This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service, and the more than 84 million acres of preserved cultural and historical landscapes that have helped shape America. We celebrate the rich history of an organization that conserves some of America's most pristine natural and cultural wonders for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.
However, this and future generations look much different than those 100 years ago. The National Park Service and other public land management agencies (the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Refuges) need to make some significant changes if they are to meet the needs of a changing American cultural landscape.
As the former state director for the BLM in Utah, managing nearly 23 million acres of public land, I know firsthand the importance of working with a broad array of stakeholders. Let me share some examples of actions I have taken and that I would encourage public land managers to take.
At the BLM, we rely on Resource Advisory Councils to inform our decisions. This is a great tool for public engagement, which in my view, are underutilized by public land managers. These 15-member citizen councils are a great way to recruit and engage a broad array of stakeholders that come from all sectors of our population.
But Resource Advisory Councils are not the only outreach tool at the disposal of public land managers. By law, agencies must post opportunities for public engagement in the Federal Register or the local newspaper. When was the last time you read the Federal Register to stay on top of news in your community? Agencies need to re-think their outreach strategies and develop new ways to reach minority and other underrepresented communities. If we are going to successfully add new voices to public land use debates, then public land managers must extend beyond their comfort zones in reaching outside the norm to find a broader array of stakeholders within their communities.
Public land managers must also do more than just talk about hiring staff who represent the ever-changing and diverse face of America they must actually do it. The next presidential administration must put a greater emphasis on training and installing diverse leaders at the highest levels of public land agencies. The argument that there are not enough qualified applicants is simply not the case. For example, I know several local elected officials, including state representatives and state senators, who would do an outstanding job advocating for and engaging their communities in public land issues. The federal government must do more than encourage these voices they must proactively seek them out.
I am currently the Chief Conservation Officer for HECHO (Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors), and one of my priorities is to amplify the voices of Latinos in this important national conversation about diversity and public land conservation. Public land managers need to develop partnerships with organizations such as HECHO and other organizations that engage Latinos and other underserved communities. By tapping into these organizations, they can harness the passion of the public for public lands conservation.
We need a new vision to solve the vexing public lands issues of the 21st century and a broader array of stakeholders to implement it. Managers will need to actively engage small business owners, teachers, pastors, young people, parents, local community leaders, and other community voices. These voices are important, including an ever-growing Latino population, as we move into the next 100 years of conservation if our public lands are to remain relevant in the priorities of the American people.
Several years ago, at the dedication of the César E. Chávez National Monument in California, President Obama told the crowd that there are many stories in our national monuments that should be preserved. "Today, La Paz joins a long line of national monuments stretching from the Statue of Liberty to the Grand Canyon monuments that tell the story of who we are as Americans. It's a story of natural wonders and modern marvels; of fierce battles and quiet progress. But it's also a story of people of determined, fearless, hopeful people who have always been willing to devote their lives to making this country a little more just and a little more free."
It is our job now to be determined and fearless in shaping the next century of public land management in this country.
Juan Palma was the Utah state director for the Bureau of Land Management for 10 years.