Interview in Tidepool

 

(Tidepool is a daily news-clipping service provided by the EcoTrust organization. Each day on the World Wide Web, Tidepool flags the news stories about west coast environmental and land use matters from dozens of news sources, and provides hot links to each story. In November of 2001, editor Derek Reiber interviewed R.W. Behan, and ran the interview on the Tidepool site in two installments, over a period of several weeks. The interviews are reproduced below.)


TIDEPOOL.org

An Interview With Richard W. Behan, Part 1
The Plundered Promise of Our Public Lands
by Derek Reiber [posted.10.04.01]

We Americans share a common bond, a bond that encompasses an immense landscape covering 673 million acres, or more than one-third of the total land of all 50 states and nearly the same size as Western Europe. Our bond -- between every citizen -- stems from our collective ownership, equaling 2.5 acres each, of the federal lands of the United States. With such an astonishing asset in the public's hands, one can presume Americans understand and recognize their role as public land owners, making sure to derive the greatest public benefits from it, correct?

Not exactly, as Richard W. Behan illustrates in his book "Plundered Promise: Capitalism, Politics, and the Fate of the Federal Lands." In fact, the public benefits from the nation's lands would hardly come close to the estimated $12 billion in annual costs of maintaining and holding the vast properties.

"The reason for this is starkly simple," Behan states in the book's opening chapter."We have deliberately chosen to dedicate the federal lands not to public purposes but to the production of private wealth."

From that premise, Behan -- a former professor of natural resource policy at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff -- launches into a thorough and thought-provoking analysis of the history of public lands management in the United States, working from the thesis that U.S. political and economic institutions have "overshot" their historical, intended roles.

"Economic institutions exist to provision the community, political institutions exist to sustain it, and both should remain servants of society at large. When institutions overshoot, they become autonomous, inducting society into their service instead," Behan writes. "Consumers are then exploited to further the interests of producers, and citizens are exploited to sustain a self-serving structure of governance."

Nowhere is this overshoot more apparent, says Behan, than the public lands, which "lie ravaged and overused." And the main culprit that Behan trains his sights on is "the unfettered and immortal institution of the American corporation," whose current influence, power, and size is unprecedented in human history.

Behan's tone throughout the book is best described as harboring a firm, palpable sense of outrage, as he combines institutional analysis, government history, political science, and social criticism to provide a unique perspective on how we arrived at the current status of public lands. But his moral indignation is backed up by thorough, detailed, and rigorous scholarship, with many passages rife with citations and illustrative notations.

And Behan doesn't stop at his critical analysis. He proposes a radical, challenging path of reform to return the public lands to the production and enrichment of public services, by turning the power of public lands decision-making and management over to localized, empowered constituencies, all operating on a nationwide system where power-sharing proxies and information flow freely.

Behan proposes that such a radical solution would allow us to realize -- after more than 200 years of exploitation for private gain -- the true promise of the public lands: "They can become the public thing that forges a true national community, preeminently built on a sense of place. That is the promise of these lands."

Below, in the first of two parts, is Tidepool's interview Richard W. Behan to talk about "Plundered Promise" and his vision for the public lands.

TIDEPOOL: Considering the September 11 attacks on Washington DC and New York, and the continuing implications to everyone's way of life and the U.S. economy, what do you foresee as the impacts to the public lands? Will one of the consequences of the attacks be a push for more oil and natural gas exploration on public lands, under the guise of 'national security'?

RICHARD W. BEHAN: The linkages between the Bush Administration and the oil industry are personal, financial, direct, historic, and numerous,and it didn't need a national emergency to pursue the theme of my book: the corporate plunder of public land resources. The energy policy articulated by Vice President Cheney's excessively coy task force is nothing less, and it was on the street, of course, long before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. As you suggest however, we can expect the "War on Terrorism" to justify if not to require an unrestricted commitment to energy production;indeed, as Tidepool reported on September 26 the opportunistic noises have already begun.

Will a pregnant opportunity for reflection and reconsideration of our hyperconsumerism of energy and goods be lost amid the call for domestic energy security?

That is a great and tragic possibility, but the situation is complicated in several ways, some of which offer much hope. Those who will be calling for greater energy security -- the political functionaries of the oil and defense industries, elected and appointed -- are not the ones whom we might expect to reflect on and reconsider the pathologies of hyperconsumption. Civil society must do that, and there are promising initiatives underway, like the movement toward voluntary simplicity, and intelligent and prospering organizations, such as the Positive Futures Network, addressing these and other related, equally pressing questions. 

