Who’s afraid of Planning 2.0?

Apparently, locally elected officials in Garfield County, Colorado.

This story begins when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposed to update and improve its approach to land use planning for public lands. Under BLM’s ‘Planning 2.0’ initiative, public input will be broadened for planning projects, local governments will have a more-active role, and the planning process will be more accessible and transparent for everyone.

Many lauded BLM’s efforts, including other local officials, small business owners, hunters and anglers, and recreationalists. Although, BLM’s ideas weren’t embraced by all, as Garfield County Commissioners disavowed the proposed changes and for revealing reasons.

Giving the public a greater role in the management of our public lands is a major concern for the County. Why? Because these officials view their role as the bureaucratic gatekeepers to BLM’s planning process and believe (wrongly) that BLM must abide by the county’s policies at all times and ignore the views and input of the public. This was laid out in a recent letter to the BLM, where the Commissioners stated, “Federal land planning [must] be consistent with local government policies primarily because it is the local representative governments which are charged with maintaining the health, welfare and safety of its citizens.”

And while it’s true that local officials should take an active role in our individual governance, the public should also have the right to be advocates for its own health, welfare, and safety — not placing important, far-reaching decisions solely in the hands of elected bureaucrats, particularly those with a history of closed-door meetings and cozy ties with industry.

The BLM also wants local governments to take a more active role in the planning process and coordinating planning efforts with agencies, other governments, and individuals. You would think this would be a measure the Commissioners would support. Yet, they are opposing this, too, which makes one wonder whether the Commissioners have actually taken the time to read the proposed rule.

And finally, the goal of increasing transparency in BLM’s planning process — the idea of which may not be particularly appealing to the Commissioners, as on more than one occasion, questions have been raised about their commitment to transparency and fully involving the public and range of viewpoints in their decision-making. In 2013, for example, Garfield County spent $200,000 in tax dollars on an industry-cozy, for-hire biologic consultant to contradict peer-reviewed scientific research in order to facilitate inter-county oil and gas development. The same consultant has been accused of sloppy scientific methodology and has been a guest columnist for an ultra-conservative, anti-science news outlet. In 2012, the Commissioners were also forced to settle a lawsuit after they admitted to having secret, closed-door meetings with industry and violating state open meetings laws. It’s easy to see why additional transparency in Garfield County may be frightening to some.

The BLM’s Planning 2.0 initiative is designed to bring the agency into the 21st century, increasing public involvement, transparency, and instilling more control into the hands of local business owners, hunters and anglers, and, yes, local officials; opposition to this initiative is indicative of a desire to retain the status quo and keep the democratic process in the hands of a limited few.

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