I once attended a public hearing to determine whether motorcycles should be allowed on a section of the Oregon coast.  I noticed that all of the motorcycle members were seated together on one side of the room and all of the anti-motorcycle contingent were positioned on the other side.  For a couple hours I heard plenty of ping-pong tesimony: “We want motorcycles on the beach” followed by “We do not want motorcycles on the beach.”  Not a soul ever mentioned a compromise — a seasonal closure for example.  In the end, the Forest Service sided with allowing motor bikes on the beach.

Natural resources remain the most contentious issues in many parts of the United States, especially the rural western states.  From mines, logging, endangered species, recreational impacts to wind turbine farms, these projects continue to spark emotion, divisiveness, and often no consensus.  Yet, there are some emerging alternatives, some encouraging signs.

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenice Area (NSA) just celebrated its first 25 years.  The NSA was widely opposed by local citizens when it was created, but folks have softened their views through time.  The NSA is based on an unique zoning concept of urban areas, where there are no NSA land-use restrictions, General Management Areas where scenic considerations come into play, and Special Management Areas, where land conservation is a priority.  Funds were included in the legislation to purchase SMA properties that had little possibility of being developed.

On the contentious logging front, I remember the spotted owl appearing on the cover of Time magazine when it was placed on the endangered species list.  Now, a number of collaborative groups have been established, three on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.  These collaboratives are inclusive, representing all viewpoints, and they have steered forest service practices away from clearcutting to selective tree harvest and habitat restoration.

And home on the range…The Malpai Borderlands Group boasts the most hailed example of collaborative place-based resource management in the West, allowing this group to save one of the last unspoiled corners of the West “a 1,250-square mile triangle of land, draped over the Continental Divide, where Arizona and New Mexico meet.”  The keys to Malpai Borderlands success were a unique blend of science, range smarts and philanthropic savvy, and most important, the group’s openness to new ideas and its understanding that saving ranchlands is about a lot more than running livestock.

Land and community stewards can help negotiate challenging problems.  Many issues can be talked through while meeting out on the property.  Getting to know folks socially with different viewpoints outdoors rather than around a sterile conference room can be effective.  Sharing a meal or even a cup of coffee on a cold wintry day can warm hearts and minds. ~

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