An Interview with Mike Crapo
Mike Crapo is the senior U.S. Senator from Idaho and was instrumental in shepherding the Owyhee Initiative through Congress. This interview was conducted in the summer of 2010.
Bruce Reichert: Why did you want to get involved with the Owyhee initiative?
There had been proposals from the President to lock it up as a national monument, and others thought not only was that a huge threat, but that we should have no decision-making from different perspectives other than the way it had been managed for years.
We don't need to have the trade-offs between the economy and the environment that the conflict mode of decision-making often drives us to. There are solutions out there that are better for everybody, and we can achieve those solutions if we'll get together and collaborate in the right way and build the consensus for progress.
So I was excited to hear that there was an opportunity for people to come together and start a process that would get us there.
BR: You mentioned that every stakeholder around the table improved their position because of the Owyhee Initiative agreement.
That includes everything from private property owners to environmental concerns, to the Tribes, to the Air Force, to the hunters and fishermen, to the off-road vehicle users, and the list goes on. Everybody is better off because we worked together, and we developed a comprehensive land management solution that literally boosted everyone's stake in the management of the Owyhee's.
BR: So, if you get the 'process' right, the results will follow?
As people came together, they were able to build solutions that everyone recognized were better than the status quo, and that is why we were able to achieve success. We would never have succeeded had we not been able to have the buy-in and the support of all the stake holders.
BR: So maybe you could describe that process in some detail.
It finally came to the point where the county commissioners came to me and said we think that we're ready, the community is ready to come together and really collaborate and try to find a solution; but we need someone to host it and to be in charge of it, who will assure that we have a fair and balanced process.
I was excited to have an opportunity to get involved, and from that point forward, we literally started by identifying all the stake holders and making sure that nobody was excluded from the table, and then working forward.
And as I have said before, it took 8 years, but the folks who got together and were the collaborative team literally went out on the land, went stream by stream, trail by trail, parcel by parcel and worked out the solutions. And there were plenty of times during that 8 years when it sounded like we were facing a hurdle that maybe we just couldn't get past this one; but we did, and it is a tribute to the spirit of collaboration that the people involved were willing to engage in.
And when we were done, not only did we have a solution that all of the stake holders could buy into, but we had a process by which they were all willing to help defend it as we moved forward. And I believe that is one of the major reasons – if not the major reason – that we were able to get past the politics in Washington, because we had built a local solution that was backed by all the stake holders.
BR: It must have been a big surprise to the folks in Washington, D.C. to see this unusual group walk in together, all in agreement.
And then when they came to Washington DC, those who had for decades seen this battle going on between different interest groups and stake holders, and they saw those stake holders standing shoulder to shoulder, saying this is a good solution, and this is something that will make it better for all of us in the Owyhee's; so they listened to it, and it was a big part of the success that enabled us to get that bill to the President's desk.
BR: This must have brought you real joy.
BR: How have wilderness bills changed since the first ones in the 1960's?
We're starting to realize now that what that results in is gridlock, because, whether you try to get your way in Congress or get your way in court or get your way in the administrative process and hearings, it is always going to be resisted by those who don't have buy-in. And I think recently, everyone involved – from all stake holder positions -- has recognized that that gridlock is disadvantageous to their positions on a long term basis, and we are starting to move into a better understanding of the role that consensus building and collaboration can have in terms of land management decisions.
And you'll notice I said land management decisions. It's not wilderness, it is not private property only. It is all of the different multiple uses that are possible in a given area, and as the stake holders from all the given perspectives come to understand that they truly are going to have a role in developing the management decisions, it is then that we build those decisions I talked about before that are better than the status quo, and then that we can move forward.
We can make decisions about how to manage this incredible environmental heritage that we have in America without having to totally trade off one interest against the other. Those interested in a robust resource based economy can be accommodated, and we can have a strong economy while having strong, lasting protections for our environmental heritage, and we don't have to treat one of them as the enemy of the other.
BR: Still, it's relatively easy for any one interest group to stall or blow up the process at the last minute.
But what I have learned from that is pretty much any interest group with any kind of significant backing can stall or even stop something from happening, but it is very hard to build progress and to help create something that moves forward unless you are willing to involve a true collaborative approach. And once you are committed to working together for a solution rather than trying to figure out how to gum it up or to drive it through against opposition, then you can make progress – and I think that is one of the lasting lessons we get from the Owyhee's.
BR: I'm curious how you deal with a group that just absolutely does not wish to compromise on, say, any more wilderness.
The reason that wilderness was able to be achieved as one of the objectives in that process was that people who I'm sure came from the original position of 'no more wilderness' were able to see their interests taken into consideration. They were able to negotiate solutions to the concerns that they had with wilderness designations. And in the end, there was a comprehensive approach developed that was able to help them see their way to working with a system that did ultimately have some wilderness designation in it.
But again, I think that the way to approach this is not to say, how do we achieve more wilderness or less wilderness, or how do we have more of this or less of that, but instead to say that all interests should have a stake at the table, and their interests need to be taken into consideration, and that we have to build consensus.
BR: So, is this the approach that will work for the Boulder-White Clouds as well?
We all know that we have become really good at fighting over land management decisions in different, beautiful parts of Idaho. If we're going to resolve it, we're going to resolve it through a true collaborative effort that will bring all the parties together and help us to build consensus on pathways forward.
That is my commitment to the CIEDRA legislation. We have a few issues that are remaining, and some of the prominent political figures in Idaho are speaking out about the fact that we need to resolve these remaining issues before we move forward, and I agree. And ultimately we will find a pathway forward – if we do – through collaboration and consensus building, bringing all parties to the table instead of trying to find a way to cram through or to stall the particular decision making process.
The best way I could put it is, I continue to have confidence that we have set the kind of model with the Owyhee's that we need to follow, and that is to build true consensus through proper collaboration, and if we do that, we'll find a pathway forward.