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About the Author
Philip Brick teaches international and environmental politics at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington and is co-editor of A Wolf in the Garden (Rowman and Littlefield, 1996).
Donald Snow is executive director of the Northern Lights Research and Education Institute in Missoula, Montana, and co-editor of The Next West (Island Press, 1997).
Sarah (Bates) Van de Wetering edits the Chronicle of Community and has published four previous books with Island Press, most recently A New Century for Natural Resources Management, which she co-edited with Richard Knight.
Read an Excerpt
Across the Great Divide
Explorations in Collaborative Conservation and the American West
By Philip Brick, Donald Snow, Sarah Van de Wetering
ISLAND PRESSCopyright © 2001 Island Press
All rights reserved.
FROM TROUBLED WATERS: THE EMERGENCE OF COLLABORATIVE CONSERVATION
Perhaps reflecting a more general trend in American politics in the 1980s and 1990s, environmental politics have become increasingly polarized and polarizing in recent years. Although conflicts over natural resources have always been contentious, we now refer to many of them, especially disputes about the fate of resources on public lands in the American West, by making ample use of war metaphors. Despite the escalating rhetoric, existing processes and institutions for resolving environmental conflict seem more poorly equipped than ever to handle such conflicts. The result is policy gridlock, which only enhances a sense of frustration and alienation for everyone.
In response to this sense of frustration, American environmentalism is in the throes of a transformation that rivals the movement's shift from protest politics in the 1960s to its institutionalization in American politics in the 1970s and 1980s. By 1990, at the same time that environmental groups seemed to be at the pinnacle of their power, green groups also ran into increasingly fierce opposition from farmers, ranchers, miners, loggers, and powerful conservative ideologues, forcing important environmental decisions into political gridlock. But amid the policy gridlock that now characterizes most environmental debates, including saving remnant ancient forests, restoring riparian habitats for native and anadromous fish, reforming outdated mining laws, and protecting endangered species and ecosystems, a new conservation movement has emerged, emphasizing the importance of consent, not power, in environmental strategy. We call this new movement collaborative conservation, which encompasses a wide variety of local partnerships, library groups, resource advisory councils, river and range conservation initiatives, and watershed councils.
This part describes the policy context in which these collaborative groups have arisen. The first two essays address questions such as these: Why have traditional environmental approaches reached a dead end, opening the door to more collaborative approaches? How well will collaborative efforts mix with more traditional approaches? What does the collaborative conservation movement add to broader environmental goals and to the environmental movement itself? The final essay, by Matthew McKinney, introduces us to the idea of consensus, an integral concept in the collaborative conservation movement, even though not all collaboratives can or should operate by consensus. Similarly, although there is no how-to guide to successful collaboratives, McKinney's essay does point us in the direction of some key ingredients that have been central to successful efforts so far.
Will Rain Follow the Plow? Unearthing a New Environmental Movement
Philip Brick and Edward P. Weber
In the wide-open spaces of the American West, where visitors can step out of their cars and almost feel themselves expand to meet distant horizons, a new environmental movement is emerging from the soil. This movement, which we call collaborative conservation, is a movement premised on the hope that we can expand our notions of individual and community to meet ecological and social challenges as wide as the western skies themselves. Collaborative conservation is a young movement brimming with optimism, much like early settlers to the region who believed that hard work and good intentions alone would transform the region's arid climate—that rain would follow the plow. But can this new environmental movement stake out new ground? This will be difficult, because although collaborative conservation is a qualitatively new approach to protecting natural resources, it is also an approach riddled with paradox. Collaboratives are a response to dysfunctional environmental strategies and policy processes, but are also symbiotically dependent on them.
