Will Seek Legislation
DLC Think Tank Wants Reduced Role
In West for BLM, U.S. Forest Service


by Steve Miller
copyright 1997, Electric Nevada

The Washington, D. C. think tank with probably the closest ties to the Clinton administration is moving toward calling for a wholesale restructuring of the relationship between federal land management agencies and Western communities.
At the Progressive Foundation -- affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council's Progressive Policy Institute -- Dr. Debra S. Knopman is calling for a move away from the federal land agencies' centralized top-down command-and- control approach.
"The first generation of [federal] environmental laws and rules, and the centralized agencies that enforce them, simply are not up to current political and scientific challenges," says Knopman, director of the foundation's Center for Innovation and the Environment.
Consequently, she said, a new book being prepared by the Institute, and edited by PPI head Will Marshall, will have a chapter recommending a major shift in control of public lands -- a "second generation" approach to environmental concerns.
The ideas in the chapter are "somewhat iconoclastic, coming from a group that's moderate, though not necessarily middle of the road," Knopman told Electric Nevada.
"What we set out, is a community stewardship proposal, whereby the federal government would enter into long-term, like 50-year, leases with community groups -- not individual ranchers, not



necessarily units of local government, but some consortium of local or regional interests that would say, 'We're going to take responsibility for managing these lands -- BLM lands or Forest Service lands -- and, in return for BLM getting off our backs, we will do at least as well if not better than you would in meeting conservation objectives.'"
Under the approach envisioned in Knopman's chapter, she says, the federal agencies would be moved into "an oversight role, but not ... a management role." Local community groups, organized "so that you don't have any one set of interests swamping out everyone else," would do the managing.
Even though people in the BLM and Forest Service try, says the Progressive Foundation director, the actual problems they confront significantly exceed their capacities.
"Today's great problems arise from the everyday activities of all of us, which puts them beyond the capacities of top-down regulation from Washington," she says.
Dr. Knopman attributes current management problems in the BLM and Forest Service to inherently conflicting


 
missions Congress has given the agencies.
"The people in these agencies are, I believe, doing the best they can, under the circumstances and the hand that Congress has dealt them. [But] Congress has dealt them a very lousy hand."
On the one hand, she points out, the agencies are told to accommodate, and in some cases, subsidize certain commercial interests on public lands. "Yet," she says, "we still have an Endangered Species Act on the books, we still have wetlands rules, we still have the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and everything else."
A more fundamental problem is the actual bureaucratic structures of the agencies, which, she says, "were really put in place in a different era, for different motivations.
"Ultimately, the federal agencies are making a lot of decisions that I view as inherently local" -- decisions she says the agencies "aren't terribly well suited to do."
Environmentalists should not misinterpret the 1996 elections, she says. Although the electorate rejected what she calls the "slash and burn" approach of the 104th Republican congress, real problems remain, she says, with "the nation's outdated 'command and control' environmental regulatory apparatus."




"The bottom line going into 1997," writes Knopman, "is that the frustration with the first generation environmental approach remains a sore point, especially for those most directly affected by regulation. If we ignore these persistent frustrations, 1996 could well turn into a hollow victory for the environmental movement."
In the American West especially, she says, centralized federal control of local public lands not only lacks public support, but it doesn't even work.
"The heart of the dispute between Washington and the West is not federal subsidies, but control of the land. Washington's traditional 'multiple use' paradigm, which tries to strike a balance between commercial and non-commercial interests, simply does not work in most places.
"It's not that the concept of public lands has failed," says Knopman, "but that centralized control over those lands used for commercial purposes lacks public support and does little to preserve the environment."
She quotes the Democratic major of Missoula, Montana, Daniel Kemmis, who says, "I do not believe the federal


 
government has the capacity to manage the West. I do not believe, either, that any solution coming from one end of the political spectrum or the other is going to have the capacity to do what this landscape requires. The danger is that one ideology or another will win a temporary victory because we did not work hard enough to find our common ground.
"The bottom line would be to say that we want and need control over our own land," says Kemmis.
The idea of community stewardship, says Knopman, offers numerous advantages over the current system.
It would mean both public and private lands could be managed for conservation purposes more effectively and efficiently, she says.
Also, "public lands could be better integrated into communities' overall economic development plans, boosting their revenues from economic development spurred by a healthy landscape, 'ecotourism' and recreation.
"The communities would gain access to a new stream of federal funds to apply to conservation.
"By virtue of their proximity, community authorities would be




more effective than distant federal regulators at driving home the point that free markets do not create a right to do harm to others, their property, or the community at large.
"Finally, community stewards would be able to bypass the federal land-management bureaucracies and work directly with the spectrum of interests vested in the land."
Knopman says she expects the ideas in the Progressive Policy Instititute's new book, Building the Bridge: 10 Big Ideas to Transform America, to eventually take the form of proposed legislation.
"We don't have it in legislative form yet, but we're certainly going to be driving toward that, over the course of the year. The proposal in the chapter needs to be discussed and we really need to 'vet' it a little more before it's ready for legislative form, but that's definitely our goal."

Next week in Electric Nevada:

An 18-year-veteran of the Department of Interior's Office of Policy Analysis recommends another course: breaking up the agencies.


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