Can We Try an Interest-Based Dialogue? A Guest Post by Mike Wood

Map from "One Third of the Nation's Land"

Map from “One Third of the Nation’s Land”

From Mike Wood:

I would like to open up a dialogue concerning the relevance and need for public lands within the United States. My interest in doing so is because I deeply value the experience of wildness and the connections to place and nature that come from working in the woods. These are co-equal to me and represent the closest approximation we can have in the modern to how our species has lived for most of our evolution. I am concerned that most of us in the US have lost touch with these experiences and connections, and with each generation the trend is further away from nature and more toward “virtual” realities. People won’t support that which they do not know. Yet, those of us who know the most spend our time focusing on how different we are from one another, thereby splintering the cohort that could otherwise advocate for even the mere existence of public lands.

Here is the background for opening this dialogue.

A couple weeks ago I called Sharon because I was curious about her goals/intentions for this blog site and whether she felt this forum was serving those goals. As our conversation evolved, we began to philosophize a bit about the role of public lands more generally, and whether or not we could start a conversation here that could take a big step back from the usual debates just to see where it would take us . Following this conversation, Sharon sent me the links to several posts on this blog site concerning the 2010 conference in which the topic was, in part, to revisit the findings of the public land law review commission findings 40 years prior. While I found the posts to be interesting it really left me wondering, as I often do, how we arrived at this point, over 40 years after the PLLRC final report.

How is it that so many conversations here and elsewhere devolve into (my view) distractions from what is the more fundamentally important topics? From what I can see, everyone who participates in this on-line debate over public lands management has a reasonably sharp intellect and most participants have a penchant for writing as well (thus you/we participate in the forum). So what’s at issue here?

As a starting point for conversation and just see if anyone else is interested in this stuff, I wanted to make a distinction between “position” and “interest” based communication. While I’m sure this is a review for most everyone, “positions” are fixed in place and are at best a proximate means for serving an underlying interest. For instance, “I am opposed to commercial timber harvest on public lands” is a “position” statement. The real interesting question, in my view, is to ask “What are the underlying interests that this person is attempting to serve and how is it that they arrived at this position as the best alternative in serving these interests”? How often do most of us question the efficacy of our positions, and/or whether they are even serving our interests at all? On the other hand, how many of us could truly articulate our interests clearly and accurately?

An old piece of wisdom I learned a number of years ago suggests that to know the “truth” about another person’s perspective, you have to ask “why” to each response they provide at least five times with each follow up response going progressively deeper until you arrive at the core of their motivation. While it may not feasible to go this far on this blog site, I am curious as to whether anyone would like to carry on a dialogue concerning our underlying interests on this blog site. I have to admit that I motivated by my desire to keep public lands around at least for the next few generations (I’ve heard something about taking care of the next 7 generations…).

If anyone is interested, we could begin by agreeing that to always stay focused on an interest-based dialogue with ear toward understanding the other without judgment for as long as possible. If no one is interested, that’s OK too of course…

Note from Sharon: here is a post by John Rupe on the Land Law Conference put on by the Natural Resources folks at CU Law. It also has a link to the report One Third of the Nation’s Land (1970). Well worth a read to see how far our thinking about public lands has changed since 1970. What were you doing in 1970?

29 Comments

  1. I’ll give it a go.
    My personal interest is the access the public lands provide to those who want to recreate to restore their spirits. All kinds of people, across all kinds of income.

    I think the press focuses on conflicts among them, but I was in the Carson one fall when hunters, kids on ATV’s, cows, and huge semis with oil and gas pipes were all on the same road.. somehow making it together and somehow having a good time. There is no news story that goes ” 200,000 (I have no idea across states exactly how many) people with guns (and many with alcohol) (and a very low density of law enforcement personnel) dispersed across the west during this elk season with no shootings of each other and only 3 accidents!” Or being on the San Juan and seeing people ride ATV’s to 14er trailheads.

    My other personal interest is that rural western people have voices in the management of the land.. as the map shows, federal land is much more significant to the well-being of communities in the western states… As they say, the chicken is involved, the pig is committed. Local people- tribes- and the land are connected and I think that that connection, should be honored. There is an implicit or explicit ideology is that “we” need to protect the land from local people (there is a partisan note to this) who are really just pawns of the corporate (logging, energy, agribusiness) interests. I think it’s demeaning and not accurate.

