A Taxonomy of Publics: From “One Third of the Nation’s Land”

In our discussion of where decisions are made with regard to public lands, there is a tension between those who feel that local concerns and interests should be preferred and those who feel that national concerns and interests should be preferred.

George Hoberg of University of British Columbia, argues here that nationalizing issues was and is a strategy of environmental groups (e.g., roadless today) – that the legalization and nationalization of issues have become paramount in US forest policy.

In Chapter Two of One Third of the Nation’s Land, there is a categorization of publics related to public land policies. The categories are:

1) “the national public: all citizens, as taxpayers, consumers, and ultimate owners of the public lands are concerned that the lands produce and remain productive of the material, social, and esthetic benefits that can be obtained from them.
2) the regional public: those who live and work on or near the vast public lands, while being a part of and sharing the concerns of the national public, have a special concern that the public lands help to support them and their neighbors and that the lands contribute to their overall well-being.
3) the Federal Government as sovereign: the ultimate responsibility of the Federal Government is to provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare and, in so doiig, it should make use of every tool at its command, including
its control of the public lands.
4) the Federal Government as proprietor: in a narrower sense, the Federal Government is a landowner that seeks to manage its property according to much the same set of principles as any other landowner and to exercise normal proprietary control over its land.
5) state and local government: most of the Federal lands fall within the jurisdiction limits of other levels of governments, which have responsibility for the health, safety, and welfare of their constituents and, thus, an interest in assuring that
the overriding powers of the Federal Government be accommodated to their interests as viable instruments in our Federal system of government.
6) the users of public lands and resources: users, including those seeking economic gain and those seeking recreation or other noneconomic benefits, have an interest in assuring that their special needs, which vary widely, are met and
that all users are given equal consideration when uses are permitted.

The Commission in each of its decisions gave careful consideration to the interests of each of the several “publics” that make up the “general public.” to the best of its ability, reflect all of the interests of the general public.
We, therefore, recommend that: In making public land decisions, the Federal Government should take into consideration
the interests of the national public, the regional public, the Federal Government as the sovereign, the Federal proprietor, the users of public lands and resources, and the state and local governmental entities within which the lands are located in order to assure, to the extent possible, that the maximum benefit for the general public is achieved.”

It is worth reading the whole discussion in Chapter Two found here. It is certainly a more nuanced view than the idea that each person in the US has equal say over what happens on public lands. In this light, place-based legislation can, perhaps, be seen as an attempt to rebalance the power that has shifted to the courts and to national groups.

13 thoughts on “A Taxonomy of Publics: From “One Third of the Nation’s Land””

  1. Sharon, I’m thinking there is another tension here. Community forestry advocates do not believe that “local interests and concerns should be preferred” or that “national interests and concerns should be preferred”. We believe that local people have a role to play in achieving national goals for public lands. We believe our interests must be integrated with the national interests. For example:
    can we be at the table when people are trying to figure out how national goals manifest at the local level? can we bring our knowledge to the table? can we learn from the available science? can we be part of the discussion? can we do the work of public land stewardship, surveying, data collection, field practices, monitoring? can we have a life? you are right, it is much more nuanced than we’d like to believe

  2. I’m with Lynn on this one. If properly established, advisory boards can include some national-level interests as well, from conservation organizations to others. It’s also another venue where tribes can play a more pro-active role in forest management (reserved rights for example) (though not a substitute for government-to-government interaction). Lots of possibilities, including the mixing of scientists AND political interests/perspectives. A recommendation for advisory boards doesn’t have to lead us into the swamp of devolution, etc. Martin


  3. If local interests don’t take this opportunity to inform and explain the local issues, then we’ve lost the chance to educate the open-minded folks who live outside the area. It is also a chance to determine just who isn’t open to consensus of ANY kind! Those people might just be there to “monkeywrench” the system, yet again. I am definitely hoping that the new Planning Rule can eliminate the need (AND the potential) for more lawsuits. We still desperately need litigation reform, no matter how painful and bitter the fight might be.

  4. Martin- why would you want to mix scientists and political perspectives in the same group- what are you expecting that a botanist or geologist or political scientist could add to the discussion that an interest-based group would not contain?