Part of the charisma of collaborative groups is that they produce political positions that are not easily placed in traditional boxes. As interest group theorists Tierney and Frasure describe these boxes, "the preservationists generally espouse communitarian values, active government, and the ideals of a 'postmaterial' culture; the users tend to be advocates of private property rights, personal autonomy, individualism, and limited government." But what happens when "preservationists" pursue their postmaterial values in the context of property rights and limited but enlightened government? When advocates of limited government pursue postmaterial and communitarian values? Powerful coalitions for ecological goals can emerge. And it's not as if local collaborative groups have a monopoly on crossover constituencies and strategies: two of the most successful and prominent national environmental groups, The Nature Conservancy and Environmental Defense, occupy this crossover political ground.
But stepping outside traditional boxes puts collaboratives in a difficult position: no one knows which box to put them in. It is certainly possible to attend both wise use and environmental gatherings where nearly identical expletives are used to describe collaborative groups. This no doubt reinforces the self-perception of many collaborative participants as occupying a political space that can be described only in ironic terms: the radical center.
A Furrow Deep and Wide: Contours of a New Environmental Movement
At this radical center is collaborative conservation, a movement that has the potential to redefine the language of environmentalism. It is not the preservationism of John Muir, or the traditional conservationism of Gifford Pinchot, nor is it the top-down environmentalism that characterizes most national environmental groups' approach to natural resource policy. Emerging in the late 1980s and early 1990s, collaborative conservation advocates emphasize community building, guided by a larger mission embracing ecological and economic sustainability. Some collaboratives seek to devolve authority away from federal and state land managers to more local, place-based citizen networks. Others are content with federal authority, but want more meaningful citizen participation. In either case, the concept of "place" is a central organizing principle. These places are usually rural communities intimately connected with nature's bounty, such as ranching, forestry, agriculture, commercial fisheries, outdoor recreation, and tourism communities. The biophysical scale of place varies widely among groups, and is almost never determined scientifically, as some proponents of ecosystem thinking have suggested. Instead, place is more an intuitive, intersubjective sense of what constitutes "here," as opposed to what is more "over there," though in the West these intuitions are often quite clearly shaped by the surrounding topography—valleys, mountains, watersheds, and the like. In short, place is both a physical and political space, with powerful implications: Place is almost universally understood by collaborative advocates to be the foundation and catalyst for enlightened self-governance, despite the differing interests that loggers, ranchers, environmentalists, Native Americans, kayakers, hunting guides, county officials, land managers, and other interested citizens bring to the table.
The emphasis on place is not the only feature distinguishing the collaborative conservation movement from its preservation, traditional conservation, and contemporary environmental brethren. At least three further distinctions are useful: Where contemporary environmentalism emphasizes ecocentrism, collaborative conservation integrates ecocentric and anthropocentric goals; where most environmentalists embrace regulatory democracy, collaboratives prefer civic democracy; and where environmentalists put great faith in science and technocratic management, collaboration advocates seek to integrate science with local knowledge. In many ways, collaborative conservation captures many of the early ideals of the contemporary environmental movement (decentralization, renewal of community), and joins them with a creative blend of preservation and traditional conservation.
Balancing Ecocentrism and Anthropocentrism
Since the late 1980s, the environmental movement has become increasingly eco-centric in orientation, pursuing ever more aggressive measures to protect and isolate nature from the ravages of industrial civilization. Policy proposals increasingly emphasize the importance of nature over humanity. In some circles, nature not only has intrinsic worth apart from humans, but it also has rights on par with humans. Policy goals emphasize severely restricting human impacts on nature, as illustrated by the zero-discharge goal of the Clean Air Act of 1972, and the prohibition on considering cost when determining if a species qualifies for protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. In short, these environmentalists believe that nature must always be the winner in any serious conflict with economic goals, even if these goals are fundamentally redistributive.
Collaboratives, on the other hand, seek to meld nature together with economy and community, and see the separation of humans from nature as an impossible task given the demands and desires of a growing population. Rather than viewing humans and nature in a zero-sum struggle, the new collaborative movement hopes to meet ecological and human needs simultaneously. For example, when ecological goals might produce economic dislocation for some community members, planning for sustainable, family-wage job alternatives is integrated into the discussion of the ecological goal in the first place, not as an afterthought, as in the spotted owl controversy in the Pacific Northwest.
