Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 02:30 PM

Mr. Steve Duerr

Former Executive Director, Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce

Testimony of Steve Duerr

Former Executive Director, Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce

May 10, 2006

Before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests


Good afternoon.  My name is Steve Duerr, and after 7 years I am the outgoing Executive Director of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce. I have practiced law in Jackson Hole for about 20 years including about 8 years as General Counsel for the Jackson Hole Ski Corporation. Thank you for inviting me to provide my perspective about H.R. 585, the Gateway Communities Cooperation Act, coming from the southern gateway community to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

The livelihoods and prospects for running successful businesses in our community are intertwined with the power of the place in which we live—the southern gateway to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. 

The Jackson Hole Chamber has received much praise for its brand “Respecting the Power of Place” and for the collective promise by the business community to acknowledge a duty of stewardship to preserve this special place on Earth.  This spirit of place, the abundant wildlife, clean air and water, and vast public lands, are the foundation of our economy and the essence of our community.

The brand promise was created through a process involving the mindful work of a diverse cross section of our community, including local elected officials, national park, national forest and national refuge managers, conservationists and hard-nosed business owners. We described the functional benefits for our brand promise, to maintain our distinctive market niche, and the emotional benefits, including a sense of stewardship and awe and reverence for the abundance and beauty of the natural resources in Jackson Hole. This close collaboration in the Jackson Hole region among commerce and conservation interests, federal, state and local leaders, has become the norm rather than the exception. While sometimes not in agreement, we are proud of a track record of constructive dialogue and cooperation. The Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center is just one example of collaboration across management jurisdictions and interests groups, which receives national praise and interest as a model for other gateway communities. Other examples are the annual Elk Fest and Boy Scout elk antler sale, Old West Days events, the Miller House interpretative center, Fall Arts Festival featuring the Arts for the Parks top 100 exhibits, and participation and support by community members in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park Foundations.

In this historic and present context of cooperation and constructive dialogue, I am concerned that H.R. 585, as drafted, is somewhat misnamed.  It does not appear to be legislation that focuses on truly enhancing cooperation and partnerships with balanced or practical approaches, but rather a somewhat confusing, one-size-fits-all mandate with an emphasis on compelling specific actions by the secretaries of Agriculture and Interior.I was appointed by the Secretary of Interior to an at Large Seat on the Pinedale Anticline Working Group (PAWG).  By statute the BLM is required to meet regularly with the 7 stakeholder representatives and to cooperate with PAWG to try to mitigate impacts of the gas development in Sublette County, Wyoming. This is an example where cooperation is mandated by law, and I believe the results of actual cooperation have been very disappointing.

I want to be clear.  The goal of cooperation set forth in the bill is a good idea. The question is, if the end result produced by genuine cooperation is good, whether the means to achieve that cooperation are well articulated in the bill. Surely gateway communities have an important role to play, and helpful perspectives to contribute, in the decision-making processes related to federal lands. We must be heard on federal land use decisions, and we would like our voice to carry greater weight on many matters.  Clearly, our gateway community reaps the benefits of proximity to two world-class national parks, but we also must deal with the impacts on local infrastructure of millions of visitor and spiraling complex growth affecting the New West.

That said, it is worth noting that different federal lands have different purposes.  The purpose of multiple use lands like the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming or the Kaniksu National Forest in Idaho are different from the purpose for which Grand Teton, Fort Laramie, and Yellowstone were designated as national park units.  We ought to acknowledge that, while federal land managers should seek out and work with gateway leaders, national parks are not county parks, but must be managed in the broader national interest rather than the local interest. At times the politics are hot and the purported national and claimed local interests lock in a battle over NEPA comments on potential federal action, or in litigation over decisions.  The range of emotions, the turf at stake and the wisdom of stakeholders and decision makers vary from issue to issue and from one federal land matter to another.  It simply gets complicated very fast. 

To sum up, about all you can say for sure is that those of us who work in gateway communities have our job to do, and the National Park Service and other federal land managers have their jobs to do.  All of us need to respect each other’s needs and challenges when considering actions that may impact each other. Mutual respect breeds cooperation, but by what means can we help assure a process that lends itself to opportunities for nurturing mutual respect?  The end goal of cooperation is good, but by what means shall we achieve that goal?

