Collaboration on natural resource management is divide and conquer

Collaboration is all the rage. How it has worked in Montana-

Past stories here at The Wildlife News have not been very friendly to the process called “collaboration”  although we have not written about it for a while.  That does not mean it has disappeared nor become friendly to conservation of our forests, grasslands, sage steppe, or alpine tundra in the meantime. The reason is that the collaborators who meet are almost always weighted by design in favor the the exploiters by right wing governors. It sucks up conservationist’s time, energy and causes the corroborating members to defend the scraps they think they have  “saved” against criticism by those who think the process stinks.

The media usually thinks it is wonderful, however.  They get to write feel good stories, at least a few years before they write about the natural gas and oil blowouts, the landslides, sinkholes, polluted air and water, and the demise of wildlife.

At the Missoula Independent, George Ochenski is not confused about the effects of collaboration in Montana as he writes, Hang the ‘collaborators’ And heed the clear-sighted “extremists” Here he expands on the presentation by Michael Donnelly at the recent Environmental Law Conference at Eugene, Oregon “The Wages of Compromise: When Environmentalists Collaborate.”

It should be noted that the Western Watersheds Project does not collaborate, and regional media do not write feel good stories about them.  However, they usually win their battles.

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Added article link-

In terms of experience in collaboration, this article is relevant. When Environmentalists Collaborate. Counterpunch



  1. Ken Cole Avatar

    Ralph, I wouldn’t say that Western Watersheds Project doesn’t collaborate, I would say that when it does (ie. the bighorn sheep/domestic sheep advisory committee) we demand that the best available science and law be the standards by which the decisions are made. Often, regardless of the views of the participants, the science and the law support the conservation of species and their habitat in the management of public lands. So often it is just the value systems of the participants that are the standards and, as in the case of one of the current “task forces”, groups who are willing to compromise on the law and best available science represent the conservation community and Western Watersheds Project is not allowed to participate even when requested.

    It’s a very political setup, one which depends on image to lend credibility to the process.

    This is one of my biggest concerns about the forthcoming Idaho Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Summit. I worry that so called “conservation” groups may attend thinking that it is a legitimate process thereby legitimizing the process in the eyes of the public and a certain local reporter. I think that conservationists should attend but be aware that the sideboards that have been set predetermine the outcome. It is less about giving the non-hunting and non-fishing community a voice than it is about finding a way to take their money. Those non-consumptive users of fish and wildlife should be prepared to walk away from a process if it turns out to be illegitimate and label it as such.

  2. JB Avatar

    Okay, for once I’ll beat WM to the punch: I can’t but help point out how self-serving it is for a lawyer to come out against collaborative processes, which often help agencies AND conservation groups avoid lawsuits.

    From the perspective of agencies who have a LEGAL MANDATE to allow for multiple uses, these processes can be useful for making decisions where there is no objectively *RIGHT* answer–which is often the case when it comes to the management of our National Forests. In fact, these processes are designed precisely to deal with the situation Ken laments–i.e., stakeholders have very different ideas about how lands should be managed (values) and there is no clear statutory guidance on which types of management priorities should prevail.

    Concisely: Collaboration is a symptom, NOT the problem; the problem is that the federal statutes that direct agency activities (NFMA, FLPMA) set up multiple, competing uses (and interests) without clear guidance as to which use should prevail when conflicts arise. Going after collaboration won’t fix this (though it may make the lawyers happy). The only way to fix the problem is to change the law.

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      I disagree with your assessment that there is no clear statutory guidance on which priorities should prevail. With regard to sensitive species NFMA, and FLPMA lay out those priorities and give sensitive species a greater priority over other uses. When that doesn’t work the Endangered Species Act makes them the highest priority.

      In both FLPMA and NFMA there are implementing regulations which have some form of species viability protections. With NFMA the USFS must maintain the viability of all species on their lands. With FLPMA the BLM must accomplish a similar goal by not approving actions which may contribute to causing a species to become listed under the Endangered Species Act.

