It might seem that Pat Shea, the former Utahn who now heads the Bureau of Land Management, is a walking contradiction.
On Thursday, Shea described to faculty and students at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics the euphoria he felt when President Clinton, without knowledge or input from Utah's congressional delegation or local residents, unilaterally created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.On Friday, he told attendees at the 3rd annual Wallace Stegner Center Symposium, also at the University of Utah, that resolution to environmental conflicts will come only through a spirit of compromise that includes citizen participation from all sides of the debate.
"I don't see it as a contradiction," Shea insisted, noting that the creation of the national monument has provided the impetus for all sides to come together toward a land management compromise that recognizes the needs of local, state and national interests. That management plan could not have been developed under the anti-wilderness dominance that had stifled debate prior to the presidentialdeclaration.
"My fundamental message is that the solution to the Grand Staircase, the solution to the wilderness debate, is not a federally imposed solution," Shea said. Rather, "it is one that works well for the people who live there, the people who live in Salt Lake and the people around the country who want to benefit from those formations."
In his role as chief steward over 264 million acres of public lands, most of them in the West, Shea is repeatedly challenged by what appear to be contradictions. For example, Congress has given the BLM the dual mandate to both develop the resources and to conserve the resources.
Shea believes there is no contradiction to that mandate. "Building a just society requires that we develop and conserve the land's resources, because conservation without economic growth is morally untenable, while economic growth without conservation is unsustainable," he said.
During Friday's address, Shea expressed the optimism of renown author Wallace Stegner, himself a former Utahn, who believed Westerners would arrive at "some sort of compromise between what must be done to earn a living and what must be done to restore health to the earth, air and water."
Such a compromise, Shea said, will only occur if and when federal, state and local governments work together with commodity interests, environmental groups and citizens to forge a land ethic and a social ethic that "recognizes our mutual dependence on one another to achieve our social and environmental goals."
To that end, Shea praised the efforts of the Emery County Commission, which recently developed a comprehensive land management plan for the San Rafael Swell that embodies that spirit of cooperation among federal, state and local interests. It also recognizes wilderness areas, something rural officials have been extremely reluctant to acknowledge in the past.
Shea, however, qualifies his support. He will testify before Congress on the Emery County plan next week that there are constitutional problems with the bill as currently drafted, particularly as it relates to appointment powers and the delegation of stewardship over federal lands.
"But the ideas in the bill have a lot of merit," he said. "It is a step in the right direction. It recognizes wilderness. It involves people in a very direct process for having their perspectives heard."
Those perspectives must be heard, Shea said, if there is to be any resolution to the poverty that plagues many areas of the West.
"That is why I feel strongly that those of us who consider ourselves conservationists must demonstrate tangibly our concern for the fate of the urban poor, the rural poor and the unemployed in Indian country," he said.
"The challenge I would make to all of us who consider ourselves conservationists is this: What are we doing to build a just society?"