But let me answer your query in concrete and narrowly focussed terms: I wrote Plundered Promise expressly to contribute to this reflection and reconsideration, and I doubt its reading will be interrupted, postponed, or displaced by inane and self-serving calls for "energy security." The book will appeal, I hope and trust, to those who are more discriminating than that.

Another related consequence of the terrorist attack is more troubling still, however. The country has both displayed and witnessed a heartwarming outpouring of patriotism and national unity, of grief for the victims and their families, and of gratitude for heroism. But our political leaders are also encouraging our anger,  enlisting our support in a war against "mindless terrorism." Our leaders are NOT seizing a "pregnant opportunity" to reflect on and to reconsider both the history of the Mideast and much of our foreign policy -- which, in the judgment and writings of greater minds than mine, is fundamentally a front for corporate imperialism. The Gulf War, for example, which apparently incubated Osama bin Laden's hatred of the U.S., was not fought to promote democracy or to liberate oppressed masses, but to protect the petroleum sources of U.S., British, and French oil companies. That war cannot be separated from the terrorism in New York and Washington, but nowhere in official discourse are we asked to make the connection. 

Corporate hegemony in our politics, I believe, is responsible for the silence. The slaughter of nearly 7,000 innocent people can be justified only in the minds of the criminally fanatic, but we will bury the historic grievances of America's critics at great peril. These were acts not of mindless but very mindful terrorists.  If we respond only to their deeds, and ignore their concerns -- some of which are shared by many of our fellow citizens -- I believe there will be more horrific events in the future.

A number of 'environmentally friendly' developments have sprung up in the business world -- among them eco-certification of forest goods. Could you comment on how these market-based initiatives might impact the management, policies, and health of public lands?

"Market-based initiatives" by definition are undertaken to sustain or expand markets, so any impacts on the public lands will be random and unintended, but in any case probably slight. If the generic problem of the public lands is overuse, driven by  hyperconsumption, it is difficult to see the environmental or social benefits in eco-certification or similar programs.

And can these developments be viewed as a reaction to the 'overshoot' of consumerism that you address in your book?

No. They are undertaken to counteract threats to consumption, and can best be described with the term "greenwashing;" but as always, there is more to be said. It is laudable for Home Depot to certify that its wood products do NOT come from old growth forests, but that fails utterly to address the hyperconsumption problem. A 6,000 square foot trophy home built with plantation-grown lumber from Home Depot is still an environmental and social abomination. That's a better abomination, I suppose, than the same house framed with old growth lumber, but is this the best we can do? Choose the lesser of abominations?

This is a big one -- the question of 'prior occupancy' and Native American rights. How is our society to reconcile the past injustices done to Native tribes? Will it have to come down to a reclamation of tribal lands, and an honoring of all treaties? How are we to reconcile our self-appointed right to 'purchase' lands (Louisiana Purchase, purchases from Mexico, Great Britain, etc.)? Will this issue ever rise to a level where it actually becomes part of a larger national conversation?

I have neither the wits nor the wisdom to expand very much on the flaccid suggestions in my book. I can demand the fulfillment of legal contracts, to see honored every single treaty made with Native American tribes "without exception, to the letter, immediately." It is equally easy to suggest magnanimity, to grant 2.9 million acres of national grasslands to the Intertribal Bison Cooperative. But then what? I have an abiding distrust of do-gooders and missionaries of any stripe, so my inability to outline a grand program of retribution is matched by an inclination not even to try. I hope that is not taken as indifference, because I do have some strong feelings about process. 

The issue is indeed emerging as part of a larger national conversation -- books by Patricia Limerick, Charles Wilkinson, Jerry Mander, Francis Jennings, Ronald Wright, and especially Ward Churchill attest to this. We seem to be in the "problem definition" phase, and no one should be excluded from participating. When we eventually reach the stage of formulating solutions, however, it is imperative for Native Americans to seize and maintain the initiative, and for the rest of us to listen carefully, with sensitivity, compassion, and a great respect for secular justice.

