Decentralization of Environmental Policymaking: Civic Environmentalism in Theory and Practice. Proceedings of the Civic Environmentalism Working Group Conference

Executive Summary

This conference had two purposes. First, to explore decentralized approaches to management of environmental questions with special, though not exclusive, attention given to the democratic goverance of the Maine lobster fisheries. Second, to fit the Maine experience with civic environmentalism (and those of other regions and in urban settings) into the broader context of the American political tradition.

Civic environmentalism, taken from both the practical and theoretical standpoint, challenges traditional environmental management practice with the vast resources of energy and ingenuity that surface when free citizens are given the authority to build and to operate their own institutions. The conference tapped into a vigorous and growing movement that promises to change – and to improve – the way we manage our environment.

Focusing on ecosystem management, the perspective of the citizen opens up many areas of discussion that have been largely overlooked in modern environmental policy – questions of community; local institution building; the extent of real authority granted local institutions; responsibility; individual stewardship; and the complexity of ecology on the small-scale.

The following summary points hardly do justice to the rich and varied discussion. The reader is encouraged to review the entire proceedings.

In the case of Maine lobster fisheries, the federal government’s scientific focus on large-scale biomass measures can fail to address critical, small-scale biological issues – such as habitat, the spatial structures of populations, or species interconnections – that characterize complex, real-world environments.

Because scientific observation and measurement can be costly and subject to large errors, current science cannot always give precise answers about species status and conservation. Local industry participants, like the Maine lobstermen, with their close, ongoing knowledge of specific conditions, are more often better observers of environmental characteristics and changes.

In a wide variety of environmental efforts, a more nested governance structure – with local and state as well as federal involvement – provides the multiple scale needed to create effective rules, promote learning, improve science, and enhance stewardship and responsibility for the environment.

To restore active citizenship, people need to have real authority to make real decisions to do real things. The outcome of that real authority may not please all established interest groups. Resistance to local autonomy or to local solutions (however effective these may be for the environment) may come not only from federal government agencies but from national environmental groups with an established national agenda.

Social science research is a major source for understanding collective action. New research strongly supports the ability of citizens to make rational rules and regulations for resource management on the very small-scale.

Civic environmental activities in urban areas are a source for renewal of citizenship and for redressing failures of traditional environmental law and command-and- control solutions. However, the problem of placelessness, especially in urban areas, must be confronted if civic environmentalism is to take hold.

Civic environmental activities in the West present particular challenges. The extent of the federal government’s land holdings and the great distances that must often be traveled for individuals to organize are disincentives to building self-governing institutions on the local level.

Pervasive in modern environmental policymaking are three problems: loss of local government control, over-reliance on scientifically dubious modeling, and a perspective that views citizens as perpetrators rather than participants. Civic environmentalism addresses these problems by linking environmental issues with the rights, duties, and privileges of citizenship.


# # #

Table of Contents

Introduction: Citizen and Nature
Jeffrey Salmon

Self Governance in the Maine Lobster Fishery
Speaker: Professor James Wilson
Responses: Patrice Farrey, Robin Alden, Ted Ames, Terry Stockwell

Civic Environmentalism in the City
Speaker: William Shutkin
Response: Robert Hawkins

National Currents in Civic Environmentalism
Speaker: Elinor Ostrom
Response: Dewitt John

Civic Environmentalism in the West
Speaker: Dallas Scholes
Response: Kent Wommack

Civic Environmentalism and Land Conservation
Speaker: Brent Haglund
Response: Robert Hawkins

Civic Environmentalism in the American Political Tradition
Speaker: Mark Landy
Response: Charles Rubin

Observations and Roundtable Comments

Conference Participants

Speaker Biographies

Introduction: Citizen and Nature
Jeffrey Salmon

A year ago, the Civic Environmentalism Working Group came together to consider how to better understand what Dewitt John calls “decentralized, bottom-up initiatives that use new tools to address newly recognized environmental problems.” We believed that these initiatives represented more than isolated cases of communities working to clean up a local environment. Following William Shutkin, we recognized a divide between democracy and the predominant thrust of modern environmentalism and we were especially concerned that the environmental movement’s focus – on centralized, technical, management-driven solutions to big problems based on the theory of a balance of nature – “left out,” in Shutkin’s words, “the people themselves and the environmental issues that, quite literally, hit home.”

Some of us came at this problem from the civics side of the equation, asking: what is it that has so eroded citizenship in this country? What can restore citizenship? Others came to the problem from the environmental side, asking: what are today’s real environmental issues? Who thinks most clearly about these problems? And where should one look for solutions? Some of us came at these topics with considerable experience in environmental management problems; others had a decidedly more theoretical bent. We also viewed the problems of democracy and the environment from a variety of political perspectives – not so wide that dialogue was impossible, but wide enough to insure that we wouldn’t end up arguing tactics.

One thing we all seemed to agree upon was that today’s reigning policy alternatives (traditional, government-directed environmentalism on the one hand; free-market environmentalism on the other) appeared to leave little room for a core function of democracy: the messy debates between diverse interests over the best possible solution to a given problem. In other words, in this important policymaking arena, there seemed very little real politics left.

Indeed, at the core of each alternative view, there seemed a confusion as to what politics is, as if the advocates for each position missed the first civics class in high school, or had a cynical teacher who taught them that politics is the art of the possible. But it is not. It is the art of the best possible. In political debate, each side presents its argument as a representative of some good: the best, or most just, course of action. In contrast, those dedicated to central planning see the good as a consequence of neutral study by experts, while those attached to a purely free market model regard the good as whatever the market says it is.

These two views seem to stand in stark contrast, but they share an important antipathy for the Madisonian clash of interests that lies at the heart of the American polity. Thus, the first determines the good through an ideally impartial administrative process (after “stakeholder input”); in the second, the good exists only as a consequence of economic forces, and is variable. In neither outlook do you find much respect for local decisionmaking based on a political process that just might come up with something that contradicts the general plan or finds a higher good than pure property rights.

On the side of civic environmentalism stand James Madison, certainly, and Alexander Hamilton – well, probably. “In a free government,” Hamilton wrote,

     “the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects; and this may be presumed to depend on the extent of country and number of people comprehended under the same government.”

