Learning Both Directions: How Better Federal-Local Land Use Collaboration Can Quiet the Call for Federal Lands Transfers
76 Montana Law Review 147 (Winter 2015)
11 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2016
Date Written: 2015
The West is polarized over federal lands management. And while there is ample political rhetoric to go around, beneath it all lie truly important questions about current land management practices and the complementary roles federal agencies and local communities could play in managing shared lands. In this essay, I argue that both federal land agencies and local governments are failing to engage in the type of land use planning necessary for strong federal-local collaboration. Further, if meaningful collaboration became the standard practice, some of the underlying furor over federal lands management could subside.
On the local government side, planning has historically assumed that federal lands are outside the scope of community concern. Thus, for decades there has been a dearth of local vision about how federal lands integrate with a local comprehensive planning. More recently, but equally problematic, local governments have over-corrected, acting as if federal lands management is subservient to parochial land use directives. Both phenomena point to a basic illiteracy about federal land use planning.
On the federal side, planning is so highly discretionary that it has become inexcusably inconsistent from one agency to the next, and experienced as arbitrary by the communities involved. Further, because federal planning occurs within the shadow of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), federal agencies appear motivated to downgrade local government land use concerns as “nonsignificant” to avoid more rigorous environmental review procedures. In short, there are learning opportunities in both directions - a point aptly illustrated through a case study of the recent Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.
Keywords: land use planning; local government; federal lands
JEL Classification: K11, K32, R14, R52
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation