On Agency Capture…

While those of us who care about our public lands and wildlife are often focused on on-the-ground conditions for this species or that, we can lose sight of the bigger picture. So many of the wildlands and wildlife problems we are concerned about are merely symptoms of agency capture, corruption.

“The tendency of regulators to identify with the interest of the industry they are supposed to regulate. This occurs when a public authority charged with regulating an industry in the public interest comes to identify the public interest with the interests of producers in the industry, rather than the interests of its customers, or the general public.”

Oxford Reference

While it is wildlands and wildlife that we love, maybe we need to put more attention on pushing for mechanisms to reduce the level of agency capture and corruption, which is the cause of much of the degradation we fight.

Dr. Debra Donahue, Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Wyoming wrote an excellent review of this issue in WESTERN GRAZING: THE CAPTURE OF GRASS, GROUND, AND GOVERNMENT

Back in 1936, in the middle of the Dust Bowl, Congress commissioned a report titled The Western Range on how the public lands became so degraded and what to do about it.

In 2000, Dr. Donahue published The Western Range Revisited, a detailed review of the history of public lands management issues in the US , how we got here and where we are at. For those interested in our public lands and wildlife, this tome is a vital read to inform action.

Andy Kerr’s review is here.

If you have not read this seminal work, I highly recommend it.

You can get a copy either directly from the Oklahoma University Press or Amazon.



  1. Chris Zinda Avatar
    Chris Zinda

    The premise of an agency captured by those it regulates is very old public adminstration axiom. It is not new and always makes for good copy.

    Unfortunately the perspective is largely ignored, the real question how to change it.

  2. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
    Jeff Hoffman

    We live in a literally fascist country. “Fascism” is a governmental system wherein large corporations run the government. The ruling class rich own the corporations, so we could also be considered an oligarchy, wherein the rich rule. These facts are what cause “agency capture.” If we don’t wrest control from the rich and their corporations, agency capture will continue. It’s infuriating to environmentalists like us that agencies managing public lands work for industries that destroy those lands and kill native species in order to make money, instead of protecting the public lands from those people, the latter being what they should be doing. We need to fix the root of this problem in order to stop agency capture.

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Jonathan Ratner

Jonathan Ratner has been in the trenches of public lands conservation for nearly 25 years. He started out doing forest carnivore work for the Forest Service, BLM, and the Inter-agency Grizzly Bear Study Team, with some Wilderness Rangering on the Pinedale Ranger District. That work lead him directly to deal with the gross corruption within the federal agencies' range program.

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Jonathan Ratner