Here’s the press release from the Southern Environmental Law Center. A copy of the study is available here.
ATLANTA – A study, conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia’s (UGA) Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, found strong support for the preservation and expansion of wilderness areas among public land visitors living within a half-day drive of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The new report reveals 89 percent of respondents across the Southeast support the preservation of wilderness areas and 88 percent of those who had visited a wilderness area thought more wildlands should be protected.
“It’s clear from these findings that there’s nothing more valuable in a crowded world than wild, untamed places,” said Sam Evans, Leader of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s National Forests and Parks Program. “While these places belong to all of us as Americans, when you’re in wilderness, the experience is yours alone.”
The Appalachians are an iconic American mountain range with more than half of the U.S. population living within an 8-hour drive of its southern region. The wildlands located here offer one of the East’s greatest opportunities for escape, exploration, adventure and have been instrumental in shaping the region’s rich history for centuries. Despite this, researchers studying human to outdoor interactions have known little about how Southerners perceive, use, or view these protected areas.
“This research was conducted as an effort to better understand the use and demand for Southern Appalachian wilderness,” said Kyle Woosnam, UGA Associate Professor of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management. “While wilderness areas are important for their ecological, social and economic contributions, little is known about how residents use and perceive these public lands. The intent of this study was to do just that.”
This Southern Appalachian region is also home to nearly 50 wilderness areas that span almost half a million acres, stretching from Alabama to Virginia. Researchers surveyed 1,250 residents in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee who had visited a protected natural area (ex: wilderness, state park, national scenic area, etc.) in the last five years, with questions focusing most closely on residents’ perceptions of and experiences in the Southern Appalachians. The research was funded by a grant from the Southern Environmental Law Center and The Wilderness Society.
Highlights from the study include:
• People most often visit wilderness areas for day hiking, photography, swimming and camping
• Positive perceptions of wilderness spanned across the political spectrum
• Word of mouth was the #1 way people found out about wilderness areas
• Participants expressed a high level of emotional attachment to wilderness areas visited
• The protection of water quality and wildlife habitat were the most important wilderness benefits identified
• The natural qualities of wilderness were considered the most valuable characteristics of these areas
The results of the study come just after Congress’s December 2018 approval of a wilderness designation for 20,000 acres of the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee. That designation expanded the existing Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock, Big Frog, Little Frog Mountain, Big Laurel Branch and Sampson Mountain Wilderness areas and created the Upper Bald River Wilderness Area, a new 9,000-acre addition to the National Wilderness Preservation System.
Unlike most federally managed forests, which allow for extractive uses like timber production or built facilities for human comfort and convenience, wilderness areas have only a single guiding purpose—to remain in a natural state. Under the Wilderness Act of 1964, areas that receive wilderness designation by Congress are forever protected as wild places, preserving these areas for future generations, protecting wildlife, rare species habitat, and water quality, acting as a buffer against the damaging effects of climate change, providing economic benefits to rural communities and unparalleled recreation opportunities for all that visit.
“These unique public lands allow us to experience and create memories in some of the country’s wildest places,” said Jill Gottesman, The Wilderness Society’s Southern Appalachian Conservation Specialist. “These areas are some of the most valuable, intact lands in the continental U.S. due to their connectivity, biodiversity and sheer remoteness. This study shows that Southerners are ready to work together to protect our Southern Appalachian wildlands for future generations.”
35 thoughts on “New Study Finds Overwhelming Support for Wilderness Protections in the Southern Appalachians”
I suspect that the intention and timing of this study was to influence public policy, perhaps even a forest plan recommended Wilderness? In the acknowledgement, the authors state “It is our hope that this report will be helpful in future decisions concerning the management and planning for visitors to these wonderful wild places.”
Nothing wrong with that, but if we are asked to consider it in public policy, to me the study should follow Simple Public Policy Research Rule.
If the research is supposed to inform a policy dispute on which people disagree, then people from all sides should be involved in the design, conduct of, and interpretation of the study. (“there is no mechanism or funding to do it this way! you might say,” and I would agree.. that’s a problem that’s much broader than Wilderness in the Southern Appalachians- think about oil and gas development in Colorado or carbon accounting in forests or ….)
