Public Perspectives of Fire Management
Can scientific information and intensive, extensive public involvement through facilitated meetings be expected to lead to agreement on natural resource issues? Communications and research in the Bitterroot Ecosystem Management Research Project indicate that, where people's values differ greatly, consensus is not a realistic goal for short term planning processes. Public involvement is successful when agreement is reached, but it is also successful when relationships among participants are enhanced, when all stakeholders are identified and included, and when public input is used to improve products such as management plans. While using public processes to accomplish planning goals, agencies must also continually work toward the long-term goals of increased participation, understanding, and acceptance. This process is enhanced by (1) accepting tensions within communities as forces that contribute to balanced decisions; (2) using the infrastructure and polity of the local community to involve the public and considering land management issues as extending across time, not resolved by single projects; (3) maintaining a commitment to obtaining, using, and sharing scientific knowledge; and (4) developing long-term relationships with community groups and members of the public, including newcomers. The long-term process of establishing and improving relationships with partners enhances short-term public involvement efforts to help agencies develop sound management plans and implement them on the ground.