One of the great challenges to civic environmentalism may be a basic mistrust of this federal system, a system that is successful only because of its vigorous clash of a diversity of interests. For the essence of that process will not be neutral administration, but rather, the pulling and hauling that goes on when local interests meet. Colliding multiple interests are our most basic protection – and perhaps nature’s most basic protection as well.

There are many sources for civic environmentalism, for bridging the gap that William Shutkin identified between democracy and the environment. Fortunately, Charles Rubin, a member of the Working Group, has recently edited a book (Conservation Reconsidered) that helps us better understand both democracy and America’s conservation movement, as well as its transition to modern environmentalism. In preparing the chapter on Theodore Roosevelt, I grew to appreciate more fully the reasons for Roosevelt’s concern for wilderness and wildlife conservation. As a professional-level field naturalist, Roosevelt always tied his concern with conservation to a particular place and its peculiar natural setting. The level of detail in his outdoor writings indicates that it is the uniqueness of nature’s elements that drives his interest rather than their sameness. This, I think, is also what would attracted Roosevelt to civic environmentalism — the necessity that its prescriptions must fit time, place, and political circumstances — and that those prescriptions may be the most likely avenue to conservation, even if they don’t fit some strategic plan written by the experts.

The Proceedings that follow provide the reader with the key concepts, arguments, and questions that arose over two and a half days of discussion among the participants, concluding with summary points and questions raised during the course of the conference. We hope it will be a beginning of more discussion and debate about the role of civic environmentalism in the American political process.

 Self-Governance in the Maine Lobster Fishery

Civic environmentalism in the Maine Lobster Fishery presents a important example of democratic environmental action at a complex intersection of economic, scientific, federal regulatory and private concerns. The speaker is Professor James Wilson.

Summary of remarks:

Maine’s experiment in the democratic governance of fisheries emerged from a practical reaction against the failure of top-down, federal management of fisheries. In the federal management model, conservation policy is administered from the center, assisted by industry and scientific advisory panels. This top-down approach has resulted in few or no successful examples of fisheries conservation, (Alaska was noted as an example of fisheries development, not fisheries conservation.) and many failures. Top-down compliance requirements have been largely unable to negotiate and enforce mutual fishing restraints. And the federal government’s scientific focus on large-scale biomass measures fails to address critical, small-scale biological issues – such as habitat, the spatial structure of populations, or species interconnections – that characterize the complex, real-world environment.

In Maine’s approach, democratic-based governance facilitates fishing restraints. New, local institutions address events, human as well as biological, at multiple scales.  The Maine model also promotes the right technical solutions, building conservation practices that are effective in complex, interconnected habitats.

Current science cannot give precise answers about the status and future of the lobster population. Observation and measurement are costly and subject to large errors, and there is a high level of scientific uncertainty about the effect upon the species of human intervention. Ironically, the current lobster population is at a high level and appears healthy; it is unclear how much, if any, overfishing has taken place. Lobster landings in the last decade have been over two times their average level since 1952. In this context, federal pronouncements about overfishing, together with the government’s pressures on the lobster fisheries, lost credibility. Frustrated with a federal approach that was seen as nonsensical, people got together locally to try to do something themselves.

This effort was important given the significance of the lobster industry to the Maine economy. It is the state’s largest fishery industry, with some 7,100 license holders, contributing approximately $500 million, or two percent, to the annual gross state product. The fishery is characterized by individuals with a long-term commitment to the profession and an active industry association.

Effective conservation demands that these participants buy in to a process that is, at bottom, full of ambiguities. Local governance does that by generating credible, democratically-determined restraining rules, which create a sense of responsibility and stewardship. “It’s the guy on the boat who will make or break the conservation effort. You have to create the environment in people’s heads.”

The rules are reinforced by interactions among participants, which provide assurances about others’ behavior and encourage peer pressure for compliance. Finally, the system’s bottom-up organization encourages involvement and feedback for all levels of the system. That participation is essential in an effort that depends on observation of events and conditions (typically done more consistently at the local level), on learning from that observation and on quickly adapting to change.

The Maine experiment, begun in legislation authorized in 1995, starts with elected local districts of licensed lobster fishermen. These in turn are organized into seven zones along the Maine coast, each with its own council. (Approximately 8 to 14 districts make up each zone.) Individual license holders select a zone; they are not restricted to fishing in that zone, but must fish the majority of their traps there. If a fisherman works more than one zone, the most restrictive of the several zones’ rules apply to all.

Zone councils are responsible for recommending changes in local fishing rules (e.g., the number of traps that may be fished; how traps are used; times of fishing, ratio of exit and entry of boats); rules must be approved by 2/3 of the lobstermen in the zone.

The seven zone councils come together in a state-wide advisory council, which initiates rulemaking for biological and other factors which have an impact beyond the local area ? e.g., the minimum and maximum carapace size; prohibitions on landing egg-bearing and “v-notched” lobsters. The state also caps the maximum number of traps that a state licensee may fish_ now set at 1200. The state council also includes mechanisms for resolving cross-boundary zone disputes and for interacting with other authorities, such as the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) whose authority to set standards may pre-empt the states.

The zone council model began operations in 1996-97 with the initial establishment of districts and zone boundaries. An important early issue was the determination of zone boundaries, including the resolution of disputes. Each zone also decided, by vote, on its trap limit – deciding, in two years, an issue that the state legislature had been arguing for 30 years. Zone trap limits are now, in almost all cases, actually lower than the state maximum.

The zone councils also requested and received permission to set rules limiting entry to the industry through a two-year apprentice requirement. Five of the seven zones have acted within a year to implement some form of the limitation; one zone has rejected limits.

The differing choices regarding entry limits illustrate the flexibility the system provides to accommodate the industry’s strong local ties and customs. Another feature of the system is that the entire governance structure has not been completely solidified. Procedures for appeals, recalls, petition rights are still partially undefined, keeping the system flexible.

Has the Maine fisheries experience generated the sense of environmental stewardship that is one of its primary conservation goals? While it is too early to answer, observers note a more coherent, stronger lobby for conservation within the industry. Lobster fishermen are seeing conservation as more coincident with their well-being, have a healthier attitude towards science and take a more constructive, less adversarial role to the process.