When I looked at the study in a fairly cursory way, a few things leaped out at me. My study would be “who thinks what things about federally designated Wilderness and what values are also available outside of that designation?”
1. The survey was of urban residents from certain towns. Should rural people be included? Why were the communities selected and others not? To what degree are the findings a function of the sample? For example in Table 9 local economic benefits were not highly rated as important. It is not difficult to imagine that that answer might differ by whether the person surveyed perceived themselves to be local.
2. It’s not clear that people understood that Wilderness is not the only way to get the values ascribed to Wilderness. I would have have had a section of the survey asking them about their understanding of Wilderness designations compared to other recreation-only designations.
3. I would definitely have specifically mentioned mountain bikes as opposed to asking questions about motorized/mechanized.
4. I would also have specifically asked “if current uses are existing, which ones would you kick out to make more Wilderness.” Mountain bikes, timber sales, etc.
5. I thought it was pretty interesting that the two main reasons that kept people from Wildernesses were “not enough time” (M = 3.47) and “outdoor pests (e.g., mosquitos, chiggers, ticks, etc.)” (M = 3.38). The next one in line was “not enough money.” I would have added “environmental impacts of driving from my home to Wilderness area” as a possibility.
These are just a few ideas, but it gives some examples of different ways the study could have been designed that might have led to more detailed and possibly useful information for land managers.
Sharon, you may know this already, but the Warnell School of Forestry has really deep history and experience in measuring attitudes and perceptions about wilderness. The authors did an extensive literature review (which I believe is also available on the UGA website) and designed the study to build on the existing body of work, with input from us about what we needed to know. There were a lot of reasons we commissioned the study–not just planning. We also wanted to provide context for the Tennessee Wilderness Act, which was enacted just a couple of months ago in the 2018 Farm Bill. And, in general, we wanted to understand better what, specifically, people value about wilderness and whether there are any obstacles to people’s enjoyment of wilderness that we can do something about.
As to your question about rural versus urban, we were trying to answer questions we didn’t already know the answers to. If you were designing a study, you said you’d want to know “who thinks what things about wilderness,” but we already have stacks of info about local attitudes, especially here in the Nantahala-Pisgah. (You’ve seen the analysis of public comments on plan revision, right?) This study instead measured the attitudes of likely visitors to Southern Appalachian National Forests–people who have visited a public forest or park in the past 5 years, and who live in the populations centers closest to the core of the Southern Appalachians. (You’ll also notice a fairly big geographical spread in respondents around those population centers.)
So, I think the study has considerable relevance to the land management decisions both, directly and indirectly. Directly, attitudes of NF visitors is really important for the Forest Service to understand. They hear from local stakeholders all the time, but frequent visitors from the surrounding region have not been effectively involved in decisions at the project or planning level. Indirectly, this is also really valuable information for local communities who are dependent on visitation and tourism. What do likely visitors value? How can you attract them? Land management decisions are supposed to contribute to economic sustainability, so knowing that the people visiting are looking for wilderness experiences is an important consideration.
I think some of your suggestions are a little bit unrealistic, with respect to how much you want respondents to understand about wilderness management. Wilderness is one of those topics where the more you know about it, the more you realize how little you know. You can’t expect everyone answering a survey to know the ins and outs of wilderness. And you can’t require that everyone know all the wrinkles (say, for example, the difference between NPS and NFS wilderness management) in order for them to have an opinion (even a strongly held opinion) about the value of wilderness (which, by the way, was defined clearly in the study as a frame of reference). I think the takeaways from the study are clear, even though the data have their limitations (as all survey data do).
Speaking of limitations, good luck trying to design a survey that tests attitudes and perceptions about wilderness generally and simultaneously interjects an intentionally category-blurring issue like mountain biking. I’m as interested as anyone in how people feel about mountain biking and wilderness, but that would have confused more than it would have clarified. It also wasn’t a priority for this study because this isn’t really an issue in my region. Mountain bikers and wilderness advocates are working effectively and collaboratively together here with the existing categories of Wilderness, National Scenic Area, backcountry management areas, etc.