From Regulatory Democracy to Civic Democracy
Here is where the collaborative conservation movement breaks most dramatically with its predecessors, challenging fundamental assumptions about the nature of the individual, the market, and the scope of government. Environmentalists have long assumed that given the liberal individualism that pervades American culture, government is the primary, if not the only, institution capable of defending nature against inevitable market failures. Preservationists from Muir forward have called on government to insulate nature from industrialism. Traditional conservationists hoped to combine expertise with state power to manage resources for the benefit of all. But historically, traditional conservation is more closely associated with cozy relations between private interests and public institutions in pursuit of economic growth. Contemporary environmentalism, on the other hand, also views government intervention as a necessary corrective to market failure to protect nature, but differs from traditional conservation by trying to create a sharp dividing line between public institutions and private interests. Ideally, and perhaps ironically, environmentalists hope to replace the cozy relations between private industry and federal land managers with equally cozy relations of their own.
Today's environmentalists hope to effect environmental goals on a national scale, emphasizing compliance with federally mandated environmental standards and review procedures. Those out of compliance with the standards and procedures are sued, often successfully. In this sense, environmental power is best expressed as the ability to force compliance on unwilling or recalcitrant subjects.
Collaborative advocates think differently. Instead of viewing individuals in the classic liberal sense, individuals are better understood in the context of the communities they inhabit. Self-interested individuals still exist, but are profoundly shaped by social interaction with others. Preserving nature is much more than adopting and enforcing a set of formal, legal rules governing interaction with nature. Instead, collaborative conservationists emphasize participation in civic institutions, a political sphere somewhere between government and market. In this context, collaborative advocates are attempting to carve out a space for autonomous action within the larger top-down system of governance that is the legacy of the three preceding movements. Instead of a system premised on hierarchy, collaboratives devolve significant authority to citizens, with an emphasis on voluntary participation and compliance, unleashing untapped potential for innovation latent in any regulated environment. It also seeks to mediate national environmental law by balancing it against local ecological, economic, and social conditions. And despite criticism by leaders of national environmental groups, most collaborative conservation participants understand themselves to be working within, not against, a larger framework of national environmental law.
From Technocracy to Integrated Knowledge
Another striking difference between collaborative conservation and its predecessors is its emphasis on integrating local and scientific expertise. Environmentalists have always appreciated the importance of scientific and technical expertise, and this appreciation has grown as more environmental groups gain expertise and professionalism of their own. The rapidly expanding fields of ecology and conservation biology are only adding fuel to this fire, both by widening the scope of ecological concerns and by creating new cadres of experts to address these concerns. These experts are supposed to be insulated from the corrupting influences of politics, free to make natural resource policy decisions based on scientific information alone, and this scientific information is expected to apply equally well across a variety of landscapes.
Collaboratives embrace the importance of scientific knowledge and expertise, but at the same time seek to expand the concept of expertise beyond bureaucratic and organized interest expertise. Collaboratives are also less certain that scientific information can or should be insulated from the political arbitration of conflicting values. Explicit attempts are made to integrate scientific knowledge and technical expertise with local knowledge, a community perspective, and local talents. Citizen concerns about quality of life, local conservation practices and stories, and folk knowledge, for example, are treated on par with recommendations made by scientifically trained experts. Again, this approach blurs the distinction between public and private, so important to the traditional conservation and environmental perspectives. But at the same time, it opens up traditional science to new ways of knowing, and perhaps new understandings about how complex ecosystems function. It also creates a greater sense of community investment in efforts to protect nature, as it validates the importance of local stories and talents, which rarely command the prestige of knowledge produced at remote universities and research centers.
Excerpted from Across the Great Divide by Philip Brick, Donald Snow, Sarah Van de Wetering. Copyright © 2001 Island Press. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
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