be wilderness and what
places don’t fit. By a lot of painstaking work, lots of
people being involved and evaluating each individual location, we
reached a broad consensus that allowed wilderness designations to
occur throughout Colorado. So, legislation can be passed if you
have that type of open process, and that’s part of my
experience that drives the Four C’s philosophy. We got
wilderness areas designated in most of the Forest Service areas in
Colorado, or a lot of them anyway, coming out of that process.
HCN: After two years of work,
volunteer members of the Owyhee Initiative developed a proposal to
protect 510,000 acres of wilderness. The process really brought
together ranchers and environmentalists (HCN, 12/8/03). Are you
going to support the proposal if they bring it to you?
Norton: The only thing I’ve seen so far
are news articles, but I find it really encouraging. They’re
doing the same thing we did here in Colorado. I think getting
people of different views together on a local level to hash out how
wilderness should be designated is the right way to do it. This is
the type of process I strongly support.
Kales: We should probably wrap it up in the next
HCN: OK. Well, sticking
with wilderness, in April last year, the Interior announced that it
would no longer seek additional wilderness designations on public
lands. Why was that move necessary, and what was the rationale
Norton: Congress set up a
process that said: BLM will do an inventory of its lands, send
recommendations to Congress, and establish a deadline. BLM worked
across the board and decided what areas were in, and what were out.
That was a major process when I was at the Interior in the 1980s.
Those recommendations moved forward. The president sent to Congress
a set of recommendations saying these areas should be wilderness,
and these areas are not suitable for wilderness. All of those
areas, suitable or not, are now being managed to not imperil their
wilderness values, so that Congress can make that decision.
Congress, for the most part, has not acted on those
recommendations. We urge Congress to examine those recommendations
and act. I’d like to see Congress designate more wilderness
Congress has not acted on all the proposals we
sent before. It’s also a question of statutory
interpretation; it basically assigns Interior to go through that
whole process, not to keep on doing it (designating wilderness).
HCN: In the 1980s, you worked for the
Mountain States Legal Foundation under James Watt, and later you
worked under him in the Interior Department. His outspoken agenda
was, “Mine more, drill more, cut more timber.”
Concerning the current administration’s policies, he’s
been quoted as saying, “Twenty years later, it sounds as if
they’ve just dusted off the old work.” Is this true,
and if not, how is your agenda different than James Watt’s?
Norton: What’s near and dear to
my heart is cooperative conservation. I believe strongly that we
need to get beyond rhetoric, beyond industry and environmentalists
fighting with each other, and seriously solve problems. I think the
greatest challenge in environmentalism and the most rewarding
challenge is trying to figure out how humans can meet their needs
while protecting the environment. There are wonderful advancements
in technology that help us with that, and there are ways in which
our laws can operate more effectively. Local innovation and
initiative can help us better understand how to protect our
I spend a year at the Hoover Institute at
Stanford, researching market approaches to air pollution control.
This was in the early 1980s, before emissions trading and cap and
trade systems were widespread. That’s a way in which we can
get better air quality for the money we spend. It makes lots of
sense, and we’ve seen success where that has been used
--where the air quality benefits have been better than predicted.
That’s the kind of innovation that I’d like to see more
of: Real struggle to solve real world problems.
that our cooperative conservation approaches get people to sit down
and grapple with problem solving. People are solving real problems,
and that’s what I want to see. Our landowner incentive
program is another example of that. Those are what I’m all
about, finding ways to meet our needs.
Let me give you
another example of that: In the West, we are dealing with drought
all over. My department launched Water 2025 as an initiative to
encourage states, local governments, farmers and all involved with
water issues to maintain the current focus after the rain starts
falling again. Too often in the West, everybody focuses on water
during drought and then forgets about it, so that the next drought
comes without solutions in place. There are things we can do to
find widespread agreement. If you have an existing water facility,
right now the laws are written so that facility serves only one
area. But if we can have water stored for a number of different
users, we don’t have to build several different facilities.
By having better agreements about use, we can be more efficient in
our use of water.
Desalinization is a potentially
important tool for the West; water marketing is something that can
provide water for cities. If we have improvements in irrigation
efficiencies in many parts of the West, they are still using the
same techniques for irrigating farmland that the Spanish missions
used in the 1600s. We can make irrigation use more efficient it
frees up water for cities. We’re also encouraging programs
like what Las Vegas is doing. We don’t have a direct role in
telling city water authorities to do anything, but we are getting
the word out that Las Vegas is paying people to rip out their
bluegrass lawns and replace them with xeriscaping. And that is
saving something like 50 gallons of water for every square foot of
lawn replaced. So that, to me, seems like the kind of innovation we
need to be talking about all over the West. It’s
HCN: So in contrast
to Mr. Watts' blunt opinions, you see many more technologically
advanced and cooperative options to meet the needs of the country.
Norton: Human beings are going to be
relying on natural resources for a long time. Whatever we see as
today’s solution for environmental problems, there may be
somebody objecting to those things in the future. We have to think
about wind energy. We’re working to enhance wind energy on
public lands. That’s something we view as beneficial, but
even with something everybody says is good for the environment, we
still have trouble finding sites for those facilities. We have to
look at getting the mechanisms in place to really solve problems.
If you just sit back and criticize any use of resources,
that’s forgetting that you need to find the resources for
humanity. Very often, from the U.S. perspective, we draw resources
from places that are not as concerned about protecting the
environment, and so overall it is worse for the environment than
doing some things here with very high standards of protection. So
we have to look at the big picture of meeting human needs and
protecting the environment at the same time.
The interviewer is a former HCN intern who
now reports for the Douglas County News-Press in Castle Rock,