When speaking to the average joe on the street, he'll typically acknowledge a common ownership in the public lands, but that acknowledgment is limited at best, and often couched in terms of its value on a personal level (recreation, in most cases). It's also tempered with the idea that those lands should play an economic role, even though that person may not agree with how it's done. What I'm trying to get at here is how has the idea of a shared, collective ownership of public lands been lost, in that the U.S. public is largely ignorant of it? In that the average person acquiesces to the fact that corporations reap the benefits of exploiting the public lands, and largely accepts it as 'its just how things are'? How has the idea of 'land' as a home, as a place in the world, been lost in our society? And how do we begin to reclaim it?

The sensing of shared, collective ownership of public lands, as I argued in the book, was made difficult by the U.S. Constitution, which deliberately sought to "keep citizens apart." The welfare of the "unfettered self" was paramount, and certainly was pursued, dressed in the folksy garb of "The American Dream."  We are unique in the world in our inability to share collectively, because of our unique Constitution -- and, one might argue, our peculiar take on the economics of capitalism. One glaring exception to this inability: we can come together massively when collectively threatened or shocked: assassinations (Kennedy, King, another Kennedy), wars, terrorist attacks. 

It is my hope we can do so with a happier stimulus: in appreciating the prospective public values of our shared asset, the federal lands. I'm not so sure, incidentally, that our fellow "average" citizens are fully aware of their good fortune, so there at least is one good point of beginning. We need constantly to remind the American people at large about the community-building opportunities offered by their enormous commons -- 673 million acres. If Plundered Promise can help do that, I will be hugely gratified. (That sounds a bit like a missionary, doesn't it?)

You note that public land management agencies have approached a 'procedural paralysis' and that the real drivers of public lands management during the past two decades have been budgets and lawsuits. How can land management agencies reclaim a viable role? Will it be possible through the work of a few visionary, courageous land managers as you suggest? For context, the regional forester who oversees California's 18 national forests signed the Sierra Nevada Framework Plan, which had the potential to do much for charting a new path not only for the Sierra Nevada's national forests, but the Forest Service at large. But I believe he was removed from his post in the ensuing controversy. Could his case have a 'chilling effect'?

I'm not aware of the details of the case you cite, but I do call for such courageous initiative from field managers, in fostering localized "constituency-based management." As I think about it now, perhaps we also need more revolutionaries at the top of the resource management agencies -- call them kamikaze bureau chiefs -- who would push for environmental sanity on the lands they administer and social justice in the distribution of the benefits that flow from them. History shows us one such, anyway: Gifford Pinchot, the Chief of the Forest Service in 1910, who daylighted some politically corrupt coal leases on the Chugach National Forest, stood his ground, and gloried in his abrupt dismissal by President Taft. He took his case public after losing the battle -- and won the war. We have seen that kind of courage and dedication at the top only rarely, if at all, since Pinchot's time.

I've heard the comment be made that if someone could travel in time, they should go back to the site of the Santa Clara County case of 1886 and shoot some people on that jury! While it's an outlandish idea, if such an event actually did happen, how might our world be different? How might the public lands be different? Would it have been inevitable that corporations would've achieved their same current societal status by different means?

Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad was a case before the Supreme Court in 1886, so no jury was involved, as a matter of nit-picking fact. But the case for overturning the action, by a retroactive and symbolic shooting of the justices or otherwise, is compelling. The Court refused to hear arguments either pro or con that corporations were legal persons entitled to any citizen's Constitutional rights and protections; instead it simply issued a consensus opinion that they were. Prior to that, corporations had always been subject to public oversight and control. Their charters were normally limited to a single purpose (to build a canal, say), for a limited time span (typically 20 years), and their shareholders were held personally liable for corporate misconduct. The charters could be and often were revoked for illegal behavior, or even if, in the judgment of the chartering body, the corporation otherwise compromised the general welfare of the public at large. Corporations were clearly the servants of society.

Today, long after Santa Clara County, corporations are chartered in perpetuity, for unlimited purposes, and shareholders' liability is limited to the monetary value of their common stock. Corporations can grow without limit, by buying other corporations anywhere in the world, and they can contribute to political campaigns, in essence buying governments anywhere in the world as well. As I said in the book, "Modern corporations have become uncontrolled, uncontrollable, unaccountable, and lately transnational concentrations of economic and political power unprecedented in human history." And societies have become the servants of corporations. Absent Santa Clara County, I don't see how corporations could have achieved this status in any other way, short of armed violence.

How might our world be different if Santa Clara County was overturned? Democracy -- and by that I mean the popular determination of public life and destiny -- would blossom in spectacular ways. Maybe we can leave it at that.

