Planning: what's the big deal?

By Chris Wood

The invitation to speak to the member companies of the Conservation Alliance—an organization that helps outdoor-related companies support conservation—was welcome. My topic, “The Administration and Agency Planning,” seemed like a penance.

When I worked at the U.S. Forest Service, my colleague, Al Ferlo, would occasionally ask, “Why do you get to work on all of the fun issues?” Al had a point. While he worked on issues such as brucellosis and consent decrees, I worked on protecting roadless areas and old-growth forests.

One of Al’s areas was forest planning. The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manage about 20 percent of the nation’s land. It’s our land—yours and mine—as a birthright. By law, every 10-15 years, the agencies develop land-management plans to decide how they are used.

As a Forest Service employee, I used to think planning was a colossal waste of time. Ironically, this afternoon the Conservation Alliance asked me to talk about the importance of Forest Service and BLM land management planning. In honor of Al, here are the top reasons that the Conservation Alliance—and all of us—should care about planning. 

1) Planning matters most when laws are hard to pass

If you can pass a Wyoming Legacy Act, and protect 1.2 million acres, you don’t need to worry as much about the Bridger-Teton National Forest Plan. If you can secure a regulation such as the Roadless Area Conservation Rule of 2001 to protect 58.5 million acres of land from development, wilderness study areas become less important. Unfortunately, Congress has largely gotten out of the business of passing laws.

2) Planning matters even when you can pass laws

A dozen years ago, I asked Ralph Reed, one of the founders of the Christian Coalition, to speak at a TU staff meeting about the importance of organizing. He declined, but when I asked him for counsel he said, “Get local. Stay local.” We follow that counsel. That conservation that is most local is most durable. Agency planning is, by definition, local. Conservation does not happen in Washington, D.C. It happens when friends and neighbors talk about what they want for their kids.

Agency planning, like conservation itself, is a game of incremental progress. Big conservation wins, such as the roadless rule, are hard to find. The recently passe Natural Resource Conservation Act, for example, was comprised of 100 separate conservation bills—many of which were hashed out locally over decades.

3) Planning helps us to beat the zero-sum gamers

For years, conservation was slowed by the argument that it comes at the expense of jobs. The $887 billion in spending and 7.6 million jobs created by the outdoor recreation economy belies the zero-sum game argument. That said, the sentiment that conservation costs jobs persists—until you make it local. A few years ago, for example, we started a TU Business program. Today, over 500 businesses are pushing us: “How can we stop the roll-back of the Clean Water Rule? How can we help protect Bristol Bay? How can we keep our public lands in public hands?" We win the jobs vs. quality of life for my kids’ argument. That conversation is the essence of local land management planning processes.

4) Planning allows us to show that our arguments are better

Finally, conservation, this hairy notion that we can take specific actions today to make the world a better place for our kids tomorrow, is a uniquely American idea. It shows that we believe in the future, and that we are willing to make short-term sacrifices for the gain of those to come. When presented in this fashion, the idea of protecting the sources of the coldest cleanest water; reconnecting rivers to floodplains; restoring areas for the benefit of fish, and people, too; and training the next generation of conservation stewards will always prevail.

Public-land planning is the modern equivalent of town hall meetings of colonial America. Management plans are shaped by those who show up. If you care about public lands, this is your chance to stand up and make your voice heard.

Chris Wood is the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited.


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