    Also, national groups have raised concerns that their own local members can’t adequately represent their national perspective. Unless we have national and local for each point of view and thereby double the size of the group, again, we will have to articulate exactly what we would be looking for from the national groups or the DC based members of national groups. What exactly is the uniqueness of that perspective?

    • Sharon,

      I know of lots of national greens whom are represented in various collaborative processes. I am not concerned that it might cause internal grief for their bureaucracies in D.C. In fact, I think the tension it creates is healthy–hopefully forcing the Washington offices to think more critically about their policy positions and agendas–and vice versa.

      As for advisory boards and their purposes, consider the article “fairly balanced” (over to the right, under the science policy tag). A great overview of a fairly complicated topic. One part discusses some different interpretations of advisory boards, including that of the National Academy of Sciences: “The NAS suggests that advisory committee members should never be understood as speaking for particular constituencies, and it expects all members…to exercise independent judgment. The NAS thus casts the inclusion of diverse perspectives as a matter of enriching deliberation rather than ensuring the fair representation of interests.”

      That, in short, is why I want to find more venues where we can mix the scientists in with political perspectives: it will enrich the deliberation.

      • Martin- I also agree with Brown’s work- that’s why I posted it. But in the real world scientists are human beings with their own worldviews. We seem to be no better nor worse, as a group, in exercising “independent judgment” than any other subset of humans. You can get a Chad Oliver or a Jerry Franklin to be on your advisory, both scientists, both wise people, but often with different worldviews.

        The NAS committees are, in my view, not open or transparent enough for us in government to want to emulate them.

    • Sharon, poorly stated on my part. Sorry. Not saying I want to emulate the NAS model. Just that mixing scientists up with political interests (in some venues, in some situations) holds the potential of enriching the deliberative process, and that’s good in my opinion.

  5. I don’t know why local members of a national group can not represent national interests. Unfortunately politics and science mix far too much in natural resource management decisions. Advocacy for resources is often labeled as science. Why would a conservation group fund and publish their own “science”? This has been increasing from what I’ve seen. Many scientists have blurred the line between science and political advocacy.

    I agree with Hoberg’s point that nationalizing issues has been and is a strategy of environmental groups. I believe they do this in order to make the issue political and emotional, so they can use sound bite science to influence the national political outcome of their agendas. Fotoware has an excellent point about litigation, it is not the preferred way to manage a Forest.

  6. Sharon concludes, “place-based legislation can, perhaps, be seen as an attempt to rebalance the power that has shifted to the courts and to national groups.”

    It might be informative to construct a timeline of “power” and “power shifts”. In my frame of reference, beginning around 1900, the timeline would have power first dispersed to “users of the national forests” — small recreational and commercial users. See, e.g. Pinchot’s Use Book. But the federal government was a pretty strong influence then and continued to be for several decades–continues to be still. Remember the “trust busting”, the various wars, etc. But the big corporations had become big and powerful too, even with the “trust busting.” Corporate dominance was curtailed by the New Deal, which was allowed only in the wake of the Great Depression.

    As the USA became an industrial powerhouse post World War Two, the power shifted once again to big industrial consortiums–big corporations. See, e.g. David Korten’s When Corporations Rule the World. As per the US Forest Service, see e.g. David Clary’s Timber and the Forest Service, Paul Hirt’s A Conspiracy of Optimism: Management of the National Forests Since World War Two. For a broader sweep, see Dick Behan’s Plundered Promise: Capitalism, Politics and the Fate of the Public Lands. All the while power was vested in the US Government, State Governments, and Local Governments, all using various legislative and judicial means to secure what power they could muster, often in concert with the corporate interests.

    Later, beginning around 1970 (and continuing to gain strength through the 1990s) the environmental groups began to gain power. And not just the so-called National Environmental Groups. Remember the Monongahela controversy? But so too did industrial groups, as many areas of government were being deregulated and Korten’s vision was being fulfilled.