I’m glad that this is making the rounds, and I always welcome further discussion. Thanks!
Thanks for explaining the details, Sam! I really appreciate your involvement in this discussion. I am very familiar with some of the work of Forest Service researcher Ken Cordell, but not so much with the work of the Warnell School.
I did look at the plan revision comments (from the Pisgah-Nantahala), and had exactly the same questions about how a person can infer from the generality of (most of ) the comments any particular management for any particular area.
Also, the way the comments came in, I would have to reanalyze to figure out how local people are (when they don’t say). Which is hard for me personally, not having a map of North Carolina in my head. The P-G forest folks were kind enough to send me a copy of the comments in the FOIA request and I am working my way through them for a future series of posts.
I got my impression that mountain bikes in Wilderness might be an issue from this letter from the Town of Fontana Dam:
“The specific area under evaluation that would most directly affect the Town of Fontana Dam is he Yellow Creek Mountains tract. Located immediately to the south of the Town, there are any multi-use trails that run through Fontana Dam and the USFS. These trails are utilized by visitors to the area, as well as residents nearby. Currently, the USFS is engaged in a $380,000 three-phase project to improve a few of these multi-use trails near Llewellyn Cove, Bee Cove, nd Old Fontana Rd. Mountain biking is a specific land use that could be in serious jeopardy under the reclassified Wilderness designation that is being considered. Several facets of our community plan include maintaining existing multi-use trails, promoting our region as a mountain biking destination, and potentially developing new multi-use trails. We are seriously concerned that restricting use of these trails will have negative impact on future tourism, which he county is dependent on as a source of revenue for its citizens. The Fontana Dam Town Council and TDA are strongly opposed to any additional lands near the Town of Fontana Dam being reclassified as Wilderness area.”
This letter is from 2015 but was on the jump drive they sent me.. maybe that was a separate effort to get comments?
Yellow Creek Mountain is a great example. That’s a chapter 70 inventory area close to Fontana Village (the commenter, which is North Carolina’s smallest incorporated town and also a mountain bike resort area). The wilderness groups in the area are currently proposing a project that would authorize backcountry mountain biking in this area, including new trail construction and opening hiking trails to bikes. We do have some wilderness priorities in the same vicinity, but there isn’t any mountain biker opposition to them.
I may have missed something here, but it looked like the survey only included people that had used wilderness areas or had made a trip to the back country. Then the results led one to believe that 90% of “all” residents were for more protections. Is that correct? Obviously people who seek out this type of experience are more likely to be for more of the same, or am I misreading this? The study should have included all residents regardless of whether or not they went for a hike in the last 5 years. IMO.
Not quite. The survey population was people who had visited any public land, from a local city greenway to a state park to a national park to a wilderness area. So, you’re right that it’s not a sample of “all residents,” but it certainly doesn’t focus only on people who seek out “back country” experiences.
The challenge with a study like this is making sure you’ve got at least n=30 for the smallest subdivision of responses–e.g., the number of people who identify as conservative who strongly agree that they would write a letter to their congressperson in support of wilderness protections. Here, it was really important to us to get a statistically reliable sample of wilderness visitors, because we wanted to know what wilderness visitors value about wilderness. If we had wanted to start with a population of “all residents” and then funnel down to wilderness visitors, we would have needed a much bigger total population. That would have been prohibitively expensive.
When you’re talking about the population the study “should have included,” it’s a question of what you want to get out of the data. We wanted to know what likely visitors to national forests in our region think about wilderness, and we wanted to know what wilderness visitors value about wilderness. The study gives us those answers.
In other news, 98.7% of survey participants didn’t understand the difference between wilderness and Wilderness.
Jennifer, that’s an interesting conclusion to draw from a survey taken by people who identify as public land visitors, which conspicuously defined Wilderness in terms of its legal limitations, which asked what political actions they would be willing to take to ensure wilderness protection, and which forced respondents to say which specific Wilderness areas they had visited, if any.
It’s also an interesting conclusion to draw because Wilderness designation is a political choice informed by social values. The character of the areas is objective fact, but whether and how to protect them is a political decision. So a survey that provides data about what people value is useful to inform those social and political processes like planning and designation. I’m not sure I would agree that people need to have a Masters degree in wilderness management before they’re qualified to take a survey and say what they care about.