Issues ahead include:

Meshing with federal level. The federal administrative system remains distrustful of fishermen, sees local and state action taking power away from the federal level, and retains deep philosophical differences about how to manage the environment;

Stakeholder involvement. Although environmental groups have been supportive at the state level, these and other stakeholders – shorefront residents, investors in the lobster fishery infrastructure, sport fishermen, the general public – have not yet insisted on a piece of the action. It will be important to involve these groups at the right level in the governance process;

Extension of the zones to other species. There is yet no clear route or consensus for bringing other species (e.g., sea urchins) into the regulatory zone system; and

The system will be tested when and if the lobster population enters a downturn. The current high level of fishing threatens to push the population into a depleted state. In many fisheries this situation has led to disaster (e.g., the Alaska King Crab). For fishermen, high mortgages (for boats as well as homes) and wishful thinking usually energize a strong lobby against restraint. If these institutions are able to generate mutual restraint in these circumstances, they will have passed a test few administrative systems have passed.

Overall, the Maine approach – democratic, local, bottom-up – has created new social foundations for conservation. A nested governance structure exists to provide the multiple scale needed to address rules, promote learning, create better science, and build local institutions.

# # #

Comments were offered by four participants in the lobster fisheries governance process: Patrice Farrey, Robin Alden, Ted Ames, and Terry Stockwell.

A summary:

The good news is that the zone councils are in place and running, with strong participation – statewide, elections have had a 42-percent response rate, and the surveys on limited entry have received a 38-percent response. Challenges include demands on fishermen for political/council skills, time and participation ? a real burden on working fishermen who are busy managing their own businesses.

Self-governance provides a good set of checks and balances but there remains a significant culture clash between the fishery industry, accustomed to making fast, significant business decisions, and the time-intensive, costly, often slow administrative process. Experiment may be another five years seeing it through. Foresight started the process – the rest of us are making it work.

The fishing Zones are single species, single focus – relatively discrete local ecological units such as Penobscot Bay. Now, there is a need to overlay fisheries interactions, at least within zones – cases, for instance, where a fishery affects the spawning ground of another species. This can be controversial. Meeting with lobstermen, urchin fishermen urged funding for research to translocate and recolonize an area where sea urchins had been wiped out. The response from lobstermen was “what do you mean, recolonize? We’ve worked 15 years to clear the area!” At least, however – and for the first time – these groups are together, talking, in same room.

Another issue is basic education. Regulators and environmentalists need the knowledge, common sense and expertise of lobster fishermen, and fishermen need education in stewardship. Stonington Fisheries Alliance has addressed this through a school-based education program, which teaches that along with the opportunities of lobster fishing there is a responsibility. Limits and rules are only a proxy for stewardship.

It is essential that local councils be elected. To start the system, a commission appointed interim councils. These had little or no accountability to constituents; they were good old boy clubs. Today, however, elected councils are working together well. They routinely pick up the telephone and network, share best practices and see how others are meeting local needs.

Civic Environmentalism in the City

Civic environmentalism turns the Jeffersonian dualism between urban and pastoral America on its head by showing that the very advantages and assets of cities – density, diversity and commerce – provide real opportunities for cultivating the virtues of the environment and citizenship as well. The speaker is Professor William Shutkin.

Summary of Remarks:

Going back to Muir and Thoreau (and notwithstanding Olmsted), the trend of American environmentalists has been to flee cities for remote, untouched areas. By the late 1960s and 1970s, this tradition had led to a policy model that was overly focused on wilderness and park preservation and endangered species protection ? while neglecting protection of those places where most of us work and play. This model not only failed cities but also failed to protect the environment; among other things, creating a demand to overvisit and overuse parks and wilderness.

In the last decade, environmental and urban activists have drawn attention to the lack of environmental quality in urban areas. Now, a new set of environmental initiatives holds out promise for remedying under-protection and addressing the deficiencies of environmental laws like Superfund. There is a new concern for non-point sources of pollution, such as impervious surfaces: eighty percent of the surface area of Cambridge, Mass., for instance, is impervious, causing every rain to be a major storm. New initiatives also face up to the multiplicity of exposures to different sources of pollution – from water quality to air to soil.

Civic environmentalism enables stakeholders and residents of cities to become involved in the environment. The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Roxbury, Mass., is an example. The neighborhood faced a severe brownfields crisis – block after block of abandoned lots which make up a dangerous “new environment” – hypodermic needles, cyanide, mercury, flammable tires, even new weed species, all abutting local residences and businesses. Adding to the problems was an electroplating plant that shut down operations after thirty years, leaving a hazardous site whose present value is well below zero, and which will cost $2 million to clean up.

Environmental law has done little to deal with this legacy. Instead, led by the Dudley Street Initiative, (joined by the city planning agency, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and a critical mass of local citizens) people began, lot by lot, to clean up their community. The pilot site of the cleanup, which is expected to take 10-15 years, will be home to a 30,000 square-foot greenhouse that will supply herbs and produce to local markets. Managed by a professional agriculturalist and operating with a sophisticated business plan, it will hopefully set a standard for some fifty similar sites. The goal is a competitive, “off-the-grid” urban agriculture node.

Dudley Street is an example of urban and rural coming together – citizens, government, and NGOs. There was no resort to Superfund or other legislative funds. It is an example of going beyond environmental laws. The hope is that the effort will “trickle up” and ultimately become the ecological model for rebuilding local areas in a way that respects environmental quality.

This is a small-scale example, and that small scale is a window to what we can expect to see in the 21st century. It shows the power of what people can do ? and points us in the direction of a new urban ecology: ecological cities and an urban environment that is seen to be as legitimate a biosystem as our wilderness areas.

Civic environmentalism is environmentalism without borders — cultural, racial or ethnic. To the extent that the strategy of civic environmentalism blends an economic development goal with an ecological goal, a border is collapsed. It helps to resurrect the notion that ecological systems are economies. If we are able to better model our economies on the environment, this is a plus.

Challenges of civic environmentalism? In the words of poet Adrienne Rich, “It will not be simple, it will not be quick.” You can’t do it in a year or even a decade. Today’s examples are still incubatory.

Civic environmentalism requires civic will: people who are engaged, who care, who ask why. It also requires formal mechanisms: associations, organizations, responsibility, and leadership.

We also face the problem of placelessness, exacerbated by global markets and capital flows. To the extent that people do not feel connected to their communities, they do not know what they have at stake and why they should take action to improve things. In addition, instead of continuing to find ways to externalize the environmental costs of marketplace activity, we should anticipate those consequences and take action to protect localities and retain local values.