As a follow-up to the above question, how much traction and visibility does the movement to revoke corporate charters have in today's society? Do you believe it is the proper course to follow, in that it will likely take a long time to gain a level of viability to become a reality? Can our public lands wait that long? How much credence do you give other, similar movements, such as stockholder activism, street protests, etc? Are we nearing a critical mass, in your opinion?

The traction and visibility of what I would call the counter-corporate movement is gaining strength daily.  The seminal book, probably, was David Korten's superbly done work, When Corporations Rule the World. (Many question why he chose to include the word "when.") The global protest about the World Trade Organization displays a worldwide antipathy toward the corporate dominance of human affairs. An effective and increasingly robust organization in the U.S., the Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy (POCLAD), has just in the past few weeks published a magnificent book, Defying Corporations,Defining Democracy. Beginning in Seattle this October, from the 3rd to the 10th, POCLAD  undertook a series of lectures and workshops across the country. So yes, we have a critical mass of criticism, and I certainly support it. No one sees a quick and easy transformation of global commerce, but I believe it will be accomplished eventually. And probably it should be a difficult and lengthy process: otherwise any screwball could turn the world upside down overnight. 

If the Constitution serves by design to keep the majority 'silent', why is it held up as the enshrined document that embodies all that is democratic? Is it a case of the American public being 'duped' into thinking we're functioning in a true democracy, when in fact it's something akin to an oversized paternalistic aristocracy? Is a return to majoritarian democracy viable, given the size of our population, the diversity of interests, the pre-conditioning toward special interest, narrowly focused politicking, and the logistic hurdles of formulating a cohesive national interest?

I don't think the American public has been duped, or otherwise subjected to some sinister conspiracy. I do think we tend to read very little history, as a culture, and I'm not persuaded the teaching of politics at the primary and secondary levels is altogether rigorous. But the political science department on any college campus will offer up such books as The Democratic Facade or Who Will Tell the People? The Betrayal of American Democracy. What are, to my thinking, accurate descriptions of American politics are not hard to find, but they tell a different story than conventional histories and textbooks on what used to be called "civics."

A "return" to majoritarian democracy  is not possible, because we've never had that, by Constitutional intent. If that's what we truly want, we'll have to schedule a constitutional convention, and design ways to mobilize a majority and give it voice. But we can clearly "democratize" our public life in other and exhilarating ways, one of which is to challenge and overcome the dominance of corporate influence. A couple of ways to do that are simple in concept and supremely difficult in practice: merely prohibit corporations from making campaign contributions to anyone, in any form, at any time. Then prohibit them from lobbying in any form, at any time. As matters now stand though, both of these are illegal, as they would violate the Constitutional rights and freedoms of corporations. The linchpin, the keystone, is Santa Clara County.

Let us not forget, though, that Constitutional rights and freedoms still do apply to real, biological, flesh-and-blood persons, as well as the ephemeral corporate citizens. We are enormously free to read, write, think, and raise hell -- and to change things we believe need to be changed. It is difficult, but possible.  Let's get on with it.

An Interview With Richard W. Behan, Part 2
Giving Power Back to the People
by Derek Reiber [posted.10.11.01]

The American federal lands -- encompassing an immense landscape covering 673 million acres, or more than one-third of the total land of all 50 states and nearly the same size as Western Europe -- connects each U.S. citizen in a common bond of collective ownership. But even though each of us "owns" 2.5 acres of public land, the principal economic activities on those lands -- timber harvesting, mining, and energy exploration among them -- fail to yield a large public benefit.

In fact, as Richard W. Behan illustrates in his book "Plundered Promise: Capitalism, Politics, and the Fate of the Federal Lands," the public benefits from the nation's lands hardly comes close to the estimated $12 billion in annual costs of maintaining and holding the vast properties. And according to Behan, the reason is simple: "We have deliberately chosen to dedicate the federal lands not to public purposes but to the production of private wealth."

From that premise, Behan -- a former professor of natural resource policy at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff -- analyzes in a thorough and thought-provoking manner the history of public lands management in the United States, working from the thesis that U.S. political and economic institutions have "overshot" their historical, intended roles. He argues that our country's political and economic systems -- originally intended to serve the public -- have instead inducted society into their service.