      Then you have NEPA which clearly lays out the process for considering the environmental effects of proposed actions taken by the agencies. It requires analysis of how the actions may impact various species and if the actions end up harming a sensitive species to the point where it threatens the viability of a species or contributing to listing it under the Endangered Species Act then the proposed action should be abandoned.

      The collaborative process is designed to bypass the processes of thes laws and make people feel good about doing so.

      1. JB Avatar

        Forgive me, Ken, I am not as familiar with FLPMA and NFMA as I am with the ESA. However, I just searched NFMA for “sensitive”, “imperiled”, “threatened”, “endangered”, “viable”, and “viability” and got no results. Implementing regulations (made by federal agencies) are very different from federal statutes (enacted by Congress). The former can be readily changed by agencies and the courts, whereas the latter tends to be less transient.

        NFMA seems pretty clear in setting up competing multiple uses (following MUSY, 1960) without statutory guidance. Change the statute, and the problem disappears.

        Collaboration absolutely does not allow agencies to “bypass” any statutorily-defined mandate. Agencies are bound by the law whether they use collaboration, set up a scientific advisory panel or make a decision by flipping a coin.

        1. Ken Cole Avatar

          The implementing regulations of NFMA:

          BLM’s sensitive species policy under the ESA and FLPMA:

          The USFS is rewriting the rules and is weakening the viability requirements for species while the livestock industry is complaining that there are any viability requirements at all. I wrote about that earlier.

          1. JB Avatar

            Great, thanks for the resources. So again, there is a big difference between agencies rules/regs (which can and are changed with some regularity) and statutory law. It is far easier to hold an agency to its statutory obligation in a court proceeding than to enforce regulations/rules that the agency itself sets.

            I found some guidance on the Forest Service’s implementing procedures that are interesting, and a little less intimidating for people without a legal background:


            ——- –
            Regardless, many scholars and natural resource professionals believe that collaborative processes hold real potential for assisting resource management agencies in making tough decisions about tradeoffs with the input of their citizens, as opposed to trying to use the courts.

            Good examples of how collaboration can work can be found in:

            Keough, HL & DJ Blahna. 2006. Achieving integrative collaborative ecosystem management. Conservation Biology, 20(5): 1373-1382.

        2. Ken Cole Avatar

          NFMA rule Sec. 219.19 Fish and wildlife resource.


          Fish and wildlife habitat shall be managed to maintain viable populations of existing native and desired non-native vertebrate species in the planning area. For planning purposes, a viable population shall be regarded as one which has the estimated numbers and distribution of reproductive individuals to insure its continued existence is well distributed in the planning area. In order to insure that viable populations will be maintained, habitat must be provided to support, at least, a minimum number of reproductive individuals and that habitat must be well distributed so that those individuals can interact with others in the planning area.

          (a) Each alternative shall establish objectives for the maintenance and improvement of habitat for management indicator species selected under paragraph (g)(1) of this section, to the degree consistent with overall multiple use objectives of the alternative. To meet this goal, management planning for the fish and wildlife resource shall meet the requirements set forth in paragraphs (a)(1) through (a)(7) of this section.

          (1) In order to estimate the effects of each alternative on fish and wildlife populations, certain vertebrate and/or invertebrate species present in the area shall be identified and selected as management indicator species and the reasons for their selection will be stated. These species shall be selected because their population changes are believed to indicate the effects of management activities. In the selection of management indicator species, the following categories shall be represented where appropriate: Endangered and threatened plant and animal species identified on State and Federal lists for the planning area; species with special habitat needs that may be influenced significantly by planned management programs; species commonly hunted, fished, or trapped; non-game species of special interest; and additional plant or animal species selected because their population changes are believed to indicate the effects of management activities on other species of selected major biological communities or on water quality. On the basis of available scientific information, the interdisciplinary team shall estimate the effects of changes in vegetation type, timber age classes, community composition, rotation age, and year-long suitability of habitat related to mobility of management indicator species. Where appropriate, measures to mitigate adverse effects shall be prescribed.

          (2) Planning alternatives shall be stated and evaluated in terms of both amount and quality of habitat and of animal population trends of the management indicator species.

          (3) Biologists from State fish and wildlife agencies and other Federal agencies shall be consulted in order to coordinate planning for fish and wildlife, including opportunities for the reintroduction of extirpated species.