Affordability is critical. Public funds should not subsidize civic environmentalism, but they should support it to the greatest extent possible, which means shifting fiscal obligations from things like the military to more important national security concerns such as eco-system carrying capacity.

# # #

Comments were provided by Robert Hawkins. A summary:

The Dudley Street Initiative shows that if civic environmentalism is going to mean anything – if it is to be a mechanism for solving problems and changing how people act – there has to be real stakeholding involved.

Stakeholding replaces the command and control model with reflection and choice. For cities, the most serious environmental problem is institutional poverty. Yet the right to self-organize to combat that problem has been sucked out of poor communities.  Ironically, we assume that an entire city is a rational level of government but neighborhoods are not. Their governing bodies do not have governing powers. The possibility that a neighborhood could get limited powers of self-government, or to de-annex, is precisely the kind of opportunity structure you need in law to allow people to negotiate effectively with downtown.

Stakeholding also combats the increase in alienation and cynicism. A Lou Harris poll in 1960s found that 29 percent of the respondents felt alienated; today, that figure is over 60 percent. Other studies show Americans are volunteering but not joining; giving money but not participating. Growing numbers, both left and right, think of themselves as consumers but not citizens. To restore active citizenship, people need to have real authority to make real decisions to do real things.

Experiments in civic environmentalism build a common sense of expectations and shared language. These connections, not romantic notions of self-government, are the real roots of a self-governing society. As Dudley Street shows, ensuring that neighborhood groups have sufficient rights to self-government creates tremendous energy.

What are the threats to successful civic environmentalism? First is the impetus to blue-print thinking: taking a cookie-cutter approach to differing communities.  Instead, structures must be designed to fit local circumstances. Second is the problem of getting state and local governments to think of themselves as enablers and institution-builders instead of seeing civic environmentalism as a threat and acting to subvert it. Other challenges: The need to “keep it simple, stupid;” and impatience. Also, over-reliance on external funding: when an NGO is on the city (or state or federal) budget, it is vulnerable to government threats to go along with policy or go broke.

# # #

National Currents in Civic Environmentalism

People self-organize to protect and conserve resources to a much greater degree, and with much greater sophistication, than is acknowledged by standard social-science theory. This kind of citizen action is important to make environmental efforts truly accountable and effective. The speaker is Professor Elinor Ostrom.

Summary of Remarks:

For the last three decades, the dominant social science theory affecting resource policies has viewed citizens as ignorant, selfish, and helpless, in contrast to public officials who can use scientific information, design optimal policies and achieve planned outcomes. In this view, order is presumed to come from the center, policy is based on aggregate data, and little weight is given to local knowledge. Large, diverse terrains are subject to single policies.

This theory is now being challenged. In the field, we are discovering numerous, robust local institutions where people have come together to sustain natural resources through monitoring, sanctions and cooperation. In laboratory experiments, it is clear that individuals communicate and devise their own rules and strategies ? even complex rotation schemes – relatively soon, depending on factors including group homogeneity and distance needed for communication.

An important working part of the theory of collective action, the theory of human behavior, is undergoing extensive reformulation. Humans are proving “boundedly rational” – that is, they seek to achieve preferred outcomes, but do not always have the information they need about options and connections. They are also capable of learning. And while self-interested, they are capable of adopting norms of reciprocity, trust and trustworthiness.

One important dimension of successful collective action is that norms need to be complemented by rules. Long-sustained resource systems are invariably enforced by rules – agreed-upon prescriptions that you must do or not do some thing or a sanction will occur. In this sense, a rule is not defined as a government pronouncement but as an articulatable action or outcome that must, must not, or may occur, “or else” – and “else” may be locally defined or other; legal or other. In studying Nepal’s irrigation system, for instance, you find a neighborhood “cow jail:” if a person fails to contribute his fair share of time to the irrigation system, the community takes the cow and gets the milk until you pay up.

Broadly speaking, new collective institutions are the result of a cost/benefit calculus. People do not take on the transaction costs of meeting and acting unless they perceive, first, a problem and second, a benefit from collective action. That calculus is also affected by biophysical variables, such as scale of the territory to be organized (a relative measure depending on people’s communication and transportation technologies), predictability (the less random the resource outcomes, the easier to monitor and set rules), scarcity (where resources are perceived as abundant, people do not organize – often until it is too late), and the reliability of indicators (how easy and quickly the condition of resource can be seen).

Other factors influencing the metric of the cost/benefit analysis include the salience of the resource (e.g., whether people gain a great deal of economic, religious, natural or recreational return from it); the degree of common understanding of the problem (where there is disagreement over fundamentals, people won’t organize and agree upon rules); “discount rates” for the future resource base (people need to value future resources heavily enough to sacrifice for them); trust that others will follow rules; the degree of individual autonomy; prior organizational experience (which keeps transaction costs down), and leadership.

In studying collective action for resource conservation, we have discovered that people set for themselves vastly more complex rules than the textbooks suggest. There are, for instance, twenty-seven types of boundary rules (e.g., who is allowed in to the group and under what conditions), one hundred and twelve types of authority rules (what kind of “tools” may you use, how you may operate); payoff rules (how much return you can make, how much can you owe); rotation systems (for taking responsibility to monitor and staff the collectivity), and others.

Rules may distinguish among specific products, species, times of year, uses (consumption vs. commerce), and the needs, rights and location of users. The resulting “rules space” is immense, if not infinite — a constructed space as big as the human genome. User-designed rules frequently work configurally: People start with a few rules, slowly learn what is effective through trial and error and networking, and make necessary changes.

In a complex environment, collective action benefits from polycentricity – the ability to interact at multiple scales, taking advantage of the strengths of smaller as well as larger institutions. For instance, smaller-scale institutions tend to provide strong local knowledge, can quickly communicate the results of trial-and-error learning, and enhance the legitimacy of rules through increased trust and reciprocity. Disadvantages can include local tyranny and a lack of broad experience. Larger-scale institutions can draw on scientific knowledge, more formal conflict-resolution systems (e.g., courts), and greater control over larger-scale phenomena, such as regional events.

An example of research into resource-conservation institutions is an intensive, ongoing study of forests in Indiana and the Amazon. Some of the Indiana results are summarized here. In 1620, most of the Eastern United States was heavily forested with primary forest. By 1820, Indiana was still almost entirely forested, but by 1900, it was down to four percent. By 1990, primary forests were mostly gone, even though substantial re-forestation had occurred in the southern part of the State.

