I’ve been thinking about the Pike-San Isabel Travel Management decision and its long history of litigation, which started while I was still employed by the FS. I remembered another project that had the same level of conflict. It was the Rico-West Dolores travel management on the San Juan, which apparently has gone from being litigated by one side to both sides (see this article from last year). So I became curious as to why some travel management decisions are so intractable, and other travel management decisions are not. This seems like an area ripe for the picking in the social sciences, and in fact a Google Scholar search of “intractable disputes recreation motorized” yielded a few. One paper addressed “unmanaged recreation” (broader than motorized vehicles, as defined in the paper) as a “wicked problem” (shades of Dave Iverson) on the Arapaho Roosevelt, just north of the Pike San Isabel. The paper is “Understanding the Wicked Nature of ‘‘Unmanaged Recreation’’in Colorado’s Front Range”, by Jeffrey J. Brooks Æ Patricia A. Champ Environmental Management (2006) 38:784–798. Here are some excerpts:
Strategies for addressing unmanaged recreation that focus on measuring public consensus, opinions, or votes in the form of the aggregate attitude of the majority are insufficient because interest group polarization at national and regional scales has created an intractable ‘‘us against them’’ controversy over outdoor recreation. Collaboration that overcomes wickedness requires that decision-makers allow themselves to be directly informed by local positions and knowledge rather than the positions evident in national debates. Some local positions may be difficult to identify at first if not well organized and vocal. Nonetheless, in the context of increasing social complexity and wickedness, inclusive approaches that actively seek diverse input and involvement tend to succeed (Pellizzoni 2003; Propst 2005).
Overcoming wickedness requires a local social process that involves inclusive communication and collective action among all stakeholders with an interest in local recreation management. Solutions should be considered temporary and place specific. To achieve successes, researchers and managers are first encouraged to accept the wicked nature of unmanaged recreation. Working together by building relationships between local stakeholders is the key to resolving cases of unmanaged recreation. Allen and Gould (1986:23) concluded that ‘‘people are what make problems wicked … emphasis on people within the organization and on external customers is the central element when wicked problems are successfully handled.’’ Forest Service managers should be rewarded for using and developing people skills and their abilities to organize and facilitate social groups and collective action. Training, education, and requiring these skills and abilities for employment will continue to be important as the Forest Service addresses wicked problems.
In the experience of TWS readers, why are some travel management decisions successful and others not? Does dissatisfaction with an outcome lead to bringing in national groups to litigate, which then makes resolution difficult, as Brooks and Champ postulate? Is it personality-driven (though these disputes tend to cycle through many personalities, at least on the FS side), or a function of other factors? (though these disputes tend to cycle through many personalities, at least on the FS side). What have you observed in your experience, and are there any other scientific studies you’d like to point that look at this question and offer potential solutions?