          (4) Access and dispersal problems of hunting, fishing, and other visitor uses shall be considered.

          (5) The effects of pest and fire management on fish and wildlife populations shall be considered.

          (6) Population trends of the management indicator species will be monitored and relationships to habitat changes determined. This monitoring will be done in cooperation with State fish and wildlife agencies, to the extent practicable.

          (7) Habitat determined to be critical for threatened and endangered species shall be identified, and measures shall be prescribed to prevent the destruction or adverse modification of such habitat. Objectives shall be determined for threatened and endangered species that shall provide for, where possible, their removal from listing as threatened and endangered species through appropriate conservation measures, including the designation of special areas to meet the protection and management needs of such species.

    2. Brian Ertz Avatar


      I think that your comment has some merit where there exists legitimate ambiguity in the law.

      The irony of your statement about the shortcoming of ambiguities in existing law is that more often than not, little such ambiguity exists – and these collaborative processes are established exactly to create such ambiguity. They are political processes that roll back the protections of existing law.

      Often times it is very clear that the law demands conservation of wildlife and habitats, but the bureaucrats ignore it under prevailing political pressure.

      The state bighorn sheep process is one such example. The law was clear, the judge was clear, yet the collaborative process was established in a very explicit effort to roll back the management implications of the clear order.

      The Owyhee Initiation was another example – the law was clear, enforcement and clarification was prompted and as a result of that suite of litigation the writing was on the wall that there were going to be significant changes. So – *pop* up comes a collaborative that specifically precluded the involvement of the interest-group that had so successfully enforced and clarified the existing protections of law.

      Collaborative processes generate ambiguity. I know you know basic organizational theory ~ that regulations and statutes need to be clear — but they also need to have clear consequences – i.e. teeth – to be effective. Lack of clear terms & conditions, lack of reasonable anticipation that the law will be enforced and lack of sufficiently significant consequences discourages compliance. Folk aren’t going to comply with a law if they know that the regulators aren’t going to enforce it, if they’re not quite sure where the line is, or when the consequence hurts less than the non-compliance serves their interest.

      All of these breakdowns in administration of regulation introduce different ambiguities.

      What I have seen in my experience is that collaborative processes create organizational motives that diminish the willingness of regulators (which includes public groups) to enforce existing laws/protections. the collaborative process is reliant on the maintenance of ‘buy-in’ from all involved – enforcing the law may upset certain users and threaten to break down a process that has been heavily invested in. in fact, often times i think this well-meaning process has encouraged regulators to commit to watering down their existing enforcement, which is hard to contest given the level of agency deference that exists. it is certainly true of would-be public enforcement.

      this creates problems – it creates relationships between people in which people ‘getting along’ becomes too important and in which wheeling and dealing among colleagues fosters significant ambiguity that would otherwise not exist.

  3. CodyCoyote Avatar

    Replace ” Collaboration” with ” Collusion” and you might be closer to the truth.

    That’s how it works here in Wyoming, anyway , anyday…

  4. WM Avatar

    Ironically, the first piece of the Seattle Times Sunday paper I read this morning was on the very topic of Environmental “collaboration” and a former Earth Firster. Here it is, delightfully written by journalist Ron Judd, and much shorter and upbeat than the Michael Donelly piece which I have yet to wade through.

    This guy, head of a non-profit in Bellingham, WA seems to have matured, and been able to find a moorally acceptable path that produces positive environmental results and does not piss off the opposition to point they get crushed, and maybe get nothing. I can indentify with this guy, today, but certainly not his past, which is where I think some here are to their detriment.



    Looks like we are mostly on the same page to day.

    In another article in the Sunday Seattle Times (Business Section, lead story, I might add), “Shale may bail out Ohio, for a Price,” a tale of environmentally unfriendly “fracking” for natural gas and petroleum products in exchange for jobs in the Utica shale of Eastern Ohio. “Jobs or environment,” always tension in that trade-off which tends to set the stage for compromise, whether ultimately good for the environment or not.

