SALT LAKE CITY — Working ranches in Montana, Nevada or Utah may seem to have little in common with a California nonprofit group dedicated to sustainable water supplies, but their leaders are among more than 130 signatories on a letter sent to Congress urging collaboration and common sense on Western lands issues.
The Western Landowners Alliance, Family Farm Alliance, and Rural Voices for Conservation are among the groups spearheading the effort to develop a "shared vision" of principles to promote a productive and healthy West.
"We want this to serve as a platform for conversation and ideas moving forward," said Lesli Allison, Western Landowners Alliance executive director.
The letter to Western members of Congress includes six core principles that emphasize the value of working lands, wild places and common sense — and nonpartisan solutions.
As Allison and others reached out to hundreds of people in states across the West to gauge support for the letter, the positive response was quick, she said, and surprising.
"It really indicated a hunger for working together and finding common-ground solutions," Allison said. "People are tired and alarmed at the degree of polarization we are experiencing today in politics and the media, and it is not really reflective of where we breathe, live and work."
The letter asserts the groups' beliefs that:
• Ecosystem, productivity, social equity and economic well-being go hand in hand. Good public policy builds on and reinforces those linkages.
• 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.
Allison said the letter was distributed to a core group of members in multiple networks, and she suspects more groups will lend their voice to the effort.
"If we are divided as a nation and in our communities, we really can’t get anyplace very effectively. We are going to have to work together in this increasingly crowded world," she said.
Signatories include the Mountain Island Ranch in Colorado and Utah, The Nature Conservancy, The Wilderness Society, Wyoming State Grazing Board and National Young Farmers Coalition.
"We need to work together to ensure functional landscapes and viable rural communities are the norm across the country," said Steve Jester, executive director of Partners for Conservation, one of the key groups behind the letter.
"Collaboration should be the first choice when addressing hard issues with multiple private and public stakeholders," Jester said.
Kimery Wiltshire, CEO and director of Carpe Diem West, said the California nonprofit works frequently with the Western Landowners Alliance and signed off on the letter.
"We think they are a really smart, well-informed group," she said. "The whole thing about working together, the value of communities and wild lands — they're connected, critical and interdependent."
Carpe Diem West, based in California, works on issues related to Western water supplies and climate change.
Allison said signatories believe many of the divisive issues related to natural resources in the West can best be solved from starting from a place of commonalty rather than retreating to corners based on differences.
"At the end of the day, we are all just human beings. We all tend to want the same things," she said. "When you set ideologies aside and actually go out on the land and look at issues together, a lot of that divisiveness goes away."