The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club and other capital W Wilderness advocates regularly have to remind people because the average person considers wilderness, Wilderness, forests, and outdoors as the same thing. Sierra Club video: https://youtu.be/LS2GXnOalFc
Seriously, what’s your point Jennifer?
The vast majority of American’s have no idea how health insurance works, or how the GOP Tax Scam bill works (or doesn’t). Plenty of people are confused by lots of things. How about we do a poll on “freedom” and see what the results are, and then drill down deeper to see that one person’s “freedom” means open-carrying an AR-15 to the grocery store, while another person’s “freedom” means being able to live in peace without the threat of gun violence.
Are you seriously trying to make the point that the people polled in the Wilderness survey thought they were commenting about an RV park with “Wilderness” in the name?
Matthew, you said it not me.
It appears to be a flawed survey that is possibly designed to generate an outcome the surveyor wanted. Sure it provides some insight, but the people doing the research cannot say with any accuracy that the survey respondents were specifying (e.g.,) Wilderness or wilderness or national forest or anything else that felt like a nice outdoor experience away from cars and noise and asphalt and hordes of people. I see in the 1 infographic that hiking, photography, swimming and camping are the most popular wilderness activities in the south. Are we talking about car camping in the woods or backpacking into federally designated Wilderness? Swimming? Like at a nice lake by a parking lot with bathrooms and a snack bar? Or at a hard to get to swimming hole accessible only by foot or horse?
With that said, I said “it appears to be flawed”… as I cannot see the survey or the report because all links are dead. But perhaps that is on purpose.
“I cannot see the survey or the report because all links are dead. But perhaps that is on purpose.”
Whatever. All the links are clearly visible and are working on my computer.
As was clearly stated at the very top of the post:
A copy of the study is available here.
Furthermore, a link to the press release was in the first sentence this post. The press release also includes a direct link to the 39 page survey.
In the future, please try reading harder before resorting to conspiracy theories, like “all links are dead. But perhaps that is on purpose.”
As I cannot provide a screen capture, here is what I see when I click on the study, as well as “the full report”.
This site can’t be reached
The webpage at https://southernenvironment.sharefile.com/share/view/s26962e1881c4a928 might be temporarily down or it may have moved permanently to a new web address.
I don’t expect you to ever believe anything you aren’t predisposed to believe, and your inability to accept that the survey could be flawed and the webpages are not viewable by people like me explains a lot.
I could get to the report. Maybe try another browser?
I’m sorry the link isn’t working for you. Try to navigate to the report via the UGA website?
Hi Jennifer. I “believe” it appears as if you are “predisposed” to having an “inability” to download a PDF. You may need to install something on your computer. Not sure. I’m terrible with tech stuff. But everyone else can see the full 39 page survey. However, the fact that you can’t see the survey, and then make up a conspiracy about it, certainly says nothing about me. Cheers.
P.S. I downloaded the survey directly to this blog and maybe this link will work for you Jennifer.
Thank you for providing that link, Matthew. I finally was able to review the study.
And it is even more apparent that the study is biased (students doing sponsored research on behalf of The Wilderness Society and Southern Environmental Law Center), and the investors are gleaning what they hoped to glean from it, without adequately educating survey takers on wilderness vs. Wilerness.
This confirms my attitude about the semantics of this study: With an understanding that “wilderness” means many things to different people, participants were
presented with ten items that speak to character of “wilderness.”
And lumping motorized and mechanized into the same category is disingenuous. Ironically, there wasn’t a single mention of bicycling in the entire study… since every outdoors visitor should automatically know that motorized/mechanized = bicycling??
Well, enjoy your investment, even though it is seriously flawed.
I have to state that I abhor the when the term mechanized is used in this manner for several reasons. First it is inevitably combined with motorized in an attempt to create a fundamental equivalence. Second it is a perjorative meant to make Bikes seem more threatening and unnatural. Third it’s use is Orwellian in that is obfuscates rather than enlighten. While in theory it includes hang gliders, game carts and sails (and railroads, semis, chairlifts, ore carts, amusement rides) in this context it means one and only thing – bikes . Plus most people beyond those who read forest plan revisions or travel plans have no clue what it means , other than it sounds like something from a post apocalyptic future of the Borg or Terminators. An intellectually honest survey or even advocacy would use The most concise term, bike. It is simple, value neutral, and clear.