    1. JB Avatar

      Thanks for the link, WM. Fracking has become a huge issue here almost overnight. I was told by an industry expert a few months ago that there were something like a dozen fracking operations here last year, they expect more than 100 by next year, and more than 1,000 in two years…

    2. Daniel Berg Avatar
      Daniel Berg


      What this article doesn’t discuss in any detail is the years long campaign for the designation of a “Columbia Highlands Wilderness” in Northeast WA that I don’t think has gone as well as Mitch had hoped:

      One of the challenges of this day and age when it comes to collaboration, is that just a few loud-mouths seem to be able to hold up the whole process. Of all the typical stakeholders groups involved, the only groups who weren’t on-board to some degree with this plan were ORV groups and handful of local politicians. The ORV groups don’t stand to really lose that much terrain, and the politicians have only vague and conspiracy related reasons for opposition. The owner of a local logging company even went to the extent of lobbying one of the main dissident legislators in favor of the designation.

      I believe you have to create an environment that encourages collaboration. That doesn’t mean always extending the olive branch. If one side feels that they can steam-roll the other side at every turn, there isn’t much incentive to compromise. It may seem counter-intuitive, but at times I think you have to take a hard line against the other side to lay the foundation for future compromise.

  5. mikarooni Avatar

    Collaboration, collusion, what’s the difference? My own admittedly not universal, but very consistent, experience has been that conservationists generally come to the table wanting to strike a compromise that is a true compromise, a solution somewhere in the middle that gives both sides at least the minimum they need from the transaction. But, ideological purity seems to hold more sway for the other side and, for them, anything other than complete victory is a “custom and culture” defeat.

    And, under these ground rules, compromise can be a slippery slope. In one of the biggest battles with which I have been involved and been foolish enough to have my name released, it started as a debate over digging stock tanks to lure cattle up out of sensitive riparian habitat and reduce the need to lower grazing levels on the massive and massively abused allotment. With the conservation side, including the cognizant Forest Service representatives, gritting their teeth over the whole thing, a compromise had been reached with the rancher. The rancher pretty much got what he wanted. He would be allowed to dig a limited number of tanks in wilderness, make a very small token reduction in stocking that was more than balanced by a significant increase in elk tags, all with no NEPA review. However, after this compromise had already been reached, documented, and signed, the rancher came back and, this time backed by a gang of extreme right-wing trust-fund dropouts from the cattlegrowers’ associations who smelled weakness on the conservation side, claimed that, since he owned the water rights in the National Forest (designated wilderness) by virtue of “owning” the grazing permit, he wanted to dig twice as many stock tanks and was going to increase, rather than reduce, his stocking levels because his additional stock tanks were now going to make that much more water available.

    So, while the “collaborators” on the conservation side wrung their hands and tried to “make an extra effort to reach out again” to the rancher and his backers, a small number of us filed filed a formal request for a NEPA review. The Forest Service personnel on the scene, caught between the rancher and his politically connected backers on the one hand and the dizzy “collaborators” on the other, thanked us profusely …in private, while the “collaborators” shunned us. It was ugly; but, we won.

    The whole episode taught me much …about both sides.

    1. JB Avatar

      Perhaps an analogy…

      When you repair things for a living, you often find yourself in need of a hammer, which has surprising utility for something so simple. However, you’ll also find yourself in need of a screwdriver or a crescent wrench from time to time–they do jobs that the hammer can’t. Pound a screw with a hammer enough times and you’ll find you’ve stripped its threads and the thing you’ve been trying to put together has come apart.

      Some environmental groups are like the boy with the hammer. They can’t seem to recognize that if they keep pounding screws some of the parts they’d like to hold together are going to come unhinged. 😉

      – – –

      Collaboration is merely a tool. Like any tool, the key is to know when (and how!) to use it, and when it’s use is inappropriate. With collaboration, that means knowing what both sides want, and what they think they can get outside of a negotiated agreement. If a compromise cannot improve the situation for both parties or if one party thinks its can do better in court, then collaboration will fail. However, it will also fail when one party fails to meet the terms of the agreement. Fortunately, we have other tools to fall back on when that happens.