    Beginning around 2001, all hell broke loose in the world. The cold war standoff was clearly at an end, along with it the geopolitical chess game (MAD) that the US and Russia had played for so long–keeping smaller players at bay. Following 911, the Bush Administration not only waged war on the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but also on the environmental groups and other Administration-felt malcontents. The latter wars were waged without the “press scrutiny” that had been the norm before 911. At the same time the Administration wrapped themselves in free market rhetoric, a movement which had been building the the US since the Reagan/Thatcher era. The power was/is shifting to local groups wanting to take what they consider their due, or so it seemed to many. The TEA Party movement (or t-party a la Alice in Wonderland if you want as I do to think this whole “TEA Party thing” the stuff of nonsense) began to emerge in about 2009 as just the latest manifestation of a broader, longer-term movement.

    But just as the “locals” were beginning to think they were gaining power, the national political parties were making sure that they maintained their power, so too international corporations. I’m wandering too deep into politics here, but write this stuff if only to remind all that everything is connected.

    Where power goes from here is anybody’s guess, and will depend in no small way on whether or not we find a relatively painless way to get out of the financial mess we find ourselves in, along with the rest of the world. “Power shifts” away from dominance by corporations and their political allies, may depend oddly enough, on not finding a relatively painless exit from our current crisis.

    Whether local groups (both citizens rights groups, environmental, or human rights groups, etc.) will get more power, depends, on everything. As John Muir observed, whenever we seek to understand any thing we find that it is hitched to everything else in the universe.

  7. Sadly, dead foresters continue to be punished by “preservationists” for their “eco-sins” upon the land. The last clearcut I helped to install was in 1989, and that was a hillside of massively bug-hit white fir. Using the broadest brush possible, “preservationists” paint all timber folks as “evil and destructive tree murderers”. I suggest that everyone read Chad Hanson’s official comment to see what “preservationist” extremism is all about.

  8. So, first about scientists and politics…..you have clearly stated why the illusion of “best science” making decisions is really Alice in Wonderland. It is indeed the social process that uses “best science” along with “most power” and “most money” and “most knowledge” that is key to this process of National Forest Management. That’s why we need to look at Ostrom again and her lesson of tiers of decision making. If the planning rule can deal with multiple use laws and NFMA direction and create a national sense of what we want these forests to be and do, then that rule and those laws can protect us all as we figure out how a particular national forest will look at state and local plans and priorities and figure out how to manage the forest to get those national goals addressed, within the context of reality. For instance, if we can make a plan to deal with resilience in the face of climate change and shifting vegetation and water regimes…we’d probably not want to put permanent zones on the forest at all. We’d probably, at least here in the Trinity Forest, want to not zone for industrial forestry. We’d probably want to invent a silviculture that looked at all the sylva and we’d probably want to understand how fish and wildlife as well as veg species were dealing with climate change. We’d probably move to an extremely long rotation, uneven aged, very selective timber management that kept moving around….not concentrated in some “zone” for intensive management. We’d probably look at the pine and brush “water gobblers” and see if we could recreate some of the historic wet medows. If we are going to do that we are going to need access to scientists and they are going need to talk with us and each other. We are going to have to localize science. In the interim, some kind of forest advisory committee with scientists as well as interests and local government might be a temporary answer.

    And about the power thing…our only sane alternative is to distribute power as widely as possible so people have to “work it out”…its called democracy.

  9. Lynn, it’s interesting what you said about “localized science.” At the roundtable in Rapid City, we heard that we need science, but it has to be generated locally (not necessarily from local people, but from local ecosystems.) Not to be a history of science geek, but there has been a value system within the Science Establishment that finding out general laws (physics) is somehow more legitimate Science than that which needs to specific or localized (biology). So there will always be a tension between the more global Big Science approaches (e.g. climate modeling) and the essentially local (wheat breeding for farms in Kansas). Of course, this differentialtion echoes the political power structure. That is why we have to be so very, very careful about parsing knowledge claims that are framed as “science.”

  10. You have some clearly articulated the science conundrum. I used to have this arguement all the time with Dr. Jeff Romm at Berkeley….He is a natural resouce economist among other virtues….But, science “by its very definition” creates generalities” and tries to find “universal truths”…We have entered an era of differentiation and ability to discern less than microscopic differences…so we can no longer let the “science of natural resources” be done by a very precious few…we are going to have to build local capacity to both interact with those very precious few and to learn how to do place-based science….we have a long way to go, but the relationship between knowledge and power has been well documented. That’s why so many place-based groups have created libraries for peer reviewed science and corporate/agency data sets…share the knowledge/share the power


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