The 200-year history of federal lands exploitation, often at the hands of "the unfettered and immortal institution of the American corporation," in Behan's words, offers the most visible and disheartening example of institutional overshoot. Years of subsidized liquidation of forests, mineral extraction with minimal or non-existent royalty payments, and grazing rights leased at below-market rates have left the federal lands "ravaged and overused" and grossly in need of a new direction.

In proposing a challenging path of reform to return the public lands to the production and enrichment of public services, Behan urges turning the power of public lands decision-making and management over to localized, empowered constituencies, all operating on a nationwide system where power-sharing proxies and information flow freely.

Below, in the second of two parts, is Tidepool's interview with Richard W. Behan, where he addresses society's relationship to nature as well as the challenges and advantages in returning public lands management to empowered local communities.

TIDEPOOL: A central theme to your book is that the public lands have been dedicated to the generation of private wealth, rather than public benefit. But isn't there a 'ripple effect' to the rest of society, in that the goods that come from the public lands (timber) then become part of the marketplace for houses, paper products, etc.? How is the ability to derive a benefit from those products different than a "public benefit?"

RICHARD W. BEHAN: That's an excellent and perceptive question. Responding to it calls for a level of scrutiny and discrimination I hope readers will also bring to my book. First, let's clarify some terms. The Homestead Act dedicated federal lands -- 285 million acres -- to private wealth, ostensibly of the homesteaders. The Northern Pacific Railroad grant -- 47 million acres -- dedicated federal lands to the private wealth of the Northern Pacific. And so on and on. NEVER were the federal lands seen as a commons to benefit all the people.

Even after the pivotal year 1891, when we started winding down the overt disposal of federal land to private parties, to retain it instead in public ownership, the emphasis still was on private wealth. Now it was the resources of the land -- timber, forage, water, minerals, even recreation opportunities -- that were privatized, through sales, permits, licenses, concessions, and other such vehicles. We continued to view the lands only as sources of private wealth, not as a commons for the benefit of all. All of this was thoroughly consistent with the thrust of the U.S. Constitution, which assumed the "invisible hand" theorem: the public good would flow from the unfettered pursuit of self-interest; and I complained not at all about the first 200 years of its application. But our institutions overshot.

Yes, there can be ripple effects, "spillover" benefits from the corporate plunder of federal lands resources. I can't imagine there's not a national forest two-by-four somewhere in my house. But modest housing represents what you might call rational consumption: the benefits equal or exceed the costs. Not so my consumption of paper, which also originates, some of it, on the federal lands. Every week I haul a stuffed-full garbage can of paper products, mostly junk mail and redundant packaging, to the transfer station. The benefits are zero, but the costs are substantial, in terms of both money and inconvenience. I am "hyperconsuming" paper -- using so much that it absolutely detracts from my standard of living. And our nation is hyperconsuming red meat, suffering an epidemic of obesity-related diseases as a result. But we devote millions of acres of federal lands, and millions of dollars in federal subsidies, to the production of red meat. Who benefits now? Only the producers, who are frequently large and corporate.

"Ripple effects" of public benefits are possible from the private, mostly corporate extraction of federal lands resources -- unless those resources contribute to hyperconsumption. I argue that most of them do contribute. That's why we might rededicate the federal lands instead to social and environmental services, and to see and enjoy the lands thereafter as a great commons.

Could you address our society's 'sentimentality' toward nature, in that we view it as 'totem' and thus fight to 'save it' (I'm borrowing heavily from ideas taken from Richard Manning's book "Inside Passage" here)? Will we be able to achieve a workable relationship to nature -- and by extension the public lands -- as long as we continue to hold this view? Will taking this viewpoint continue to separate 'humans' from the 'ecosystem' and serve as a hurdle to achieving a true politics of place?

Dick Manning has it right, in my view. Conceptually separating humanity from "nature" is the cause of a great deal of mischief. It is deeply embedded in our culture: consider the words "natural" and "artificial." And it is deeply embedded in law. The Wilderness Act defines wilderness as a place where "man is a visitor who does not remain." More accurate and far more productive images of a single great unity are available to us from disparate sources: James Lovelock's "Gaia hypothesis," Aldo Leopold's idea of "community," and the Native American view of a totally inclusive Mother Earth are just a few. Even in the scholarly literature there is a sensible notion of a singular "biosocial system," in which humanity and the biophysical environment are seen as "interactive, inter-adaptive, interdependent, and inseparable."