  6. JB Avatar

    Ironically enough, after searching for more information on the public trust doctrine and it application to wildlife, I came across the following essay by Dan Decker of Cornell. Decker outlines many of the problems with the institution of wildlife management and calls for transformation of that institution in the near term. I described my encounter with this article as “ironic” because one of those recommendations is placing priority on “a new, collaborative governance model for fish and wildlife resources and an implementation plan to get it in place promptly”. In part, Decker justifies such action by arguing that non-traditional stakeholders are not well-served by the current model. Read for yourself, then you can come back and continue to tell me I’m crazy.

    1. mikarooni Avatar

      Gosh, JB, I think you sold me a car once.

      1. JB Avatar

        Hey, I said you could call me crazy…there’s no need to call me a thief. 😉

  7. Doryfun Avatar


    Isn’t the Republican – “ Party of No – Obstructionism Specialists – which is often so reviled on this site (including hits from myself) the same as No collaboration, no compromise – All or None attitudes as championed by Western Watershed (or any group unwilling to sit at the table) in essense drawing a line in the sand to defend territory by a life or death solution? How effective is this strategy? In the Nez Perce War of 1877, Indians won four battles, but in the fifth they lost the war.

    Brian Ertz on his post earlier defended activists in Oregon that took over a Cattleman’s Association meeting, and seemed quite frustrated with how compromised seemed to get nowhere. Though I did challenge that position then, as here now, I too have had those same frustrations and thoughts. Sometimes, just wanting to throw in the towel, too.

    When I first came out of college, (yikes, 40 ish yrs ago) with typical age appropriate high ideals and real world naivete about hoping to do my part at helping to save things for fish and wildlife, I eventually got a foot into the door with the USFS as a wildlife biologist. That is where my real education began and learned first hand a few lessons about compromise and collaboration. In a multiple use agency, very rarely does anyone get all they want. At first I asked for more than needed, so that once trade-offs happened, I might end up with a better middle ground. I was soon advised to ask only for what I wanted, just fight harder for it. It didn’t take long for me to revert back to asking for more…as it always turned out to gain more ground in the end.

    My job was to coordinate habitat needs for fish and wildlife (EIA, NEPA, etc) with all other uses in the forests. Most of the people in charge of other resources were well meaning people, trying to perform their respective jobs with integrity, both personally and by law. Sure, fighting for a piece of the pie was bio-politics and occasionally a “yahoo” in timber tried some underhanded sleight-of-hand tactics I sometimes missed.

    I eventually got tired of the bureaucratic red tape, heavy hand of the timber industry tainted management influence, and hitting my head against the wall. So soon morphed my lifestyle into the guiding world. But, that did not mean giving up the fight, just a change of venues.

    However, I often get flash backs to my thoughts about holding the line and hate for compromise. A long time ago, I felt like there comes a time, when you do have to draw a line, as giving up something incrementally, always spells doom in the end. How can a glass be half empty, or half full, depending on how you look at it? Some people say compromise means everyone one gains something, rather than loses something. But I mostly see compromise as a losing proposition. If all sides just lose a little at a time, it is more like trying to put water in a glass with a hole in the bottom. It does not hold the water at the half way level, it eventually just drains all the water.

    Which is better, losing all at once –finality, or little by little with the hope of stalling until a better solution is eventually arrived at? Being right, and making things right are not always very well aligned with self-defeating attitudes that alienate more people, rather than bringing them together.

    I am more concerned about what happens on the ground, than who is winning ego battles and turf wars that some conservations groups engage in with their own version of politics and game playing.

    As frustrating as it all is, it seems collaboration has the best chance at saving the most, over tooth and claw, all or none, demarcations in the sand.

    Ralph, do you have any way of measuring or guestimating how many folks might visit this blog site? My hope is that site will help inform people so they can have additional perspectives about issues that they might not have considered before. In the end, it affects who they vote for and which side of the line they support. It would be more like assimilation, and dilution of the oppositional gene pool.

    I often wonder if the anti-collaboration attitude, while attractive for earth warriors who sing the same song, might create more alienation of the opposition that might otherwise have potential to be convinced to join the cause????