I have read enough pleas and emails from wilderness advocacy groups where the issue is only bikes, and they implore their members to comment to know this is intentional. The term bike is never used, only mechanized or mechanical. It makes me wonder if they fear their own members don’t support their anti-bike fears.
I tend to agree with some of the concerns expressed here that the survey instrument suffers flaws that beg the question of whether or not the survey sponsors were seeking to skew the results. Other defects may indeed have been the result of administrative or funding constraints, but they may be defects nonetheless.
There’s no need to get cheeky about people confusing Wilderness with RV parks. The failures in this survey are more along the lines of asking respondents if they think having health insurance is a good thing and then concluding they favor a universal single-payer system.
Lumping such vastly divergent things as bicycles and bulldozers into “motorized/mechanized” is poor survey design at best. At worst, it risks significantly compromising the validity of the results. Far from finding Wilderness “conspicuously defined” in the survey instrument, I see any practical definition of Wilderness – including how it relates to bicycles – as conspicuously obfuscated.
I’m going to defend Jennifer. I think….
When working for the OHV community in Utah during the very early 1990’s, we commissioned a small survey of just under 500 registered voters in Utah. We also did a similar poll in Colorado during the mid 1990s. Each had 3 components, a series of questions about support for Wilderness designations, a brief education of what activities are and are not allowed in Wilderness, and then the same questions again.
As one might expect, support for Wilderness dropped significantly.
These polls didn’t have the weight of a poll done by a university or one with a larger sample. Still, I strongly believe that it would be extremely interesting to see a survey or focus group that explains how lands are currently managed and how Wilderness would charge things prior to asking about support for Wilderness designations.
Brian, I think that would have been helpful to the Bears Ears Monument controversy as well. I would think that if we really understood specifically what uses people wanted or not, and what they were afraid of happening after the “Monument” or other plan is done, there would be a variety of designations without the intense political/partisan symbolism that people might be able to agree on. Who would that be good for? Residents and visitors. Who would that be bad for? People generating (potentially unnecessary) discord for partisan political reasons and people promoting what I might call Utahnophobia.
Note, I am not saying this about Wilderness interests at all (promoting discord, they seem much more pragmatic and deal-seeking), but I think being more specific about what people want in and want out will help in designing land management designations where most people can get what they want.
The survey here did exactly what you’re talking about. It asked some general questions about wilderness values, then defined wilderness in terms of its limitations, and then asked more specific questions.
Then again, we could commission a survey at Chik-fila in red states to see what they think, too. *smirk*
I know someone in the northwest who says that as soon as an area near him is designated Wilderness, people come pouring in and the area loses its solitude. He dreads the thought of any new designations, not only because continuing to mountain-bike in them will become officially verboten (though practically no one will care if it continues, as it will), but because opportunities for solitude will dwindle or disappear.
Similarly, I can think of majestic hidden places in high-elevation Colorado with wonderful trails, wonderful mountain biking, and few visitors. If the Wilderness industry ever succeeds in getting them designated, and I’m sure it will try, I can envision swarms of people in Priuses and Outbacks making the trip from Denver and Durango to check out what was once undisturbed terrain. It’ll ruin the atmosphere, replacing a real wilderness experience with an ersatz Wilderness experience. I can see wildlife fleeing in droves.
No doubt there is support of protecting pristine spaces in SE. Wilderness is like Medicare For All or a lot of other things that a vaguely understood by the general populace. For example Medicare For All has very high support until you ask are you willing to give up your current insurance or are you willing to pay more in taxes even if you pay less in premiums.
There was a similar poll in Montana about WSA. In general people want them protected, but are less interested in having the designated wilderness.
Sam glad to hear you agree that bikes are category blurring. I would agree. I would also state I have not personal position on whether there should be more wilderness in the Nantahala-Pisgah. I have never been there, and I have discovered that without personally experience it is next to impossible to make an informed decision on land management.