    I’m not sure if these are interests or values..but they are more fundamental than a specific project or policy.

    What I was doing in 1970: I was in a summer science program for high school students at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, studying the ecology of the Roaring River Drainage.

    • Western state demographics don’t bode well for the rural “voices” Sharon seeks to promote. The West is the most urbanized of the state’s four major regions, with almost 90% of western states residents living in urban areas. To the extent urban vs. rural conflicts exist, they do not pit easterners against westerners, but, instead, western urbanites vs. western ruralites. The notion that East Coast liberals dominate western land use policies is a myth.

      • Andy.. As I understood it, you were supposed to share your interests and values, not necessarily pose the difficulties of me having mine :).

        But since you started.. believe me I know, about urban vs. rural, even within in the state of Colorado. But say, take the Earthjustice Board. I see one Durango and one Wyoming and the rest the Coasts. Is the Seattle Portland San Francisco LA really an “urban west” in the sense of Bend, Spokane, Denver or Albuquerque? I don’t know.

        • So what is the difference between Portland/Seattle/SF/LA vs. Bend/Spokane/Denver/Albuquerque? Apparently not much, if you’re a New Yorker.

          But for those of us who live in the West, we know the differences are striking. Hipstervilles vote Democrat. Mormonsvilles vote Republican.

          That bluest of western states, California, actually pits ocean-view liberals versus inland conservatives. To whom should California’s Sequoia National Forest’s managers give more weight — the Santa Cruz county liberal or the Kern county conservative? Here’s what happens when the Forest Service falls off that political tightrope.

          • Ah.. but Andy, you can be a D and care about rural working class people and communities. You can be an R and care about the environment. You can be an independent and publicly care about both and demonize neither party.

            IMHO, there’s got to be more to natural resource policy than either oil companies or TWS sitting in front of the Secretary’s Office, depending on the color of the administration. (I believe the original image was a quote from Dave Freudenthal, the former Governor of Wyoming; I couldn’t find the quote on the internet- folks are welcome to contribute if you know it).

            Given that this clip is from Santa Cruz county…
            http://ncfp.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/buy-local-wood-from-santa-cruz/
            “islands of privilege” “environmental haves and have-nots” “bias toward local sustainably produced wood,” and “embrace local supply of building material as much as food.” I have to wonder if there is a disconnect.

            Since people of all political persuasions use wood products, it seem to me that there is another case to be made for California produced wood products. I wonder if that’s why the Sierra Club doesn’t want FSC certification.. because people could say hmmm. the choices are sustainably produced wood from California or Canada for my house- why I’ll support my state and get some of our own rural folks off welfare!

            If I had a bunch of money I would start an ad campaign..”Local Wood.. Why Not?” And have a bunch of D’s talking. I could find them easily in Colorado.

    • Sorry for the delay in responding, and thanks for the start Sharon. Here’s a response that puts the “5 Whys” of which I spoke into context. In your post, you said “My personal interest is the access the public lands provide to those who want to recreate to restore their spirits. All kinds of people, across all kinds of income.” – so my response is to ask “why” do you care about access to public lands to restore spirit? And why does this access need to be for people of all kinds of income? Why does this matter to you?

      Second, you say “My other personal interest is that rural western people have voices in the management of the land.” Again, why does it matter to you that rural people have a voice in the management of the land?

      I know some of this might come across as trite, but it can be a really good exercise to challenge ourselves to express a deeper level of truth why we care….