H.R. 585:  I repeat that the purpose of the bill is laudable—improving relationships among federal land managers and gateway communities, enhancing facilities and services in gateway communities to serve visitors, and improving local land use planning and decision making.  The problem is that the rest of the bill doesn’t live up to its purpose.  My hope is that, with changes, it might provide a means to the laudable end of cooperation.

I want to highlight four basic problems with the bill, which ought to be addressed: (1) imposing requirements across the board without acknowledging the diversity of land management agency missions, including the purpose of individual (especially park) units; (2) the basic idea that one can mandate cooperation; (3) the challenges park personnel face because of insufficient funding, and how that can impact gateway communities; and (4) identifying and funding action toward best practices in collaborative decision making or adaptive management.

One Size Does Not Fit All:  First, I note that in H.R. 585, responsibilities on the part of gateway communities are not very well articulated.  The findings section of the bill does a reasonably good job of describing the roles of gateway communities, but does a poor job of acknowledging the special roles and responsibilities of entities like the National Park Service.   The bill seems to treat all federal lands, federal management considerations, and gateway community relationships the same, when diversity not sameness appears to be the rule.  Federal land managed by the Forest Service, which is managed for multiple use, has different purposes from national park land that has been set aside for future generations and includes different permitted uses in different national parks.  The experience with PAWG and the BLM is remarkable in that the politics of gas development may now be the sole “multiple use” for which these federal lands are managed. Yet, neither the findings nor the remainder of the bill seem to acknowledge the important distinctions among federal lands or the practical challenges to cooperation among federal land managers and gateway communities wrought by changing politics .

Mandating Cooperation:  Second, it is difficult to see how you can mandate cooperation through federal legislation.  The fact is, people from all perspectives on an issue need the ability to engage in respectful dialogues.  Otherwise genuine cooperation is unlikely.  Certainly, there have been plenty of times when federal land managers, including the National Park Service, have done things local communities didn’t like.  I’ve had those experiences like the gas development boom.  But there have also been many examples of useful dialogue producing beneficial results, like the examples I provided of how our federal, state, local, commercial and conservation interests often work together.

It is easy to see why many of my colleagues in gateway communities feel frustrated enough with the brush-offs they have received from time to time from various federal officials, and too often too many federal managers consider local governments a nuisance.  But, as tempting as it may be to mandate cooperation, this is impractical.

The solution is not a bureaucratic checklist of items that the feds must do.  Such a list inevitably will lead to more frustration and could simply lead to litigation, rather than better results that build on the mutual interests of national parks and adjacent communities.

What we need is a mechanism or process that can lead to the sustainable strengthening of relationships and mutual respect at the local level.  What we need is a careful articulation of the possible means to “assist” in building cooperation rather than a simple mandate of cooperation.  Specific to the language of the bill, consider the ramifications if the word “assist” in inserted for “require” and if the bill then went on to explain the means of that assistance. There will not always be agreement, but there certainly can be much better procedures that provide more opportunities for constructive dialogue and reasoned compromise than often is the case today.  The fact is, in the case of the Park Service, there are already plenty of requirements for engaging with local communities.   At times those produce results we in gateway communities like, and at times they don’t.  The solution is not more bureaucratic paperwork requirements, but a practical and fair process for engagement that works.

For example, federal managers ought to be better trained earlier in their careers about how to work with local communities.  The bill could be amended, or personnel policies changed, to require specific training for early or mid-career BLM, Park Service or Forest Service personnel in how to work with gateway communities.  Obviously certain decisions made by a national park or various federal land managers can have profound effects on a community—transportation decisions, reductions in visitor center hours, and others.  Federal land managers need to be aware of that fact, and they need to know that it matters.  Certainly they have their obligations based on the charge they are given, but they ought to have relevant training so we are reasonably assured they understand the ramifications of various decisions on their neighbors in the local communities— this training could lead to more sustainable and acceptable decision making.  Regular, meaningful and mindful communication should be the rule based on training and a federal culture sensitive to the necessity for cooperation.

The same is true for gateway communities.  Transportation decisions, zoning determinations and other policies we develop can have enormous impacts on national parks and other public lands.  Just like the national parks, our local communities have the right to make their own decisions.  But those decisions can be better for all concerned if we work to understand their impacts on federal lands held in public trust, and the potential alternatives that might help us reach the same ends.

The bill requires training sessions for elected officials in gateway communities.  The Park Service’s management policies already require in section that park managers “use the public involvement process to share information about legal and policy mandates, the planning process, issues, and proposed management directions; learn about the values placed by other people and groups on the same resources and visitor experiences; and build support for implementing the plan among local interests, visitors, Congress, and others at the regional and national level."  It further requires park managers to work with a broad range of the public, including, “existing and potential visitors, park neighbors, people with traditional cultural ties to lands within the park, concessionaires, cooperating associations, other partners, scientists and scholars, and other government agencies.”  Who is to receive training, how and when, the purposes for the training and the desired outcomes of training are not well described in the bill.

Last spring, Grand Teton National Park invited county and town officials to a briefing on its plans and priorities.  The park provided an overview of park issues, and explained some of its current and future plans, including an orientation to the new visitor center site.  The more parks and other federal land managers make efforts like this to brief, communicate with, and hear from, local leaders, the better off we’ll be.  While there are times when briefings like this one are necessary—and they are always beneficial—regular, frequent communication by both parties ought to be the rule.  Training can help accomplish that, but mandating how that training should look in every case is not necessarily the way to go.

In addition, I understand that there are excellent training courses presently available that can be beneficial both to federal officials and gateway community leaders.  For example, a course offered through the Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Conservation Training Center, entitled “Balancing Nature and Commerce in Gateway Communities,” is designed to help “prepare public land managers and gateway community leaders to develop and promote their own gateway community initiatives.  The course explores significant issues facing gateway communities and adjacent public lands and the tools that can be used to address those issues.”  One mechanism for pursuing such an existing training opportunity would be to create a very modest grant program with resources for which gateway communities and federal land managers might jointly apply.

Funding Challenges: This brings me to my third reservation.  I am concerned about layering specific requirements onto the responsibilities of all federal land managers, regardless of the degree to which they have the capacity to meet those requirements—particularly the Park Service.  This not only stresses already strained budgets, but also may create unrealistic expectations among gateway communities.  For example, many national parks do not have on staff the kinds of land use planners the bill requires to provide technical assistance to gateway communities.  Again, not all parks are alike, so it makes little sense to treat Grand Teton, Fort Laramie, Gettysburg and Minuteman Missile park units the same. 

In addition, the combination of unfunded mandates and fixed costs has forced Grand Teton to cut its interpretive staff by nearly 1/3-from 17 to 12.  This has meant a reduction in the number of public education programs and in the hours of operation of the Colter Bay Visitor Center.  This kind of reduction in park services is not beneficial to Jackson Hole or to park visitors.  It is not fair to blame the park, which is having to make extremely hard choices because of inadequate budgets.  

These human resource and financial capacities are relevant considerations in assessing the ability of park managers and gateway communities to cooperate, but the bill does not address such matters.  The means by which assistance can be provided toward the end goal of cooperation should be better articulated.

Best Practices:  Fourth, the bill as drafted misses an opportunity to identify models that genuinely work.  Very modest planning grants of $50,000 to $80,000, with an in-kind match from small gateway communities, could be enormously beneficial in fostering a process where local government, businesses, tribal governments, the Park Service and other key parties to engage in collaborative planning efforts that meet mutual goals and obligations.  Something like this could be tried on a pilot basis at various land management units and units of the Park System—national forests, BLM sites, national parks, national battlefields, national historic sites, etc.  However, the money should come from a separate source, not from already stretched park budgets.  There are few incentives toward working together that work as well as putting money on the table, even a modest amount.

Regarding the BLM statutory PAWG requirement of dialogue and cooperation concerning gas development impacts, the BLM has money for the process and for mitigation. Concerning adaptive management best practices, one might consider why this required cooperation is not working – what assistance could be provided to the BLM and community leaders that builds mutual respect, cooperation and success on the ground?  In my opinion, requiring cooperation in this instance is not working.

Conclusion: In summary, I want to leave the subcommittee with the following thoughts:

First, resist the temptation to mandate cooperation.  There are examples where such mandates are failing. We ought to learn why and what assistance could be provided to aid cooperation.  Consider inserting “assist” for “require” and then defining the means to the end of cooperation, perhaps, defining best practices and providing funding opportunities for their implementation.

Second, respect the differences between the missions of various federal land management agencies, including units within the jurisdiction of those agencies.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with the BLM, national parks and national forests, just as there is no single solution for every gateway community.