Success in diversity of BLM advisory group
May 3, 2017
According to research, diversity ups the potential of groups to take ideas and work-loads to higher levels, by examining some of the not-so-obvious details and creating constructive conversation. But it would seem, with today's cultural hotspots, that a group varying in education, values, economic background, generation, race, and even gender, might be a working recipe to build nothing but a giant stop sign.
Imagine a room full of 15 people, including a cattle grazing permitee, a sheep grazing permitee, a logger, a miner, a hobby jeeper, a bicyclist, an archeologist, a horse lover, a Tribal member, a professor, a governor, all charged with the task of deciding the best use of a tract of public Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property. Daunting, at the least?
That's just what the BLM's Resource Advisory Councils (RAC) volunteers do. BLM maintains 38 chartered advisory committees located in the West. These include 30 statewide and regional RACs; 6 advisory committees affiliated with specific sites on the BLM's National Conservation Lands; and two others, including the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board and the North Slope Science Initiative Science Technical Advisory Panel.
Does it work? According to Larry Pilster, from Alzada, Montana, a BLM permitee, who has been on and off a RAC committee since its inception, "Yes! We've never failed to reach a consensus."
RACs are sounding boards for BLM initiatives, regulatory proposals and policy changes. Each citizen-based council consists of 10 to 15 members from diverse interests in local communities, including ranchers, environmental groups, Tribes, state and local government officials, academics, and other public land users.
Pilster sits on the Montana, Dakotas RAC, and he says the success is partly because of the facilitator that oversees the group. The facilitator, instead of a chairman, needs to simply do that, facilitate, Pilster points out. "You need someone running the show that doesn't have their own dog or pony in it," he said. And the group he's on has that. "We've had three different facilitators, and they've all done an excellent job."
The Department of the Interior established the RACs in 1995. RAC members vote on recommendations related to public land management and provide those recommendations to the designated federal official who serves as liaison to the RAC. Each RAC has a charter that outlines membership and how the panel operates.
Mark Jacobsen, BLM public affairs and media relations, in Miles City, Montana, has been involved with the RAC program for over 15 years, and he says they work.
"We've never had someone try to hijack the group, with their agenda," Jacobsen said.
Another reason the Montana Dakota group works particularly well, according to Jacobsen, "No one in the council is pigeon holed in a corner."
The group may have a specific topic to discuss, but members can bring their own topics to the table. Plus, the meetings are open to the public.
RACs generally meet two to four times per year. BLM determines the meeting location and the main issues that will be discussed, and announces upcoming meetings in the Federal Register and media outlets. Any organization, association, or member of the public may file a statement or appear before an advisory committee. Meetings may also include a field trip to learn more about certain resource issues. The BLM reimburses advisory committee members for their allowable travel expenses.
A RAC appointment is not taken lightly, and doesn't happen over-night. After the application process, and approval from the State Director, then the Governor, a final appointment of all members is handed down from the Secretary of the Interior.
"The council does carry weight," Jacobsen said. "It's a good way for someone who wants to be involved to get involved."
The Secretary of the Interior appoints citizens to staggered, three-year terms, with one-third of the members subject to appointment–or reappointment–each year. Appointees are selected from a list generated by an annual public nomination process.
Membership is balanced by area of expertise, geographic locality, point of view, and embraces the following categories:
• Five members represent holders of federal grazing permits, interests associated with transportation rights-of-way, commercial timber industry, and energy & mineral development;
• Five members represent regionally & nationally recognized environmental organizations, dispersed recreational activities, and archeological & historical interests;
• Five members hold state, county, or local elected office, are employed by a state agency responsible for management of natural resources, represent Indian tribes, are employed as academicians in natural resource management or the natural sciences, or represent the public at large.
Each advisory committee member assists in the development of committee recommendations that address public land management issues. These include land use planning, fire management, off-highway vehicle use, recreation, oil and gas exploration, noxious weed management, grazing issues, wild horse and burro herd management issues, and so on.
And the commitment doesn't stop at the meeting door. "It's not just advice given to BLM. We ask them to take the information back, and share it with the public," Jacobsen said.
The Federal Land Policy and Management Act authorized the establishment of BLM advisory committees. DOI and the Department of Agriculture also manage a public advisory committee structure that provides recommendations concerning recreation fee proposals for public lands managed by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service.
Kevin Forrester, from Sturgis, South Dakota, is serving his second term with RAC, on his fifth year. "I asked myself that when I joined, as I started my first year," he said, on whether or not it works.
Forrester said he has made some valuable relationships, with some great people, and "Yes, it works."
"I've seen it work on more than one level," Forrester said. "We have some amazingly talented people that are very committed to making it work."
Plus, Forrester said BLM listens to the group. "Our RAC members can bring agenda topics forward," he said. "It may not be what BLM wants to tackle at the moment, but they do anyway."
There are available openings on RAC committees. For more information, https://www.blm.gov/get-involved/resource-advisory-council
"People, especially permittees, need to take an active part in it," Pilster said. As the only active permittee on the committee, Pilster points out, "Whoever shows up, runs the show."