KEEPING JEEPING TRAILS OPEN MEANS LEARNING TO GIVE AND TAKE WITH LAND USE BUREAUCRATS
For the uninitiated, there can be little as frustrating as your first experience with a heated issue and bureaucracy. But it doesn’t have to be too bad and you just might get what you want if you know a few things ahead of time. Herein I hope to offer here some ideas to help you get your way with bureaucrats and better understand the “system.”
I sat in a meeting not too long ago where one of our fellow recreationists got to the boiling point with a bureaucrat. After much shouting and stomping, the meeting ended fruitlessly. We didn’t get half way through our agenda. It was too bad, too, because I think there were opportunities to make something positive happen. However, tempers can play a significant role when you sincerely believe in something (on both sides). I would like to offer some alternatives for you to consider if you ever get to the point where you’re going to erupt like a pent-up volcano!
Keep the high ground as long as you can…
#1 TIP: First, we must realize that those who oppose us also believe in their cause. Yes, there are two sides to every story…especially in land use. In fact, there may a dozen sides. But when someone is fervently telling you that a trail should be closed, it’s many times because they really believe they’re in the right. The mistake that some of us make it to let tempers rule the outcome of a meeting or a planning effort. That, in nearly ALL cases is a mistake. Cool heads get much more done usually in their favor.
The point is maintain the high ground as much as you can. Keep a level head and think one step ahead of your opponent. Do not get sucked into verbal battles. To do this you must remain objective and not get caught up in the emotional side of the argument. And you need to really figure out from where your opponent is coming so you can devise the right counter-strategy.
Know who you are up against…
For me, I always try to remember the little ditty: “Seek first to understand; then be understood.” We must know our opponents and why they do what they do (to us). Again, realize that most of them really believe in their cause as much as we do. So it does no good to attack them….or even their cause. We must attack the facts. Which is precisely my second point.
Focus on the issues; not the people…
#2 TIP: Attack the facts! Work on the evidence at hand. Analyze the written material. Review the plans. Study the environmental documentation. Attack the facts with better facts. Ask questions that keep coming back to your point. Be persistent in your approach. If a bureaucrat says: “we have to do it that way because that’s our policy.” Then you ask for a copy of the policy. Then read the policy. If it’s nebulous on the issue at hand, make that very clear and make your point again. Keep closing the circle with facts and questions.
#3 TIP: Next, be firm; be fair; and be persistent. We can’t always have our way. And we can’t always ask for the impossible. There are places for us to negotiate and offer compromise. They need to be on the table with our demands. Yes, we need to be firm with some managers in the federal system because they have a track record of delays and do-nothing (unless it’s against us). But on the other hand, MANY bureaucrats out there are good ones and deserve a fair chance. There is room for give and take; you just have to be fair to get there.
Post Wildfire OHV Recovery example…
The Post Wildfire OHV Recovery Alliance (PWORA) is a great, current example of taking steps to help bureaucracy tackle problems with a volunteer army in support — taking away the need for delays or bureaucratic stumbling blocks in re-opening trails burned in fires.
#4 TIP: Probably the one winning tool we have is persistence….you must stay with it! That’s how the radical environmentalists got many of the concessions in the past – persistence in their message and its delivery. Letters!!! Write them and make your point until it sinks in.
So whatever you do, stay persistent in your belief and cause. Keep a level head, and one step ahead of those that want to reduce our access to public lands! Find the time to make a difference in what you believe in …that’s the only way we’ll ever maintain our recreational opportunities.
If you would like some training on how to deal with bureaucracy, writing letters, supervising volunteers and more, check out my online training course RLTC.