Local involvement in national lands management: Can it work nationwide?

February 17, 2006

Having a say in how the government manages nearby federal lands makes sense to both local residents and federal officials. But the devil is in the details of how this local input is gathered.

Known as adaptive environmental management, the concept is popular in Europe, but has only been officially attempted in one location in the United States.

"Adaptive environmental management means there is a commitment to have on-going local community involvement in making and assessing environmental policy," said Daniel Bronstein, professor of community, agriculture, recreation and resource studies at Michigan State University. "It's a hot topic right now, but the question has always been whether the government can implement the monitoring that is needed to make it work."

Bronstein moderates a symposium entitled "Adaptive Environmental Management: The Valles Caldera Experience" today at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. The participants are examining the adaptive environmental management strategies in place at the Valles Caldera National Preserve, an 89,000-acre federal property in northern New Mexico, as a case study. This is the only formal attempt by the federal government to implement adaptive environmental management.

In the past, top-down management strategies with little local input have caused friction between local residents and federal managers. When gray wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995, local ranchers feared for their livestock and responded by filing lawsuits and shooting any wolves that strayed outside the park's borders.

"The idea of adaptive environmental management is to get greater local acceptability as the policies are being created," Bronstein explained. "Then, after the policies are implemented, federal monitors continue to assess the ecosystem and public reaction. Management strategies can then be changed as necessary."

Using the Valles Caldera National Preserve as a model, the symposium participants will discuss the strategies in place there, as well as tools that can be used to measure the strategies' success and how broad the definition of "local" input should be.

"If the policies used at Valles Caldera are deemed successful, then this could be a template that is applied across the country," Bronstein said.

Michigan State University

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