Leadership and Relationships
Leadership and Relationships - Key Tenets of ECR 2012
May 29, 2012 1:44 PM
Staff Column by Don Amador
Don Amador, BRC Western Representative.
TUCSON, AZ (May 29, 2012) - It came as no surprise that Leadership and Relationships perked to the top as my key takeaways from the 2012 National Conference on Environmental Collaboration and Conflict Resolution (ECR2012) held on May 22-24 in Tucson, Arizona.
The theme for this multi-day event was "Working Across Boundaries" and the nearly 300 participants from many federal agencies, Native American Tribes, NGO's, and consultants shared experiences and lessons from a wide variety of projects. .
Earlier in the year, I had been invited by the Center for Collaborative Policy (CCP) to represent the BlueRibbon Coalition and OHV recreation on a panel that addressed lessons learned from USFS Travel Management Rule (TMR) Planning and how to avoid litigation. The panel was led by CCP's Senior Mediator, Austin McInerny, and representatives from The Wilderness Society and the USFS participated as well.
The session drew on our collective experience over the last 6 years of various TMR-related planning efforts on a number of National Forests. Units presented for case-study were the Inyo National Forest, Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and the Six Rivers National Forest.
The apparent success or failure of each planning effort centered on "Leadership" from the Deciding Officer (DO) and contributing stakeholder groups. In success stories, the DO was substantively engaged from the start. Those activities included personal attendance at meetings and on-site field reviews with interested parties to ground truth staff reports.
Leadership from the stakeholder groups is an equally necessary ingredient for a robust collaborative process. Forest partners must be committed to follow process rules and not use the effort to disruptively grandstand for their own agenda.
According to CCP's Collaborative Best Practices, this early engagement must have a clear purpose, a few easily attainable goals, be supported by the conveners, and participants who are eager to constructively contribute in pre-decisional scoping activities.
Faux planning efforts where the agency has already decided on the proposal and is simply going through the motions of a "public process" are doomed to fail.
Relationships between agency officials and local government officials, user groups, and environmental organizations are the other key tenet of successful planning efforts. In a bygone era, the DO was an active part of the local community. They would go deer hunting with the county supervisor, fishing with a conservationist, or attend a pancake breakfast to benefit the volunteer fire department.
Today, the DO is often rotated out of their position before they have time to build those all too important relationships which are critical to successful planning processes.
Earlier in the day, I had attended a panel comprised of the USFS's Planning Rule team from the agency's Washington Office. Their panel's closing presentation highlighted the importance of those personal relationships.
The final presentation that I attended on Thursday was regarding conflict resolution between government agencies. This interagency panel included the USFS, BLM, USFWS, NPS, and the EPA. The historic lack of trust between agencies was addressed through the collaborative process which resulted in a Memorandum of Understanding. Leadership and relationships, or lack thereof, were again key tenets of this session.
I was encouraged by the tone and direction of the conference which appeared to be centered on genuine collaboration between the federal government, Native American Tribes, local government, and other stakeholders. As we move forward with TMR and the new Forest Planning Rule-related public processes, it will be incumbent on us all to hold each other and ourselves accountable.
Creating a truly collaborative process that is built on effective leadership, strong relationships and trust, and communication is the best way for agencies to avoid litigation in court and also judgment in the court of public opinion.
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