Early deforestation can be seen to have moved along the transportation routes – rivers, canals, railroad. Today, current forest cover is not strongly associated with either transport or demographics, but rather follows topography – forests can be found below glaciers and slope land, and are largely gone from plains land. Reforestation has followed four successive stages, based on prior land use: lowland old field to forest; upland old field grazed to forest; plantation growth; and clear cut to forest. Studies show that forest growth is faster on clear-cut land than on abandoned lowland old field; forest growth on abandoned lowland faster than on abandoned upland old field. We also see that very degraded forestry forest land may develop into a meta-stable shrubland community, which can delay succession to forest.

Of the 25-percent forest regrowth in Indiana, most has occurred on private land. However, the study has found no simple correlation between forest conditions and any single, formal, property-rights system. We can’t say that the forest is in better condition because it is federally owned and managed or not; or communally or privately owned or not.

In addition, it is unclear that carefully managed timber-cutting programs on state or federal land impede forest regrowth. Four percent of Indiana is held by federal and state agencies. Yellowwood State Forest and Hoosier National Forest are both temperate, decidious, oak-hickory forest. They have similar user groups and interested parties; few differences in staff beliefs and rules. From 1972-85, part of the Hoosier National Forest permitted forestry cutting with a percent of sales going back to Hoosier. This changed between 1985 and 1991 as the federal government reduced the amount of land where cutting was permitted. By 1991, despite citizen group mobilization, no further cutting was permitted on this federal land. In contrast, Yellowwood State Forest continues to have a timber-cutting mandate, encouraged by the legislature and returning funds to counties. The timber-cutting process in State forests, however, is highly selective, and thus forest cover has also improved within the State forests. Data confirms that Hoosier National Forest is regrowing, but so is Yellowwood, which in fact has a higher level of land-cover change.

To scale up these results, it will be necessary to investigate change in state forests of other topographical regions. But it appears that a diverse approach may be important.

# # #

Comments were provided by Dewitt John. A summary:

The environmental policy system as a whole is starting to change – and needs to change – to accommodate civic environmentalism, whether defined as local self-organizing activity or broader efforts. We are already seeing a new kind of business management working with NGOs and community advisory panels to deal with environmental problems.

Today, the literacy and values of the country have changed. Communities and businesses are more capable of acting upon the concept of sustainability and of reducing their environmental footprint. As technology progresses – especially information technology – there is greater understanding of how and why environmental conditions change.

The traditional system does not accommodate itself to this growing public literacy well. EPA is broken in important respects: it does not direct resources effectively to the most prevalent environmental problems and it doesn’t tap citizen action. Over the last two years, at the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), we have been working with several research teams to evaluate innovations at EPA and in the states. The project was commissioned by Congressional Appropriations committees and our final report will be published in November. (The case studies are already on the Web, at papers.)

In looking at seventeen different studies of watersheds, from the Colorado River Basin to smaller systems, we found that collaborative local processes can lead to improved quality in many if not all conditions. These range from voluntary watershed activities, improved compliance, increased state and local regulation, and other incentives to improve the environment. This kind of collaborative civic activity is a crucible in which government decisionmakers can come together with people in the community to develop specific actions that make sense – customizing regulator tools to meet particular circumstances of that community.

Of course, not all communities have the social capital to do this, and even smoothly functioning collaborative processes sometimes result in feel-good projects – “random acts of environmental kindness.” Over time, however, communities begin to come to grips with tougher, larger questions.

We are seeing people organize in the American West with the same spirit that we heard from the Maine lobstermen: frustrated, alienated and fearful about fed activity — citizens who are upset and anti-government. These collaborative community processes are often funded by the government even though they are anti-government. Frontline agency staff often finds itself in the middle between a one-size-fits-all, traditional understanding and the newly emerging civic model. And citizens who are reacting to a fearsome regulatory process are often driven by that process and also use resources from the system.

In this sense, civic environmentalism is not an alternative to regulation and the top-down command and control system, but a complement to it. Although the “tragedy of the commons” is an exaggeration, there is still some truth in the metaphor. Self-interest often does drive individuals and firms to pollute or to overuse commonly owned resources, even if they share the broad social commitment to environmental values. There fore there must be rules, and the role of government is to lay down and enforce those rules. At the same time, the government that is best suited to regulate is not always the federal government. We need to transform the way the governance system functions â?? no longer top-down, but nested.

Tighter regulation is not self-implementing – it is a myth that if you pass a law the world will behave differently. Rather, compliance requires civic understanding, monitoring and enforcement.

The question to struggle with is how do you merge the civic process and the regulatory system. In looking specifically at watersheds, we concluded that having the regulatory system was necessary to drive local collaborative process. But while regulatory pressure and even threats are needed for effective sanctions, to really get somewhere you must have a civic process.

NAPA will recommend this fall that EPA allow more discretion to states, set performance objectives, change the relationship between EPA’s Regional Offices and the states, perform post-hoc audits rather than detailed, case-by-case oversight (creating something that is present in the welfare world but not in EPA: evaluation and assessment), and invest in improved information and analysis (especially on water quality, where data is poor).

In fact, EPA systematically under-invests in information. And yet, one area where there are clear economies of scale is in gathering and disseminating scientific knowledge (as distinct from specific information about specific places, where local concerns may be more applicable.) One critical need is central, common definitions and measures that permit benchmarking. Data gathered at the state and local level should be comparable, and yet too often it is not.

# # #

Civic Environmentalism in the West

A strong federal presence in the Western United States raises the stakes there for stronger community participation in environmental policymaking. New examples of private/not-for-profit/government cooperation are beginning to occur. The speaker is Dallas Scholes.

Summary of Remarks:

The intensity of gridlock in the West over the environment is often difficult for others to understand. In trying to clean up rivers, for instance, Eastern states may seek a federal presence as a simpler alternative to getting the agreement of many local communities. But in the West, the federal government owns more than half the land and is perceived to rule by fiat.