  2. Have decided to callyou my friend because yoour idea of doing this dialogue is excellent
    buy thedialog should be on certain subjecks.For example I feel that there is a very important subject WHY HAVE THE FOREST INDUSTRIES BEEN DEMONIZED DURING THE LAST 25 YEARS WHEN BEFDORE THIS IT WAS A VERY RESPECTED ENTERPRISE MAINLY BECAUSE OUR INDUSTRY PRODUCED A BIODEGRADABLE AND SUSTAINABLE INDUSGTRYÑ. Ae I SAID BEFORE THE START OF THIS DEGRADATION OF THE FOREST INDUSTRIES THAT I CALL THE SPOTTED OWL SYNDROME THAT EVERYBODY KNOWS SOMETHING ABOUT IFF BUT IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO KNOW ALL ABOUT HIS
    AS FAR AS I CAN REMEMBER FROM THIS MOMENT ONWARDS OUR ENEMIES
    HAVEWON EVERY SINGLE BATTLE AGAINST IT AND THE WORSE IS THAT THEY TEACH IN SHOOLS WHAT MURDERERS WE ARE WITH THE FOREST. LETS FACETHE FACT THAT THERE ARE MANY OTHER INDUSTRIES MUCH WORST THAN OURS THAT NOBODY COMPLAINS. YOU WILL FIND THAT THESEOTHER INDUSTRIES DID WHAT WE SHOULD HAVE DONE.IS OUR CONGRESSMEN ANDTHENVERY IMPORTANT TODAY IS TO DO LOBBYING. THIS PERSECUTION OF THE SMALL AND MEDIUM SIZED SAWMILL HAS INCREASED THE COST THAT THEY CANNOT MAKE IIT AND ARE DISSAPEARING
    BUT THE BIG COMPANIES HAVE NOT BEEN UNITED OB THIS SUBJECT AND OUR ENEMIES KNOW THAT THIS IS OUR WEAK POINT.. For now I would like to hear from you and start the dialog so other become interested. The forest industries are in deep problems
    and loosing land.
    Last buynot least is is the fact that for eample lately the authorities have recommended to use those materials that need low energy consumptions. Wonder how many colleages
    know about this, what I know is that notnhing has been done to use this lprincipleto enfasize
    the preferfence of lumber in house building as our competitors ,with agood campain
    as they did posting “USE STEEL, SAVE A TREE. Ihave not seen yet us saying
    SAVE ENRGY USE LUMBER.
    So here are some of my own opinions and please on which we agree andwht are the comments
    BEST ENERGY REGARDS
    Pablo Korach
    Engineered wood products INNOVATOR)
    M.Sc.ChemicalENGINEERING

  3. Professor Wood,
    Brian Hawthorne here. I’m public lands guy for the BlueRibbon Coalition, a national off-highway vehicle advocacy group.

    You wrote:
    “I would like to open up a dialogue concerning the relevance and need for public lands within the United States.”

    You also wrote:
    “An old piece of wisdom I learned a number of years ago suggests that to know the “truth” about another person’s perspective, you have to ask “why” to each response they provide at least five times with each follow up response going progressively deeper until you arrive at the core of their motivation.”

    I suppose I could ask “why, why, why, why and why” as a tongue in cheek way of asking what your core motivation is for opening a dialog.

    I ask as a strong supporter of public land who represents a constituency that is growing less and less confident in the ability of the federal agencies to effectively manage it.

    I’d answer your question specifically, except that Sharon already took the words right out of my mouth…

    • Hi Brian,

      Sorry for the delay getting back to you on this blog post question. My core motivation in starting this blog post is to create a space where people can practice the expression of their underlying interests from which their positions regarding public lands management flow. I say that it is a “practice” because it takes a lifetime to fully understand our underlying interests, most of which are not a rational, logical, linear or even internally consistent. This is the core of the human condition that we all share.

      My “underlying interest” here is to explore the extent to which we might discover that elusive “common interest(s)” from which we can build a broader constituency that supports the existence of public lands at all. I have no illusions that this experiment is some kind of panacea, and I fully expect the majority of interaction on this blog end elsewhere to continue to be centered around rationalized positions (even though positioned-based advocacy can be like using a butcher’s knife to do surgery).

      The “why” behind all of this is that I personally feel a very strong connection with nature which, for me, draws me into the forest through trail running, hiking, backpacking, and other forms of non-motorized recreation. Having said this, I also very much appreciate and value the connections that others feel with nature, friends, and family through motorized recreation.

      I grew up in up state NY in a town that was about 60% second or third generation Italian immigrants (mostly Sicilian). Being a “WASP” in this town, I was kind of an odd ball (most everyone else was Hispanic or African American). As it turned out, most of my closest friends were from families with deep and rich family connections in the classic Italian tradition, and they welcomed me into their homes and fed me lots of pasta on a regular basis. From these many experiences growing up in this town (Geneva, NY), I learned about familial connections and the importance of staying connected with one another. My point here is that I know that for many families, motorized recreation is a huge part of maintaining these connections., and far be it from me to “judge” these activities. Its often about families and friends coming together and that is a really good thing.

      Moreover, I also feel a very strong affinity for and appreciation of working in the woods (which I did off and on for several years when I was younger). Having lived in the west now for about half of my 46 years, I have come to know, understand, and really appreciate the very deep connections people develop over generations of living and working in the woods in and around their community.

