Shutting down RACs makes no sense
In Colorado we value our public lands. Our lands are a source of pride. They provide important wildlife habitat and are economic drivers for both outdoor recreation and energy development.
The demands placed on our lands from a wide range of interests are huge. It’s no small job for federal land agencies like the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management to manage our lands for all these uses. Sometimes they turn to the landowners, the American public, for help.
In the 1990s, the BLM created Resource Advisory Councils throughout the West. These all-volunteer councils serve as sounding boards for BLM managers making planning and policy decisions. Members of the RACs represent a wide range of interests, including ranching, local government, conservation, mining, oil and gas, and outdoor recreation. The RACs don’t often make the news, but did recently when the Department of Interior canceled all RAC meetings and activities for the foreseeable future.
I’ve served on the Northwest Colorado RAC for more than six years, most recently as chair. It should come as no surprise that we don’t always agree on the issues with such a diverse group of stakeholders, but the diversity of interests on the RAC is purposeful, allowing us to explore the often-competing opinions on the best uses of our public lands. When we do agree it’s because we have actively listened to each other, learned from each other, and understood that our common bond is caring deeply about what happens to our public lands.
The recently completed plan for management of greater sage-grouse is a product of years of investment by stakeholders including ranchers, oil and gas developers, coal mines, elected officials, conservationists, wildlife biologists, BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the northwest Colorado RAC members. Although much of the management plan was coordinated at the state level, it’s an example of an incredibly diverse group of stakeholders working together to protect this iconic species’ habitat. The shutdown of RAC meetings comes at a critical time since the secretary of the Interior has ordered a review of the plan. Asking for public input on a plan hammered out over years by all these players, while shutting down an important forum for that public input isn’t logical.
Considering all that, why would this administration cancel the RAC meetings now? The administration is reviewing everything from regulations to the existence of national monuments. If the RACs were active, we would be able to play an important role by providing informed local views to the BLM. Instead these grassroots councils have been shelved and, as a result, we can’t be sure the voices of local communities and the American public will be as loud as they should be.
The BLM has recognized the important role of regional RACs, stating on its website: “Advisory committees are invaluable to the BLM because consensus-driven recommendations often lead to sustainable outcomes that benefit natural resources and often enjoy a high level of public support.” The BLM’s own words about the value of the RACs make the cancellation of all RAC activities even more perplexing.
I can’t overstate the importance of regularly meeting face to face with people you often don’t agree with. We keep hearing how our country is becoming more polarized. Well, one way to fix that is to meet, discuss, interact, and learn from each other. I’m proud to report that the Northwest RAC has a long tradition of actively listening to one another and, when appropriate, agreeing to disagree without being disagreeable. Right now we need more involvement from local communities, not less.
With the current administration asking for public comment on public land management decisions, the RACs need to keep providing a significant conduit for local involvement and discussion throughout this important process.
Local communities and the general public are the losers with this top-down, made-in-D.C. decision to cancel these public forums.
Barbara Vasquez has lived in North Park more than a decade, enjoying recreation on our public lands and contributing to conservation efforts across the state of Colorado.