An illustration of the federal government’s westward focus and impact is the implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In 1997, in six Western states, there were seven hundred and fourteen listed, proposed, and candidate endangered species; in twenty-two Northeastern states, there were only eighty-one. In 1997, there were one hundred and three lawsuits in the Western region; twelve in the East. There are fifteen times as many employees implementing ESA in the West as in the East. Meantime, no elected local officials are involved in the process. If citizens have a problem with the federal government, there is no official they can go to other than a Member of Congress. We have seen some parallels within the environmental movement. Local environmentalists have been considered unsophisticated and ignorant; the Western agenda is set by national offices.

In some respects, this trend is shifting. We have had more dialogue between national environmental organizations and on-the- ground movements. People with knowledge about environmental issues have started to get involved in their local communities and see they don’t need the federal government to direct their efforts. On-the-ground environmentalists want to see their community grow and make things work. So agreements are beginning to be worked out. Conservation ranch management, or CRM, brings in all stakeholders, from local government to the wilderness club to mountain bikers, to work together. Success can reflect who is at the table as much as what they do.

Perhaps the biggest issue is one of trust. To some people, “collaboration” does not mean working together for a common goal, but working with the enemy. Ranchers will sometimes recall how World War II collaborators in France got shot.

The problem of trust is worsened by what are perceived as obstructionist environmentalists – advocates on the national level who are anti-development (a “do what you want as long as you don’t make money at it” attitude) and who oppose programs they don’t control.

A vivid example is the Quincy Library Group Bill, legislation named for a local library in which a concerned community group met to solve a severe problem of forest density. The Plumas, Lassen, and Tahoe National Forests in Northern California were in serious need of forest management. National forests are now eighty-two percent denser than they were fifty years ago – so dense that spotted owls and goshawks cannot fly ? and dangerously fire-prone. Environmentalists feared that unless the Plumas, Lassen, and Tahoe forests were thinned, they would be wiped out by fire. Meantime, the local timber industry has undergone great cutbacks; in California, where once two hundred and ten mills operated, only sixty are left, and local counties are suffering fifteen percent unemployment (compared to a national average of four percent).

To solve the problem, a group of some sixty concerned community members, including people from the timber industry and local government, as well as a leading local environmentalist – one of the original plaintiffs on the famous Spotted Owl Suit – met at Quincy Library. They chose a library so they couldn’t yell at each other. All worked together as part of process. They made proposals to the National Forest Service; they did the needed science; they determined what needed to be done to create a fire- resilient forest.

When the National Forest Service did not act, the group went to Congress, where a bipartisan bill was introduced in the House of Representatives and passed 429 to 1.

In the Senate, the bill was introduced by Democratic Senators Boxer and Feinstein. At that point, however, a national environmental group became involved, cutting a deal to kill the bill. Ironically, this group had previously joined a suit to bring about a similar plan.

Their argument against the bill was that the Quincy Library group should not be able to use legislation to manage the forest – a precedent that environmental activists themselves had already set. In light of the contradictions, many have concluded that the real concern was that the local group was acting without national control. As yet, not a single tree has been cut. In Oregon, a group in Applegate had the same idea as the Quincy Library group; the Applegate effort has been successful, perhaps because there’s been no national attention.

On the positive side, Quincy has helped establish a new model for civic environmentalism. Up until Quincy, the feds didn’t talk to locals. Now, although federal disconnects still do happen, local counties are finally playing a role in environmental alternatives — as can be seen in the Yellowstone winter-use plan. As one rancher said, “We are survivors, and rise to meet the challenges before us. Staying in process now is one of those challenges.”

# # #

Comments were provided by Kent Wommack. Summary:

There is no doubt a challenge for civic environmentalism out West. The question is how do we move from where we are to where we need to be. The ecology that the West supported at the time of Lewis and Clark isn’t supported now, and that’s due, not just to federal mismanagement, but to factors that all of us are responsible for – from over-grazing years ago to mismanagement of forests. Not long ago, we all thought that stopping fires was the right thing to do; now, we know better.

The goal of civic environmentalism is to maintain a healthy, functioning ecological system where man and nature can coexist. The goal won’t happen by accident. Nine of the ten fastest-growing states are in the West. A rancher who owns a million-acre property is sooner or later going to find it hard to resist a real-estate developer.

Trust is hard to come by, but we must be able to trust that people are willing to consider both their own self-interest and what’s good for the community. If people don’t make the effort to reach consensus, they cede decisions to government. But signs are encouraging. Several years ago, ranchers in the foothills of New Mexico found themselves frustrated with how the world was changing around them. They had been on their lands through generations, knew the land and cared about it. An immediate two-fold threat got the group to organize. First was fire suppression. Second was the Nature Conservancy, which had bought the huge, neighboring Gray Ranch and was feared to be planning to transfer it to a public agency.

Ranchers got together with the Conservancy and found they had certain interests and vision in common. Eventually, most (not all) of the local ranchers formed a non-profit to work with the Conservancy. One important idea was that of grass-banking, which preserves and makes more viable the local landscape. The Animus Foundation – now headed by a local rancher – offers fertile, productive land which local ranchers use so they can rest their own land. In exchange, ranchers donate “no development” conservation easements on their property. To protect the ranchers from the concern that their private ranch land under easement will become worthless if their grazing rights on public land are pulled, the easements are conditional on the ranchers’ retaining all their public grazing rights. It is a built-in system to protect both ranching interests and the land itself.

These efforts do take leadership. Even if people are not formally trained, they need to be willing and motivated. They must also be supported at a higher level, so their decisions can get off the ground and people can get out of these alienated camps.

In Maine, the Eco/Eco project – which stands for ecology and economy – helps set priorities for state government. We find politicians are grateful for politically acceptable answers. There is also the Maine Forest Biodiversity Project. People in Maine saw the Western controversy over the spotted owl and decided that dealing with problems in a crisis situation wasn’t the way to go. As a result, a diverse group of one hundred and twenty people got together to talk about how to protect biodiversity on private working forest land. Over a five-year period, the group met, built consensus on a limited number of issues, accomplished some concrete goals and disbanded.

There is mixed success to show for civic environmentalism – but I don’t know what the alternative is except for the status quo. It’s a critical effort and will take hard work.


# # #

Civic Environmentalism and Land Conservation

Conservation is too important a matter to leave to government. It is a realm for individual responsibility, good science and economic reality. The speaker is Brent Haglund.