      I suppose as I really consider my own underlying interests in all of this discussion, it has to do with making sure we have public lands in relatively good condition (including room for as full a suite of wildlife as possible) that are available for people to work in, play in, and connect with in perpetuity, and my sense of how people connect with landscape has evolved now to include a much broader array of activities than it once did. The point, I thinnk, is that in an age when fewer people (as a percentage of the total) are experiencing direct connection with public lands, I believe we must find the common thread that keeps all of us who do care about these lands and work from that place. The alternative doesn’t bode well for these lands about which we all care…

  4. I love the public lands of the west. I remember once when I was a teenager driving around Colorado and I can across a BLM sign near the Colorado river and it said, “this is public land is open for you to enjoy.” It gave me a great feeling of freedom and belonging.
    I want these lands taken care of.
    I want their abundant resources maintained and used wisely. I think the people who live close to them should be able to has access to that resource.
    I have often felt like the Democrats want to give our lands to the Sierra Club and the Republicans want to give it to Weyerhaeuser and both would just as soon see the local people disappear.
    I would like to see these lands to remain to belong to all of us. I think wilderness areas are a big mistake. I think it is all wilderness and we should and can take care of it.

    • Hi Stump,

      In your post, you said “I want these lands taken care of. I want their abundant resources maintained and used wisely. I think the people who live close to them should be able to has access to that resource.” I wonder why this matters to you? Why is it important, in your view, to take care of “public lands”? And why does it matter to you that people who live close to these lands have access to “that resource”?

      Please know that I have no hidden agenda here. I am just trying to bring out the “why” behind many of the values and/or positions we express. its a life-long practice to articulate our underlying interests (a.k.a. truths). I hope you take my questions in the very genuine and open way they are intended….

      Cheers, Mike

  5. Re: “I would like to open up a dialogue concerning the relevance and need for public lands within the United States”.

    This is the third or fourth time we’ve made a run at this in the few months that I have participated. I think that it is a fundamental question and hope that we get more feedback than the other attempts.

    1) Since the focus of this thread is supposed to be on interest, I am very interested in seeing one of a kind, special, awe inspiring places such as the National Park Service (NPS) was originally conceived to provide preserved and available to all. I am talking about Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Blue Ridge Parkway and other high visitation places. I think that we could probably spin some NPS lands off to the states to do with as they pleased.

    2) I am not interested in maintaining public lands that very few people will ever see. I am very interested in reducing the Federal budget.

    3) I am not interested in the government retaining lands that were taken back from railroad companies when the railroad failed to utilize those lands for the purpose that they were intended to. Like all other new lands they should have been opened up to the citizens. People in the East and the South get along fine with a significantly smaller proportion of public lands.

    4) I am interested in giving the NPS, US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW), and the Environmental Protection agency (EPA) any USFS and non-indian BLM lands that they want to administer with the budget monies tied to them. Then the remaining lands need to be given to the appropriate state to do with as they please.

    • Hi Gil,

      Thanks for jumping into this experiment! Since you laid out your statements in a nice organized way, I’d like to respond to each in the same manner (hope this works for you). Please take my questions in the very genuine, open way they are intended. I don’t mean to come across as trite. Rather, I am truly interested in learning more about why you and others have arrived in your respective positions.

      1. “Since the focus of this thread is supposed to be on interest, I am very interested in seeing one of a kind, special, awe inspiring places such as the National Park Service (NPS) was originally conceived to provide preserved and available to all. I am talking about Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Blue Ridge Parkway and other high visitation places. I think that we could probably spin some NPS lands off to the states to do with as they pleased.”

      Why do you care about the places that you mention that are managed by NPS? What is “awe inspiring” about these places? And why are these worth investing federal tax dollars to preserve and protect?

      2. “I am not interested in maintaining public lands that very few people will ever see. I am very interested in reducing the Federal budget.”

      Why are you not interested in maintaining public lands that very few people ever see? What is it about “access” that makes the public lands more valuable?

      Why do you care about reducing the federal budget? What does this mean to you?

      3. “I am not interested in the government retaining lands that were taken back from railroad companies when the railroad failed to utilize those lands for the purpose that they were intended to. Like all other new lands they should have been opened up to the citizens. People in the East and the South get along fine with a significantly smaller proportion of public lands.”

