In a political debate as divisive as Western lands, those seeking to find common solutions deserve recognition for their willingness to not only cooperate but also to put forward a vision that seeks reconciliation and shared goals.
This appears to be the case with a new coalition that includes a list of groups that in another context might not appear under the same letterhead.
Among myriad signatories to a recent letter sent to members of Congress are Utah, Montana and Nevada ranchers, as well as Californian conservationists. According to reporting by the Deseret News, the Western Landowners Alliance, Family Farm Alliance and Rural Voices for Conservation are several of the groups seeking to promote this "shared vision" for Western lands. Their joint letter quotes Utah writer and conservationist Wallace Stegner in stating that "one cannot be pessimistic about the West," and it articulates six shared principles by the coalition.
The principles include statements like:
- Large-scale resource planning that is cross-boundary and inclusive, and science- and place-based, is essential.
- The cooperative management of private and public lands is good for business, public health and species conservation.
- Voluntary, market- and incentive-based programs are key tools for landowners to participate in conservation, diversify their operations and help keep landscapes intact.
Of course, principles make for more allies than the nitty-gritty policy details. And Utah's Rep. Rob Bishop spent years trying to negotiate a public lands initiative that brought together various interest groups in what held the promise to be a grand compromise between industry actors, local communities, public officials and conservationists.
The deal never materialized, and before leaving office, President Barack Obama declared Bears Ears National Monument, much to the ire of many local conservatives, residents and elected officials. It’s now widely anticipated that President Donald Trump will reduce the size of the monument based on recommendations from Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.
But not all attempts at political cooperation when dealing with Western lands have ended in a partisan quagmire. We have previously held up the Washington County Lands Bill as a model of collaboration and compromise. The bill, championed by Utah’s late Sen. Bob Bennett, got numerous interest groups to the table in a deal that ended up protecting endangered species and wilderness lands while simultaneously permitting reasonable development plans to accommodate St. George's growth.
We are hopeful, then, that an effort that has so many groups agreeing on principles will translate to agreement on balanced policies that can lead to conservation and the wise use and development of lands in the West.