Adopting such a view allows us to be gentler with ourselves, and I have great respect for independent loggers, family ranchers, hunting guides, and proprietary commercial fishermen who appreciate, honor, and revere the biophysical systems on which they depend -- and most of them do. (I take the term "fishermen" to be gender-neutral, by the way, unable to handle "fishers".) Adopting such a view also renders inescapable the need to anticipate biophysical reactions to human activities -- and that is essential, it seems to me, to the decent and permanent habitation of any place.

Address the labels of 'neo-liberalism' and 'progressivism' -- where do these two ideas intersect (or do they at all), and do your ideas fall into either category? Are you wary of 'progressives?' And how 'neo-liberal' would you say the policies of the Bush Administration are?

We have here a classic example of the tyranny of words. Over the course of time, the meaning of the word "liberal" flip-flopped 180 degrees.

Late in the 19th century, the word "liberal" described a movement, a philosophy, or an advocate of LIBERTY, of freedom, often applied to "the market." "Laissez-faire" economics captured the essence. Markets should be free, unrestrained, unregulated and when they were, a socially optimum allocation of productive resources would take place, and so would a socially optimum distribution of the economy's output. "Free market capitalism" would make everything rosy for everybody.

Toward the end of the century, corporate excesses gave the lie to all of that. Antitrust laws, child labor laws, pure food and drug laws were passed -- and so were laws to retain federal lands in public ownership. For the next fifty years or so, the need to regulate the market system was recognized and largely accomplished, by political figures who came to be known as.........LIBERALS. They put in place the legislation allowing labor unions to be organized, providing meaningful welfare programs for the needy and unfortunate, regulating the securities market, the banking industry, the railroads and airlines, cleaning up the accumulation of air and water pollution, and seeking to prevent more.

By now the word "liberal" meant a forward-looking activist, intent on changing the status quo for the better. The opposition, the "conservative," was a careful and cautious protector of the status quo, concerned (certainly with at least occasional justice) that changing things might be dangerous. The liberal left, the conservative right, a "progressive" somewhat left of center, and a "moderate" somewhat to the right. Adding "radicals" to the extreme left and "reactionaries" to the extreme right just about completes the spectrum -- of terribly arbitrary categories.

The success of the "new liberals" caused great dyspepsia among the "old liberals," who were now known anyway as "conservatives." So, with the generous support of corporate and foundation financing, a number of conservative think-tanks undertook a decades-long campaign of issue-analysis and "education" aimed directly at state and national legislatures -- and of popularizing the "old liberal" ideas of "free market capitalism." Little by little they inched ahead, and then scored a truly spectacular success with the near-simultaneous election of Ronald Reagan in the U.S., Brian Mulroney in Canada, and Margaret Thatcher in Britain.

These three were the great champions of "liberalism" of the 19th century variety. During their tenures, in their own countries and in industrialized nations worldwide, nearly a century of social and environmental policy came under attack, and much of it was rolled back, under the banners of "deregulation" and "privatization." The term "neo-liberalism" has emerged to describe their ideology, which has now expanded to include the manic drive for "free trade," globalization, and the transnationalizing of corporate enterprise.

Many around the world, including myself, see these past several decades as tragically retrograde. That should answer your question about the nature and labeling of my thinking. Certainly not neo-liberal. Possibly "progressive." Maybe even "liberal," but clearly not "radical." One reviewer of Plundered Promise called its author a "revolutionary," but what little reading in the book he did was careless and superficial.

President Bush wants to "privatize" the Social Security System. His Treasury Secretary wonders why corporations should pay any taxes at all. His Vice President, recently the CEO of an oilfield servicing company, wants to drill without limit on the federal lands. All are vigorous advocates of "free trade" and corporate globalization. Even discounting for the many and severe hazards of categorizing, the term "neo-liberal" fits this Administration quite well.

In moving toward a localized, constituency-based management system for the public lands, how would you address what's referred to as the 'urban-rural divide' -- in that different economic forces, demographics, sociological issues play out in rural communities and urban areas? Does this phenomenon present a difficulty in achieving a 'politics of inhabitation,' in that the perspectives of the rural and urban landscapes and its inhabitants differ? Is there an inherent conflict built in? How do we move past the stereotypes of 'urban environmentalists' and 'rural conservatives'? What place does the city have in the solutions you propose?

I don't see an inherent conflict in the "urban-rural divide." As you suggest, only in stereotypical fashion are urbanites always enviros and rural folks always rednecks. You can make a good case that the "divide" is mythical, merely a product of categorization. I've encountered a different but similar dichotomy, from an experienced legislator I respect: small towns are oriented to commodities, but the country at large to amenities. In his judgment, constituency-based management would favor resource extraction, and only national legislation can preserve open space, beauty, and yes, wilderness. I respect his judgment, but strongly disagree.

For one thing, we have some fairly good empirical evidence that sawmill towns, cow towns, and mining towns no longer exist as such single-resource advocates. In the order recited, look at Flagstaff, Arizona, Bozeman, Montana, and Telluride, Colorado: a sawmill town, a cow town, and a mining town the LAST time a century turned, but certainly not at the turning most recent. All could be described today as cauldrons of environmental ferment, and even a dated book by Paul Culhane, Public Lands Politics, documents with data that they are the norm across the West.

So by localizing the debate about federal lands we do not lose the "balance" between commodity and amenity interests. But we do gain place specificity, and I think that is terribly important. No city is excluded from my proposal, because of the crucial difference between LOCAL and LOCALIZED. The "constituency" is defined not by geographic locale, but by knowledge and concern. Any citizen from anywhere -- from any city -- who knows about and cares about a specific piece of federal land is a constituent by my definition, and is granted a co-equal place in the bargaining and negotiating. That the constituency will tend to "cluster" around the locale is probably a function of issue sensitivity and limited resources, but information flows and proxy-swapping encourage great confidence, I think, in the nationwide, comprehensive efficacy of "constituency-based management."

To follow up on the above question, how willing will the centralized, entrenched bureaucracy (interest groups, lobbyists, government managers, etc.) that is situated in Washington D.C. be to giving up control over federal lands management? Will the vision of proxy-swapping truly work, given the diverse and wide-array of special interest groups that have no hesitation to addressing issues that are out of their immediate geographic area?

The "policy professionals" in Washington, as I call them, are not evil and conspiratorial people; they are demonstrably intelligent and ingenious; and they work terribly hard. But they do not have, as a localized constituency does, a vested interest in finding truly workable resolutions of difficult and contentious problems of federal land use. They do have, on the other hand, a vested interest in sustaining the process of seeking solutions: that is how they make their very well paid and prestigious livings. That explains two things, I believe. It explains why the controversies of federal land management have not subsided in nearly four decades now, and it explains the policy professionals' bitter antipathy about localizing the management decision process: they no less anxious about job security than anyone else.

I believe I've answered earlier your second question here. Anyone who has sufficient knowledge and passion about a federal land issue to show up, say, at the next meeting in the library is a part of the constituency. I do not see the non-resident as a demon at all; but I do expect there will be very few who indeed show up. Most will send their proxies.

Besides the examples that are out there, such as the Quincy Library Group, how do you envision the work of local, people-based land management taking place? Is the infrastructure, such as the Internet, etc., already in place? If so, what changes are necessary to ensure the infrastructure isn't corrupted or manipulated?

I see all the necessary infrastructure in place and sufficient. Good neighbors, willing to share the decision-making responsibility with non-resident (and highly motivated) guests, have at their disposal the necessary meeting rooms, Robert's Rules, pads of newsprint and Magic Markers, and coffee pots in the kitchen. The local professional land managers can and must provide some critical information: what are the biophysical consequences of various proposed actions? They have the ecological expertise to fill this necessary role, but the evaluation of alternatives and choosing one can be left to the neighbors and their guests.

I need perhaps to elaborate the obvious. Constituency-based management is not meant to supplant the ongoing, day-to-day, routine management activities of the federal land agencies. No one wants to attend a town meeting to decide how many new fire pumps or computers the local ranger needs. When a prospective controversy arises, however, we know that values are in play, and we also know the game need not be zero-sum. (Lawsuits are, and lawsuits are based on statutes, the manufacture of which is the basic industry of Washington, DC.) Now is the time for the neighbors and guests to gather, hopefully encouraged to do so by the local land manager.

To what extent can the polarizing forces of our society throw a monkeywrench into the process of creating a localized form of public lands management? Such as the media, which commonly paints issues in good/evil, black/white? Or extremist groups, such as eco-terrorists or the sagebrush rebellion?

Let me rely on Dan Kemmis here. In his thoughtful book Community and the Politics of Place he says this: "It is an insult to the intelligence of people everywhere to deny they can reach agreement with their neighbors. No neighbor wants to shut down the local sawmill, and no millworker want to annihilate the local wildlife." I agree.

At the local, on-the-ground level, real problems exhibit sufficient complexity to offer a rich array of potential solutions, because they exhibit the complexity of reality. Polarizations condense around extreme positions, ideological positions, altogether abstract and unreal positions, often exaggerations couched in terms of black-or-white indeed. The further you get from the brute facts of the locale, the more you must rely on ideology to make your case, and the more surreal the solution. That is why resolutions crafted in statute, in Washington D.C., so often fail -- except as bases for litigation.

Consider the controversy over timber cutting methods in the Bitterroot National Forest in the 1970's. Could constituents have figured out how to maintain the beauty of the mountains, to keep the streams free of silt, to minimize the impact on wildlife, and still keep the mill in town running? Certainly. Consider the statutory solution crafted in Washington -- the National Forest Management Act -- which set in motion the largest, longest, most costly effort in centralized planning in history -- and spawned hundreds of millions of dollars in formal appeals and legal action on top of all that.

What role does private land play in creating a politics of inhabitation? Your book focuses on the public lands, but where do private lands and private property rights enter into the equation? For example, many point out that the volume of harvests on privately owned timberland has risen significantly since the federal forestlands have been locked in continuing legal battles? How would a shift to a localized authority over public lands management likely affect private lands?

I have given this question little thought and no space in the book, but I doubt the effects of constituency-based management on private lands would be in any way systemic. The impacts on federal land would not be systemic; they would depend altogether on the nature of the controversy and its resolution. Timber cutting or other practices on federal land might go up, or down, or remain constant, so the consequences on private land are, literally, perfectly unpredictable.

As I think about it, though, one systemic bias of constituency-based management does come to mind. There is a strong urge among neighbors to maintain the neighborhood, the habitation. Loggers want their sons and daughters to have the opportunity to be loggers if they choose. Everyone wants to see the quality of the trout stream undiminished. No one wants the shops downtown to be shuttered. There is a bias, to use a contemporary buzzword, for sustainability. How that might play out for the local private lands, though, is no less obscure.

Finally, give your perspective on what will happen on our public lands if the current management continues status-quo. Can it continue, or the damage be too great? Or will some of the ideas you present in your book eventually gain traction? If so, how long do you think it will take before they become a reality, on a nationwide scale?

If the status quo to which you refer is the corporate plunder of those lands, it cannot continue for long. There is not a great deal left to plunder, at least in terms of timber, forage, water development potential, many hard rock minerals, and probably recreation concessions. Energy resources, particular oil and gas, are probably still worth the costs of pillage: how else can you explain the assault by Vice President Cheney? Clearly the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge remains a lively issue, and there are others less conspicuous, but I believe we are seeing the end game.

Will some of the ideas in my book gain traction? I think so, because in important respects the book is surfing on a far larger wave. My pitch for constituency-based management is just one voice in a comprehensive call to remake our democracy, a call that is coming from many directions. The problem of corporate domination in federal lands management is linked to many, many other difficulties. Social justice in terms of gender, race, and gross disparities in both wealth and income; health care; labor issues; consumer protection; campaign finance; environmental quality; and on to the global problems of atmospheric warming and the conditions of international commerce. A great revelation of recent origin is the certainty that none of these problems is isolated from the rest. I don't feel at all lonesome, and I do feel quite confident: the wave is growing.

How long will it take? As I said last week, it will and should take a long time. If it were easy and quick to effect substantive change, any loopy citizen could do so overnight. If we are serious about phasing out logging and grazing on the federal lands, the worst way to do so would be with a law, imposed as quickly as we could ram one through. Instead we will wait until the real-people loggers and the real-people ranchers are ready to leave, on their own terms and schedule. (We needn't be nearly so patient with their corporate counterparts.) That will take a long time, maybe several generations, until other economic opportunities or different lifestyles are found to be more appealing. In the meantime, the logging and grazing will be done respectfully and sustainably--that's what people do in their neighborhoods and habitations.

 - - - - - - - - - -

Richard W. Behan is author of the new book "Plundered Promise: Capitalism, Politics, and the Fate of the Federal Lands," published by Island Press/Shearwater Books, Copyright 2001 by Richard W. Behan.

 

tidepool ecotrust inforain

(back to Plundered Promise Home Page)