      Is this linked with your statements in #2 regarding access and the federal budget?

      4. “I am interested in giving the NPS, US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW), and the Environmental Protection agency (EPA) any USFS and non-indian BLM lands that they want to administer with the budget monies tied to them. Then the remaining lands need to be given to the appropriate state to do with as they please.”

      is this also linked with your statements in #2? Or is there something else to add in here?

      Thanks Gil. Again, I am truly just interested in exploring where there may be a common thread amongst those of us that participate in this blog site and elsewhere. I wrote a more extensive explanation of my motivation in response to Brian Hawthorne in case you are interested…

      • Mike

        1) Re: “Why do you care about the places that you mention that are managed by NPS? What is “awe inspiring” about these places? And why are these worth investing federal tax dollars to preserve and protect?”
        –> When I was an agnostic I believed that if there was a God, the forests must be His chapel. I would think that “awe inspiring” would be fairly self explanatory but let me give it a go. Something “awe inspiring” makes your mouth drop open and fills your eyes and ears with a grandeur of wonders that couldn’t have been conceived of before they were first seen by you. Fifteen minutes at the Grand Canyon was all that I needed, I just walked away (I was in the middle of a long cross country trip with no a/c, a two year old child and a sick wife). Even after I saw it, I just couldn’t accept in some small way that it was real. C. S. Lewis referred to it as being “Surprised by Joy” which to me, is the most wonderful emotion that can be experienced.
        –> I may be very stingy with my money but I think that everyone that can afford it should be able to be “Surprised by Joy” and I am willing to do my small share to make the totally unique places that I mentioned available to all out of an innate desire to share such wonders with others and help them experience what I experienced in those places.

        2) Re: “Why are you not interested in maintaining public lands that very few people ever see? What is it about “access” that makes the public lands more valuable? ”
        –> I think that my answer to your first question addresses this question also. If only a few privileged people can afford to visit the site, then I am not willing to pay for the exclusivity that is only available to those with significant wealth. And I am especially not willing to do so when there are other places of at least as great a grandeur that are closer to the majority of the populace. Without access, it is of no value to the majority of the populace except to those who can buy access to it and they (corporations, individuals, trusts, environmental groups or whatever) should acquire it and manage it according to the dictates of the EPA, USFWS and any other regulatory body.

        3) Re: “Is this linked with your statements in #2 regarding access and the federal budget?”
        –> Yes in regard to the Federal Budget.
        –> No in regard to access. It is a matter of fairness and consistency of policy. As the territories were opened up, the lands were made available to all. Sometimes it was a government sale and sometimes it was a freebie in the form of homesteading. The lands were given to the railroad in order to help them pay for providing a public service. When they reneged and the lands were repossessed, they should have been sold and or homesteaded. The government appropriated something that didn’t belong to them. The government’s role was only to serve the people by providing an equitable means of distributing the lands.

        4) Re: “is this also linked with your statements in #2? Or is there something else to add in here?”
        –> I am speaking to organizational effectiveness in terms of implementing objectives/goals, reducing taxes through organizational efficiencies, and placing the onus of taxes on the state for those properties which have no environmental concerns and no nationwide uniqueness in terms of aesthetic values.
        –> I am coming to the conclusion that the USFS has nothing to offer that other public agencies couldn’t do better and that administrative efficiencies would save the taxpayer money.
        –> I would give first choice of USFS, BLM and USFWS lands to the EPA and NPS to administer in such a way that would address their concerns about environmental issues (EPA) or aesthetic issues (NPS). There is great inefficiency in an agency making rules and expecting others to carry them out when the rule maker doesn’t have to live with the effects of the rules. If they want to protect it, let them assume the responsibilities and costs for managing it. When that happens, practicality will enter the picture and unsupported suppositions will be drastically reduced.
        –> Finally, any USFS/BLM/USFWS lands that other federal agencies don’t have a valid claim on should go back to the states to manage or sell as they and their taxpayers see fit. I see no reason that I should pay for benefits that are predominantly for the inhabitants of a state other than my own. And I especially see no reason for me to pay taxes to support such lands in other states if the out of state tourists who do visit, contribute to the local economy.
        –> The Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Please note that there is nothing in there that says we relinquish our pursuit of liberty and happiness in order that we would enhance the pursuit of the liberty and happiness of others over our own.
        –> The US Constitution begins with these words: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America”. Please note that “general Welfare” is generally understood to speak to the infrastructure necessary to conduct business, provide justice and liberty, insure tranquility and provide for the common defense.
        –> Posterity certainly speaks to a justification for the EPA. Posterity and blessings of Liberty leaves room for a NPS to manage one of a kind special places. A wilderness or roadless area is not a blessing of liberty for the general welfare if only a very few can gain access to it. I see no justification in either of these foundational documents for a USFS/BLM/USFWS and especially not at federal taxpayer expense.