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      THanks for the lengthy comments.

      As Ken Cole pointed out Western Watersheds is not really against compromise. I overstated it. Compromise used to be the essence of American politics and the politics was much better then. Things got done.

      My comments were directed specifically toward collaborative groups set to come up with plans, solutions, deals for natural resource issues.

      In the current political environment they are set up to defuse and coopt conservation opposition. If they are truly balanced, they can be useful.

      My experience, like yours, is very long in these matters. My final position is that colaborative groups are generally a manipulation at the current time. Secondarily, colaboration, negotiation, bargaining, with livestock associations is and was useless both then and now. These people see the matter as a zero sum game. They are even willing to play a negative sum game because they so dislike conservationists. It is a cultural animosity, not an economic conflict.

  8. Doryfun Avatar


    I didn’t read your post and link to the Decker article until after working out my comments above. However, that it is a great piece of rather exhaustive research, with much to digest and good, timely advice. Thank you for digging that up. It adds weight to the JWM article, referenced on Jon Ways site: (For those who may have missed it).

    1. JB Avatar

      No worries, Dory. Decker was one of the authors on that piece as well. Food for thought for sure.

  9. Brian Ertz Avatar

    The bottom line is that if collaborative processes produce tangible ecosystem/wildlife-habitat benefit on-the-ground above and beyond existing law — then by all means ~ collaborate !

    If they don’t – then that’s a problem.

    In my experience, usually they don’t. They do just the opposite. Commercial interests find new ways to introduce complicated ambiguities of existing law and interpersonal dynamics break down existing willingness of regulators to do their job and enforce existing laws and proven mechanisms of compliance.

    Ultimately, the attention gets elevated off of the actual conditions on the ground and into the nebulous gimmick of traditional ‘enemies’ finding a way to get-along. The condition of the environmental value at issue becomes almost tangential.

    This is not in the interest of environmental advocates, even less-so of the subject of our advocacy.

    1. JB Avatar

      “The bottom line is that if collaborative processes produce tangible ecosystem/wildlife-habitat benefit on-the-ground above and beyond existing law — then by all means ~ collaborate!”

      Which is no more than I would advocate. If collaboration is not likely to result in an improvement in the desired conditions of the environment, then what’s the point? But the article I cited (above) gives several case studies that show that it can work.

      Frankly, I find it fascinating that people who so wholeheartedly advocate for the use of science in decision making are so quick to dismiss a tool as ineffective citing only personal experience. And when I advocate its selective use, I’m cast as a used car salesman. Oh well.

      The same year the article I cited above came out, a colleague of mine (who works down the hall) published the following article, which calls for more science to evaluate collaboration’s effectiveness for achieving environmental goals.

      Koontz, TM & Thomas, CW. 2006. What do we know and need to know about the environmental outcomes of collaborative management. Public Administration Review, 66(1):111-121.

      Their conclusion: “Collaboration is not a panacea; it is a choice that policy makers and public managers should make based on evidence about expected outcomes.”

      Not a panacea, but not a pariah either.

  10. WM Avatar

    Here is an example of one of those “collaborative” projects that won’t please everyone, but does have the stamp of approval from the WA governor, local farmers and the Yakama nation, and some environmental groups. Other environmental groups oppose and have made no secret of it. In this case a large federallly funded water project for a water starved valley that has had to ration and prioritize crop growth. It is about food production, jobs and a stable economy, and creation of a sockeye salmon fishery, in conflict with some environmental values.

  11. Dan Avatar

    The reason collaboration has generally failed conservationists is because conservationists do not understand the rules. Here are two fails by conservationists-

    Conservationists are emotional. Of course, that’s mostly why they are conservationists but that’s beside the point. They go into huge preambles. Existing science, best science, ecosystem health, balance etc etc. Tell the other side what you want. You do not get what you do not ask for. If you ultimately want 750 wolves, tell them 750 wolves! Saying that the ecosystem will figure it out…yawn! Why do you think the wolf number is going to settle back at 150 in Idaho….because that’s all someone at the settling point asked for!