Summary of Remarks:

Conservationist Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac, advised people to quit thinking about decent land use as solely an economic problem, but to look at what is ethically and aesthetically right. He also argued that when we have harmony of land and owner — when both become better off by reason of their coexistence — we have conservation. The better off people are, the more they will take care of their land. The higher condition that land is in, the more it can return value to owners and neighbors.

The impact of civic purpose as well as of its absence is illustrated by the crystal-clear waters of Otter Creek in the Baraboo Hills of southern Wisconsin. The clean-up resulted from the hard work and cooperation of more than 40 different land owners and the Nature Conservancy. Yet one farm – 480 yards of mismanaged stream – pollutes the Creek downstream and jeopardizes the civic effort.

We need to look to civic environmental undertakings as opportunities to monitor and represent to others the results of civic behavior. Civic environmentalism is more than a feel-good attitude about the local park. It demonstrates conservation that improves safety, lessens the risk of catastrophic environmental damage, and reduces economic burdens.

Menomonee Forest in Wisconsin is a breathtaking accomplishment, resulting from the Menomonee tribe’s long-term commitment to their own forest. Although these were not major ancestral lands, the group protected them, never plowed, never allowed timber thieves. Instead, the tribe has carefully enhanced the standing timber biomass, and selectively logged.

The tribe has two aims: jobs in the mills and protecting the woods. Tradition has reinforced the group’s norms. When logging occurs, elders call the shots, basing the decision on an assessment of whether the understory vegetation is rich enough. This is one example of a stunning success held together by a community’s own interest in jobs and traditional values.

Another significant effort in Wisconsin is a partnership with dam owners to remove aging, unsafe and uneconomic dams on the Baraboo River. By 2001, the River will be free- flowing for the first time since the 1830s, improving both safety and river quality. Removing the dams has cost less than $1 million, but it has also upgraded communities and released dam owners of liability for improving dams (which can cost four to five times as much as dam removal). Dam removals have also been designed so that operators of smaller equipment can bid on the job, lowering the cost and opening business opportunities to small firms.

A savannah partnership is helping lessen the risk of catastrophic fires in forests that have grown too dense to allow in sufficient light and plant nutrients. Fires spread in the level, coarse-sand environment of oak barrens faster than a man can run. Experimental work by several landowning partners shows private landowners how to use commercial logging to reduce risk and speed of fire spread, and to make the essential, prescribed fires safer.

Other private conservation efforts have played a role in reintroducing the swift fox to Montana. Defenders of Wildlife and the Blackfeet Nation have created an effective civic partnership to bring back this rare predator. In fact, the swift fox reintroduction began when conservation experts concluded that if this fox was to survive, it should not be listed under the Endangered Species Act. In the case of this species at least, experts felt that listing would be a disincentive for local preservation efforts. Listing restricts land-management options and can tempt landowners to “shoot, shovel and shut up.” In addition, listing raises the costs of necessary management, which might include reintroduction, by large amounts, making it impossible for private foundations like ours to have a role.

Also, the Sand County Foundation worked with the Environmental Defense Fund, which has designed several projects providing economic incentives for landowners to help endangered species. A key tool that the EDF brings is a “safe harbor agreement” which provides that if the animal population grows, the landowner does not become vulnerable to increased regulation.

Civic environmentalism is international as well. In Africa, private conservation groups encourage landowners who have wildlife restorations underway, thereby helping those landowners create a sustainable source of revenue while enriching the land community. These and other cases show that civic environmentalism can be a positive effort with a low likelihood of net loss. These are win-win situations. The principal is consistent: when both land and owner do better, both do better.

# # #

Comments were provided by Robert Hawkins. A summary:

The work of the Sand County Foundation shows how critical partnerships are to civic environmentalism and to ecological success. Successful conservation involves economic incentives and biosphere-specific, common-sense applications – getting scientists out in the field working together with affected communities and industries, rather than back in the office working on computer models. Civic environmentalism is an ongoing experiment and we will face some dead ends. But if we are going to try to get a new civics going, we need to push forward. Civic environmentalism remains one of the best-kept secrets in the world.

# # #

Civic Environmentalism in the American Political Tradition


Civic environmentalism is rooted in a long-standing American philosophic tradition linking citizenship, personal responsibility, local autonomy, and stewardship. Although the environmental movement drew away from these principles, there is evidence of a return. The speaker is Professor Mark Landy.

Pervasive in modern environmental policymaking are three problems: loss of local government control, over-reliance on scientifically dubious modeling, and a perspective that views citizens as perpetrators rather than participants. Civic environmentalism addresses these problems by linking environmental issues with the rights, duties, and privileges of citizenship.

The godfather of modern environmental thinking is John Muir; its image is untrammeled nature. A second tradition is anti-environmentalism: the idea that there is no good forest that could not be a bowling alley. In contrast to both, civic environmentalism is concerned with how people organize themselves and live. It is particularly concerned with the notion of stewardship – the important, positive relationship between people and nature.

The godfathers of civic environmentalism are Thomas Jefferson and Frederick Law Olmstead. In their thought lie two impressive metaphors for what civic environmentalism is all about: the farm and the park.

Jefferson’s farm provides a middle ground between beautiful but useless nature and corrupt urbanity. His farm is a product of intelligence and ingenuity, not simply a mystical bond with the soil. Yeoman farmers encouraged the moral characteristics that support democracy – patience, resourcefulness and love of order. The tasks of cultivation, shepherding and husbandry proclaim responsibility, thoughtfulness, dutifulness – the important traits of citizenship. As such, Jefferson saw the farm as the best locus for sustaining the moral qualities necessary for a democratic polity.

The second useful metaphor is Olmstead’s park. By Olmstead’s time, most people lived in cities. Urban life could be positive – cultivated, cultured, the home of universities and museums – but it could also be materialist and impersonal. Olmstead viewed the park as the place for undoing the negative impact of the city on people’s lives; a locus for people to live more decently; to pursue neighborliness and civic friendship.

Despite their power, these principles did not prevail in American thought. The “City Beautiful” movement aimed not to encourage civic friendship but to express monumental urban greatness; park planners promoted purposeful recreational spaces rather than places for neighborly sociability. The City Beautiful movement was succeeded by urban renewal, an example of “city beautiful” without the “beautiful” — and only remnants of civic environmentalism survived. Important among them were the New Deal conservation programs, many of which cultivated civic environmentalism to new heights. Protest movements against urban renewal also arose – perhaps, the most powerful, that of Jane Jacobs – but they chiefly saw themselves as urbanists, not environmentalists.