  6. Since I live so very close to public lands, I want to see the extremes pulled closer to the middle, relying on sound science to restore forests, and all they contain (including ME!) As a photographer, I guess I could say I’m a little selfish in wanting green forests, instead of black and brown ones. I think we have plenty of those kinds, already.

  7. The enviro side puts this in their news releases (this one related to a new lawsuit):

    “At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature – to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction.”

    • Hi Jon,

      I don’t know whether you are a member of CBD or were just posting form their site, but I am wondering why CBD believes that nature has “intrinsic value”. Where does that belief or value come from? What experience(s) led CBD membership to adopt this belief? Thanks!

      Mike

      • At the presumption of answering for Jon (and/or CBD), this essay is a good introduction to the notion of intrinsic value of nature.

        I would be curious to know to which of the two kinds of intrinsic value discussed in the essay does CBD subscribe:

        There are two different views on the basis or grounding for intrinsic value. On one of these views, intrinsic value is created by human valuing (Callicott 1986, Elliot 1992). On this subjective intrinsic value view, something has intrinsic value if it is valued for what it is, rather than for what it can bring about. Subjective intrinsic value is created by valuers through their evaluative attitudes or judgments — it does not exist prior to or independent from these. Because of this, it is, like instrumental value, conditional. People value a wide variety of things intrinsically (e.g., personal mementos, cultural and religious artifacts, ceremonies and rituals, accomplishments, performances, and historical sites) and they do so for a variety of reasons (e.g., for what an entity represents, what it embodies, its rarity, its history, or its beauty). Because it is reason-oriented, subjective intrinsic valuing is not arbitrary and it is open to evaluation — as well as revision — through education and persuasion. In this way, it is distinguished from mere preferences or tastes.

        versus . . .

        In contrast to subjective intrinsic value, objective intrinsic value is not humanly conferred. If something has objective intrinsic value, it has properties or features in virtue of which it is valuable, independent of anyone’s attitudes or judgments. This is typically thought to be the case with respect to the value of persons, for example. People have value in virtue of what they are, not because others value them. Their value is not conditional. If species and ecosystems have objective intrinsic value, then their value is discovered by human valuers, it is not created by them. There are two prominent views regarding the objective intrinsic value of species and ecological systems: the natural-historical value view and the inherent worth view.

          • Philosopher J. Baird Callicott writes engagingly about this topic. In his “Intrinsic Value in Nature” essay, Callicott tells of the fish biologist who seeks to explain to his fisheries colleagues why a desert pup fish that lives in stock tanks is worth protecting:

            Finally, Pister found a way to put the concept of intrinsic value across clearly. To the question What good is it?, he replied, What good are you?

            • Thanks Andy. These are interesting citations. The problem, I believe, with the “intrinsic value discussion that has taken place for several decades now is that it immediately abstracts the conversation from the actual experience of nature itself and instead becomes a philosophical discourse. Some of the writers you cited actually try to address this issue and bring at least some of the discussion back around to real and direct human experience with/in/as a part of nature, much to their credit. My interest in asking about why the members of CBD believe nature has intrinsic value, is to see if we can’t find a way to articulate the actual experience of nature which leads them to belief (which I will admit I share).

              I’m not sure that attempting to prove in some comprehensive way that nature does or does not have intrinsic value is as important as recognizing that for many people it just does, and this belief is born out of their experiences, just as for others the “experience” of nature may have more to do with an instrumental relationship (i.e. nature has value to the extent it provides something of value to humans.)

              What is most intriguing to me is the intersection between instrumental and intrinsic value, and especially the possibility that this may be a false dichotomy in how we experience (or value) nature. For instance, is it possible to believe an elk has “intrinsic value” and still hunt and kill it for food? Personally, I do, which has made it much more difficult emotionally whenever I’ve killed animals in the past. There is a really powerful Inuit expression which says (paraphrasing) “that one if life’s greatest perils is the reality that all food consists of souls.” Is this not an expression that may break down the dichotomy between intrinsic and instrumental? I’d love to hear what others think…

              • I believe that all living creatures have some kind of (intrinsic) value. However, some are to be avoided in the interest of human life and health; say the MRSA bacteria. Others have a more complex and almost entirely positive relationship with humans; say, the elk.

                I don’t think it’s the philosophy that’s the problem so much as what you do about it. For example, everyone likes wild salmon. Some of us eat them. Others like the idea of bringing them back to all the places they used to be. But who is willing to sell all they have, and buy land that they can manage for salmon? Who is willing to give up low carbon hydropower and have businesses who need cheap energy relocate to say, Colorado? Who can tell folks with treaty rights they can’t fish (legally, probably no one)?

                I’m not sure it’s the idea of value, so much, as what you do about it, and (even more so) what you ask other people to do about it, that is the area where people seem to disagree.

                • Well said Sharon. Thank you for helping me clarify my thinking too. I like the way you put it. Its not the value and/or philosophy but what you do with it that matters. Still, there is great “value”, I believe in recognizing the commonality of the underlying belief (e.g. the intrinsic value of all living things). Once we have that fully recognized, then we can get into a more meaningful discussion of how people make choices in their lives and the “why” behind those choices (i.e. what they do with it)…Thanks again.

      • I am not of CBD, but volunteered them to help the discussion since that viewpoint didn’t seem to be represented (just a coincidence I guess that I saw their news release after seeing this thread). I could parse their language this way. The ‘because’ preceding ‘intrinsic value’ ties back to the first sentence, which explains what they believe the intrinsic value is (which would make it subjective). I imagine there are lots of ways (whys?) the individual members could have gotten to that belief, and maybe some couldn’t really articulate ‘why.’

        Your original question was “What are the underlying interests that this person is attempting to serve and how is it that they arrived at this position as the best alternative in serving these interests”? That seems to be a more productive line of questions than how they arrived at their interest in the first place.

        • Hi Jon,

          Thanks for staying with this conversation. I know it must be somewhat awkward to respond on behalf of an organization, and knowing some of CBD members as I do, I can attest that there are indeed numerous “whys” behind the “intrinsic” value belief. Perhaps the pathway forward is to ask for more of a personalized understanding of what “intrinsic” value means, and what kinds of experiences lead people to adopt this belief.

          To explain more about why I am asking these questions, one of the central tenets of being human is “meaning making”. In other words, we all adopt beliefs that allow us to make meaning of our experiences. Some choose to believe in God or some other higher power. Others find intrinsic value within the material world that crosses between the physical and metaphysical. Still others develop beliefs systems that are some combination of the foregoing, and so on.

          The formation of a belief from experience and meaning-making is not necessarily a “rational” process, however. This may be why it is so difficult to explain how one comes to believe that nature has intrinsic value (for instance). Because our society values the “rational” over “irrational” in public debate (going back to Greek theories of logic and reasoning), we quickly develop rationalized positions to serve our irrational interests. My point is that there is not a human among us that does not have at his/her core, irrational beliefs which form underlying interests, which have in turn led them to adopt the rationalized positions we see playing out throughout this blog and elsewhere on a regular basis. Yet, the irrational nature of most if not all underlying interests present a zero sum game for all the “players” within the debate. That is to say, until we choose to recognize the inherent value of irrational beliefs as a core aspect of the human condition, the “debate” over public lands will never cease.

          I hope this helps anyone reading understand what the hell I am thinking in bringing up this discussion. I realize that blog sites can be a somewhat awkward space to talk about such things, which is why I characterize this as a grand experiment. Again, I have no hidden agenda. There is no “gotcha” coming along. It just seems to me that having an interest-based conversation may be the only viable pathway out of the “stalemate” so pervasive in most public land management discussions.

  8. John

    Sorry but I just can’t help but comment that in their simplistic view of working “to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction”, they don’t have a clue as to why what is “hovering on the brink of extinction” nor do they know enough to make tradeoffs between competing species when one is forcing the other towards extinction as a result of natural evolution, nor do they understand that the keystone species that drives an ecosystem is more important than a few sub components.

    They deem themselves gods of the forests without any credentialed understanding of the total forest ecosystem. Talking heads passing wishful thinking and supposition for established science and logic.

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