    Conservationists always go to the meeting thinking the meeting is about discussing things. WRONG! The meeting is to publish the results that were already decided. Take for instance this wildlife summit. I hear chatter on here all the time about maybe attending to see what goes down and maybe have some discussion. I have news for you, the discussion on what’s going to go down is happening right now. If you are not “at the table” right now then you’re not going to be happy with what’s “published.”

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      This is largely true, although I don’t think conservationists are especially emotional, but their fund-raising appeals are. They are hardly the only ones that use emotion to raise money or generate low level political action.

      Their biggest problem is to use scientific words among those who don’t understand them, dislike them, or reject science. With politicians you trust or who are neutral you can talk about the political advantage of your issues. Biodiversity is a poor choice of words for a farmer who wishes every creature on his farm he didn’t plant or stock was dead. Biodiversity is poor choice of a word for those who simply want the ducks on the pond not to die. On the other hand, knowing mind-numbing bureaucratic acronymns is important when dealing with a government agency. You speak their language, and are considered a true player or at least a true threat.

      Conservationists should never attend a meeting where the results are already decided except when it looks good to the media to be there.

    2. JB Avatar


      You’re mixing up collaboration with “traditional” command and control types of public involvement. One of my colleagues calls what you’ve described the MAD process: Make a decision, Announce the decision, Defend the decision–which makes everyone mad. Collaborative processes are not about announcing or publishing anything–if the decision is already made, then collaboration will back fire and leave participants angry. Moreover, the agency will waste a lot of money in the process. Discussion among stakeholders, which is discouraged in traditional processes, is critical to collaborative processes–especially collaborative learning.

      – – –
      BTW: Conservationists do not have a monopoly on emotion. In my experience, the types of people who show up to public meetings are emotional about issues–even if they’re good at hiding it.

      1. Dan Avatar

        “Discussion among stakeholders, which is discouraged in traditional processes, is critical to collaborative processes–especially collaborative learning.”

        Is it discussion among stakeholders that is key? Or; is it ultimately results? Let’s examine wolves in Idaho. Who truly are the stakeholders? Ranchers? Hunters? Wildlife viewers? Where do we draw the line who is stakeholder and who isn’t?

        1. Dan Avatar

          Hit post on accident, I have more to add to this post.

        2. Dan Avatar

          I also wanted to add – Is an environmentalist in New York City a stakeholder in Idaho wolves? Where do we draw the line?
          If everyone, everywhere in the country is a stakeholder then doesn’t that just end in the vote of the majority and cut everyone else out? How is that collaboration?
          We have had seemingly endless discussion on wolves and the different parties have in one way or another expressed their concerns.
          The ranchers don’t want their herds molested by wolves.
          The hunters want to be able to hunt elk.
          The wildlife viewers want to be able to view wolves in the wilds of Idaho and elsewhere.
          The environmentalists want some best science of ecosystem health.
          Politicians want happy constituents (we think and hope…I’m still hopeful)
          If collaboration is working together for a joint product, then isn’t the end product a compromise if the parties want different things?
          So wouldn’t a negotiated number of wolves that didn’t molest livestock, accounted for hunter opportunity, complemented a defined ecosystem and provided for viewing opportunities be the product of collaboration?
          Isn’t that where the wolf issue is going? The wolves are being pushed back off elk herds in Northern and Central Idaho for hunters. Yellowstone and surrounding area is the home to thriving stabilizing packs that complete the top predator status and provides viewing opportunities.
          If there was a more collaborative process for the wolf, what would the joint product be?

          1. JB Avatar


            Collaboration is not discussion, though thoughtful discussion is key to successful collaboration. To my knowledge, the only collaborative efforts that has taken place with wolves has been usurped by unhappy legislators (i.e. Utah). Essentially, the same stakeholders you mention (minus people from NYC; why is it always NYC?) agreed upon a compromise plan. After the plan was released, Don Peay, of “Sportsmen” for Fish and Wildlife went to his buddies in the legislature and demanded the most anti-wolf legislation that could be passed.

            Whether the plan they worked out would have been subjectively “good” for wolves, is anyone’s guess. However, it only goes to show how in a so-called representative democracy, the voices of reason can be toppled with a stroke of the pen from the political elite. That’s not a failure of collaboration, it’s a failure of government.