Ah, you are a Coloradan also..the question you raised is eminently researchable. It’s kind of the same things as Monumentizing. If the outdoor rec industry says that Wilderness or Monumentizing is good for the economy, then that must (logically) be because more people will come and stay overnight and visit the sites. Yet more people coming somewhere necessarily have environmental impacts to the area visited, including, in your example, even Prius and Outback drivers (although Prius drivers may have trouble getting to the trailhead).
Here’s how I would design the study:
After designation, do more people show up? if yes, then,
What proportion of people are locals, and what proportion of people from elsewhere, compared to before?
I think you could get this kind of info from NVUM (or an improved version thereof), but what you might not be able to tell other than than by talking to folks on a trail is for locals- if there are more, is it just because there are more locals who have moved in, or have they changed the areas they go to because it is now a Wilderness.
Another possibility is that in Colorado, most people won’t even notice the difference one way or the other and go by how pretty the area is, how far from the Front Range, whether they have to pay to get in (like State Parks), whether their car can get to the trailhead, and find a place to park, and how crowded the place is. So many possibilities!
I really appreciate the discussion and feedback here, much of which is constructive. I am also picking up on something else, however, in some of the responses. I’m not sure why the results (that likely visitors to public lands care about protecting wilderness values) are surprising or threatening, but clearly they are to some.
I think a lot of the conversation here is getting ahead of the data. The survey reveals a lot about what the population values. I think this is perceived as threatening because of a worry it will be interpreted as meaning we need more capital-W-Wilderness. It might! But as Lance Pysher points out, whether Wilderness is the best way to protect wilderness is a place-by-place political decision. This just shows that a relevant population cares about protecting the character of Southern Appalachian wildlands. It’s up to us in the Southern Appalachians to decide how we’ll go about protecting them, so there’s no need for others to be threatenedt.
I do want to defend the ideal of Wilderness against a common theme in the criticisms above. What about mountain biking? What about the other things people might want to do in a wilderness setting that may not be legally allowed? Mightn’t lots of people who value wilderness settings also want to enjoy non-wilderness activities there? Sure, of course they would.
Ask a trout fisherman in the south, “if you could have everything the same in this wilderness, except you could fish for stocked trout, would you want that?” You’d probably get a lot of affirmative answers. Ask a mountain biker, “if everything else was the same, would you want to be able to bike in wilderness?” Well, yeah. Ask a hunter, “if everything else was the same, would you support noncommercial habitat management for game species?” Many would say, absolutely. Ask an outfitter, “if everything else remained the same, would you want to be able to shuttle your clients’ gear using an atv or motorboat?” Yes, yes, yes.
It’s fun to be a freerider! We all would want to use these special places in our own preferred ways, so long as they stay the same otherwise. But they *wouldn’t* stay the same otherwise. We all have to hold ourselves back, because of the cumulative effect our many preferences have on the land. That’s what I meant in another thread when I said that Wilderness is collective self-restraint. And the Wilderness Act, restrictive though it may be, is the way we keep each other honest.
Wildness is a commons. The Wilderness Act and implementing direction is a way to keep wildness as a commons while preventing it from being overused. The most legitimate (in my opinion) criticism of Wilderness is that it isn’t restrictive enough. As in the other thread about mountain biking, people ask, what about commercial outfitters and pack trains? I’m with you on that. It’s a classic freerider problem–a user who is using the place for their own ends, while expecting others to forbear. But that doesn’t mean that we should open the gates, which would lead quickly to a tragedy of the commons.
Sounds like you have a local collaboration trying to find specific solutions for your particular landscape. When done right, it’s the way forward
Sam, I reviewed the survey. I disagree that its methodology is exactly, or even similar. Notwithstanding, such polls, surveys, focus groups etc are what they are, each with its own benefits and flaws.
Sam, I reviewed the survey. I disagree that its methodology is exactly, or even similar. Notwithstanding, such polls, surveys, focus groups etc are what they are, each with its own benefits and flaws.
We had a new Wilderness area, Cooper Salmon, designated in Southern Oregon a few years ago. Supposedly with great local support. But not really. The trouble is the people in favor of wilderness areas tend to be active and those opposed tend to not know it is even happening. And really most surveys are worded to get a desire result.
I look at Wilderness designation as something harmful for the future of that particular landscape. If an area appears “wild” then why is it necessary to “protect” it from the way it is currently being managed? I guess I believe we can manage our public lands to be more healthy and “wild” then a don’t touch type of management.
“Brian, I think that would have been helpful to the Bears Ears Monument controversy as well. I would think that if we really understood specifically what uses people wanted or not, and what they were afraid of happening after the “Monument” or other plan is done, there would be a variety of designations without the intense political/partisan symbolism that people might be able to agree on. Who would that be good for? Residents and visitors. Who would that be bad for? People generating (potentially unnecessary) discord for partisan political reasons and people promoting what I might call Utahnophobia.
Note, I am not saying this about Wilderness interests at all (promoting discord, they seem much more pragmatic and deal-seeking), but I think being more specific about what people want in and want out will help in designing land management designations where most people can get what they want.”
Sharon, if you were a superhero, your name would be something like Dr. Optimizo and your superpower would be optimism. Nick Fury will drop you into the bad guys lair and you would destroy them…. with your optimism!
San Juan County, home to the Bears Ears controversy, did something much more intensive. They piggybacked and expanded upon the process that Rep. Rob Bishop had started. Meetings, working groups, field trips too numerous to count.
And remember this… San Juan County is home to just about every public land designation. NPS, BLM, USFS, Bureau of Reclamation, Wilderness, National Monuments, National Parks, National Recreation Areas and more. Say what you want about the locals, those folks are well versed in the nuance of public lands management and had recently completed a BLM Land Use Plan revision process.
As I understand it, things were proceeding apace when the Obama CEQ informed Utah’s Congressional delegation that there WILL be a National Monument. This was a bitter blow to many who had put a lot of time and effort into the process.
A legitimate critique of San Juan County’s process was that it failed to actively include national stakeholders. Of course, from the County’s perspective, that was precisely the point. But I put way more blame on the Obama administration, who failed to include anyone that was not a strong supporter of the Monument. Virtually all of the stakeholders I worked with were deliberately excluded from CEQ’s Monument working group. Many valuable recreation opportunities were eliminated by the Monument proclamation, and more by the Monument Management Plan. Yet those who enjoy these world class recreation resources were denied even a opportunity to make their case.
Getting back to your point about focus groups etc as a way to help thrash out the relative merits of various management proposals or designations, I hold no hope whatsoever. Sticking to my analogy above, if I were a superhero my superpower would be pessimism.
My view is how best to protect and conserve natural resources while providing for recreational uses is irrelevant. It is ALL about political gain.
So President Obama designates a National Monument for his political supporters/donors. And President Trump revises the Monument for his political supporters/donors.
The next President will do the same. Will it ever end?
I leave you with this… the video of the hearing on Rep. Bishop’s failed H.R. 5780 “Utah Public Lands Initiative Act.” Go directly to Commissioner Benally’s opening remarks at 29:00 – 34:30.
Food for thought….
Thanks, Brian, and thanks for the Youtube clip. My optimism is complex and I’ll think about this some more.
“So President Obama designates a National Monument for his political supporters/donors. And President Trump revises the Monument for his political supporters/donors.”
“The next President will do the same. Will it ever end?”
No it will never end under the present system, but what you can count on is the intense hatred both sides have for each other, the continuous bickering and accusitive fingerpointing from both sides will increase substantially. Welcome to this world’s future.
“A legitimate critique of San Juan County’s process was that it failed to actively include national stakeholders. Of course, from the County’s perspective, that was precisely the point. But I put way more blame on the Obama administration, who failed to include anyone that was not a strong supporter of the Monument.”
A good point, but these are not equivalent things. In NFMA/FLPMA Congress passed the buck to the agencies to sort out land use issues. Theoretically, the forest/BLM planning processes should do what Sharon asked for, and include recommendations for congressional action (and I don’t see why they couldn’t recommend a national monument either). If the County didn’t try to work with that process, that might be a reason the politicians stepped in. And once the politicians step in there are no rules.