Friday, March 6, 2009

The Public Process - Was Bruce Babbitt Right?

I was prompted into writing this blog today based on several recent calls from users in different states who wanted to know about “getting involved” in ongoing travel planning processes or addressing the implementation of unknown previous agency decisions.

While attending a land-use conference in the mid 1990s, I remember talking with then Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, about cumbersome bureaucratic planning efforts, where at the end of the discussion he basically said…”The [public] process is the product.”

At that time (and still today), I thought the end product of land use planning should be the construction of a trail or campground. Because of my work on numerous federal travel management planning efforts that have been completed or are currently underway, I now agree – in part - with Mr. Babbitt’s theory. Because if recreationists are not involved in the public process from the initial scoping to the final Record of Decision they will not have any standing for an appeal or worse yet… the agency won’t be able to address their concerns or consider proposals for a citizen’s alternative that could be developed for full analysis in the environmental document’s draft phase.

For many years, the BlueRibbon Coalition has written articles encouraging its members to get involved in the early stages of federal agency land use planning efforts. Riders have been asked to submit route networks that are important to them or areas of the unit they want managed for year-round use.

Just so off-roaders get a broad picture of how important it is for them to become involved “in the process” – I have linked to an article below that tells sportsmen how to become involved and that the true purpose of involvement is not so they can appeal. Rather, it allows the agency to use those public comments to make a better decision.

How Deer Hunters (and off-roaders as well) Can Become Involved in Federal Land Use Planning?

Title 36 Part 215 – Public Involvement/Comments/Appeals in Land Use Planning

Is public involvement a guarantee that the agency will make a decision in your favor? No it is not! However, The General can almost guarantee that if you are not at the table from the early public scoping period to the final decision advocating for your form of recreation - the agency’s final decision most likely will not be to your satisfaction.

Get involved early and often. Don’t give up. Once a final agency action is completed review it and then consider the next steps such as helping the agency implement the decision. Also, you can petition the agency to undergo a new planning effort to designate additional trails or change the vehicle use classification of existing routes. Help with volunteer projects – stay engaged… Your commitment for the next 10-20 years is needed.

At the end of the day (or trail) maybe Bruce Babbitt was right?

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