Instead, environmental policymaking turned to command and control legislation, such as the clean air and water acts. One anti-civic consequence was to put the environment in a rights-based context. Any balancing of interests and concerns thus becomes an attack on “rights,” making it difficult to deliberate over policy. A second issue is the notion of interconnectedness: the “act locally, think globally,” phenomenon, promoting indifference to real places that if accepted, doesn’t leave much room for community concerns and local decisionmaking.

Powerful countervailing forces have helped civic environmentalism to something of a rebirth. The single most important, not new but better understood, is the idea of risk relativity. Where there are no safe levels of anything, it is hard to frame questions exclusively in terms of rights. As a result, we can and must talk civilly about environmental policy. How much safety at what cost? This is a question that citizens ask; it is a question that democracies ask.

Second, there has emerged a serious critique of the idea of interconnectedness. All things indeed are connected, but everything is not strongly, directly or significantly connected to everything else. We can change some things without changing others. Biospheres are remarkably robust, and species may return after local “extinctions.”

Some connections are indisputable – acid rain, long-range transport of pollutants, river systems. But the connection is an empirical question, in which relative connectedness and relative autonomy are crucial to sort out. And when you understand ecological systems as loosely coupled, semi-autonomous subsystems, policy need not be centralized; local autonomy is possible.

# # #

Comments were provided by Charles Rubin. A summary:

Civic environmentalism desires to be a practical approach, but it is fortunate to have on the table the theoretical ideas behind it. These ideas clarify what civic environmentalism seeks to achieve: a distinctive cultivation of nature linked to the cultivation of citizenship.

The heart of modern environmentalism is a belief in the interconnectedness of living things and life systems. The implications for policy are profound. If everything is interconnected, all problems are strategic; traffic sprawl is a national problem and its symptoms — pollution, road rage, obesity — require national solutions. On the other hand, if one recognizes that there are strong and weak links, then some issues are tactical. Solutions for Pittsburgh’s urban centralization will be as different from Atlanta’s as the cities actually differ on the ground.

In a world of undifferentiated connectedness, the ultimate goal is comprehensive planning and the impetus is always to move to a higher level of jurisdiction to address issues. But planning is not a civic or political ideal; it contrasts sharply to democratic politics, where justice requires public discussion and sometimes endless disagreements over what is desirable.

Finally, if civic environmentalism develops in part out of suspicion about federal growth, this doesn’t mean it supports the pure growth of local or state authority that leads to local tyranny. In the United States, the context of civic life is limited government. Citizens restrain themselves from asking too much of government; we should not only look to local efforts but the goals and rationales.

Not least of the challenges for civic environmentalism is to forego the rhetorical advantages of making promises the government can’t meet.

# # #

Observations and Roundtable Comments

Throughout the conference, roundtable participants reflected on the issues of civic environmentalism. Salient points:

In the case of the Maine lobster fisheries, the initial lack of a governance process meant that people who couldn’t register an appeal within the system went to the legislature and governor to try to overcome the system. The result was that people asked, “why should we do something today if we can be overruled tomorrow?” Only when you build in self-governing safeguards, safeguards that enable you to take actions that the next higher level of government doesn’t like, are people going to feel they have responsibility.

Giving stakeholders a voice but no power is a fraud. Modest reforms may be a step forward, but too often they do not give enough breathing space to self-governing localities.

A key to civic environmentalism seems to be how much trustworthiness the system has in allowing locals to fail. Some in the environmental movement want the certainty of an outcome even if it is mediocre, rather than the uncertainty and failure that come from devolving power.

There is a lack of attention to democratic legitimacy — the idea that without a threat, communities won’t act. It’s like threatening to bomb a country if it does not do what you say: whatever you think about such action, it is not participatory. Participatory experiments undertaken under threat are different from self-generated actions.

In all the frustration in dealing with federal land management in the West, where were the governors? Perhaps we need a change in sovereignty and authority over federal lands, using states as the mechanism, and giving local communities a role in the process.

The problem in the Western United States is the heavy demand on individuals to participate in multiple levels of meetings. You may travel two hundred miles and lose two days of work. This can be economic death. Civic will is hard to translate into action.

Two perspectives on EPA:

For civic environmentalism to work, states and localities must have the standing to take EPA and other governmental bodies to court. Larger government entities must have an incentive to negotiate with communities as real partners, by law.

But another participant asked:

Why assume EPA is anti-democratic? I have a vote on the federal level as well as on the local and state levels. EPA reflects a national consensus. Regarding the Indiana forest examples, for instance, there are national standard and values at play here where a community’s interest may be sacrificed for the national good.

The question of interconnections is an important one and needs to be examined.

One danger is that civic environmentalism will be just another layer of government. What we have now, arguably, is not a deficit of citizen participation, but an excess. This is not solved by more participation, but by reconstituting norms.

Devolving decisions to the community level presents different problems than forty years ago. Then, there were people who genuinely felt they spoke for, represented and led their community. Now we have the opposite problem of multiple vetoes: all kinds of interest groups can prevent action, but no one can say yes and get things done. You can move decisions down to a level where no decision can be made.

While there are crucial divides about civic environmentalism, the fact is that the local level is the right place to think about public places. Communities are assemblies of land and property — the very questions of what is public. Local civic environmentalism is not just about participation, it is about responsibility, and internalizing costs and benefits.

# # #


Conference Participants

Members of the Civic Environmental Working Group:

Brent Haglund, The Sand County Foundation

Robert Hawkins, Institute for Contemporary Studies

Steven Hayward, Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy

Mark Landy, Boston College

Charles T. Rubin, Duquesne University

Jeffrey Salmon, George C. Marshall Institute

Other Roundtable Participants:

Robin Alden, Stonington Fisheries Alliance

 Ted Ames, Stonington Fisheries Alliance

Alan Ehrenhalt, Governing Magazine

Patrice Farrey, Maine Lobstermen’s Association

Perenna Fleming, Institute for Contemporary Studies

Michael Gleba, Sarah Scaife Foundation

Michael Greve, American Enterprise Institute

Anne Hayden, Principal, Resource Services

Dewitt John, Bowdoin College

Elinor Ostrom, Indiana University

Partner & Fellow Blogs