            1. Dan Avatar

              NYC..Massive money and power lies there….United Nations HQ, Wall Street and millions of people….With money and power comes influence..

              I am not familiar with this compromise or collaboration….the only thing I recall is when tides turned against Molloy’s rulings there was some sort of last ditch effort to keep government out but then 4 or so groups said they wouldn’t drop the case anyway….what was the compromise?

  12. Doryfun Avatar


    “Conservationists are emotional.” Who isn’t? Humans wouldn’t have emotions if they were not good for something and it would be a cold world without them. Like anything, balance is the operative word here. Passionate science hardly seems a negative.

    “Tell the other side what you want. You do not get what you do not ask for.” It would seem a better advice would be “better to aim your bow at the sun and hit only the moon, than aim at the moon and hit only a rock.”

    “Conservationists always go to the meeting thinking the meeting is about discussing things. WRONG! The meeting is to publish the results that were already decided” I agree with you here, as most scoping meetings for major projects are only intended to help agencies meet their legal obligations, streamline projects efficiency, and reduce chances of lawsuits that might impede and/or drive costs up. NEPA does not require a public meeting, though most agencies do it, as it helps eliminate lawsuits, forementioned.

    This is why the general public, including myself, often feel like “why bother” with public scoping processes? They mostly listen with closed ears or intentions to find remedies for quelling threats to their projects. How many times does their last alternative “Do Nothing” ever happen?

    Part of the problem of top-down projects is that those at the top are often out of touch with those affected at the bottom. In my old USFS days, often district rangers had mandated allowable cut levels for timber sales on their respective forests that were set by politicians in DC. Often it was not easy, or even possible to implement fish and wildlife habitat goals (legally) because allowable cut levels were not realistic and could not accommodate for both timber needs and fish/wildlife at the same time. Guess which one suffered.

    That was back in the 70’s, and though I’m not in the mix anymore, I’m guessing not much has improved. Fighting other battles at the local level (ram-rodded highway projects, etc) is evidence enough to me. Or looking at major issues like Keystone Pipeline threat, is another example of people in high places wanting to ignore huge environmental costs to address jobs, jobs, jobs. Gas of $2.50/gal has other costs, not immediately felt at the pump.

    I am not very optimistic about the future and agree with the findings of Charles Redman in “Human Impacts on Ancient Environments” which points out how all major societies of the world have ended up causing their own demise, by eventually exceeding their own carrying capacities. Why? Those elites at the top with the most power make decisions that ignore the gardener’s who tell them the garden is too small to grow everything they want. Elites also use belief systems to convince the masses to support them. Thereby, those that challenge the status quo often are a minority. The underlying message is that if we don’t learn from this past history, we are sure to repeat it.

    Of the current situation, he asks: “Would you board an airplane to reach your destination if you knew there was a 10% chance of a fatal air disaster?” I say: God Bless America – too big to fail – best airplanes in the world, is a dangerous arrogance.

  13. Doryfun Avatar


    Missed your post, as I was working on mine. But thanks for that clarification of collaborative processes. I also am a member of North Central Idaho Resource Advisory Committee, though it is in semi-limbo for now, but it is a collaborative process that at least seems like a good step in the right direction.

    Unfortunately, like everything else, budget cuts and politics often get in the way.

  14. Dan Avatar

    I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be accused of being emotional as a conservationist. Emotion is the basis of passion and passion leads to motivation and motivation leads to toil and toil leads achievement. Now whether you have the antecedent factors and aptitude to really make things happen is an entirely another story.

    Every “true” farmer in America is a monoculturist. “True” meaning large scale, commodity farmer. He is not necessarily a monoculturist because his value system has taken him there but because the business economies of his market have taken him there. As a conservationist, I wouldn’t hit this guy in the jaw with telling him he wants everything dead. I would use my scientific proficiency to show him advantages, economic and ecosystem, to promoting biodiversity “on the farm.”

    Meetings will always be a place to announce results simply because no one or especially no guy wants to look bad in a group setting.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan