In two separate stories, the Casper Star-Tribune highlights concerns that the Bureau of Land Management ignores public sentiment while making decisions affecting public lands. In a comment period that just ended, over 60,000 individuals submitted comments. BLM officials have stated that most will be ignored.
In his most recent book, This Sovereign Land, Daniel Kemmis criticized current public lands management in the West as undemocratic. The situations in Wyoming provide a perfect understanding of why that is.
In the State of Wyoming, 60,000 is a significant number of people. Yet, when more than that number commented on a recent BLM decision, their public affairs officer described many of them as “unsubstantial, negative statements.” It really is little surprise that local frustration would mount, which it has, with the Wyoming Outdoor Council questioning why public comment periods exist if public comment is rejected without a second thought.
The reasoning behind such rejection is that the public lands are to be managed on a scientific basis. Comments to be considered, then, must raise technical issues. Yet when technocrats managing these lands on behalf of a government based in Washington, DC, tells locals that their opinion of how to manage lands virtually in their backyard does not matter, the locals get upset.
Such a response is only reasonable, according to Kemmis, who serves as Director of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West. When people think of upset Westerners, frustrated with the way the federalis make decisions, they often picture ranchers and loggers. Just as present in the mix are local conservationists who have spent months demonstrating levels of public support for their position, only to be dismissed.
Kemmis argues that local collaborative decision making processes would work better. Some have criticized those processes as too exclusive and ignorant of national public interests.
What do you think?