Recently, I had the opportunity to interface with a group of landowners who did not appreciate how I was managing the National Forest adjacent to their homes. We had several previous meetings in an office or home setting, but this time we went to the woods to look at the success we had with our prescribed burn.
The objective of the project was to enhance aspen in a particular area through a prescribed burn. We wanted to remove conifers from the aspen, kill mature aspen trees and stimulate aspen regeneration through suckering. We had accomplished part of the burn and intended on finishing the burn in a year or two. Homeowners were adamantly opposed to the burn as they felt it would threaten their homes, leave a black scar in their backyard and not accomplish our goals.
We visited the burn on a sunny, late-summer afternoon and included some other folks who were interested in aspen ecology. We spent two hours “kicking dirt,” talking about aspen ecology, the goals we had already accomplished and the need for more fire in the aspen. We also discussed my reasons for cancelling the project.
Lessons I learned from this experience:
- Don’t overwhelm the interested public with “experts.” It was only two of us from the Forest Service, a fuels specialist and me, the District Ranger/forest ecologist.
- Talking about the project is one thing. SHOWING what you have accomplished and what you expect to accomplish is another ballgame. All of those present could see what we had done and draw their own conclusions.
- Including other interested persons who don’t have a stake in the game can help diffuse the situation and make for a more robust, interesting discussion. I was not on the defensive all the time and everyone had a chance to ask questions and comment. It was like Facebook, let the other participants help with the hard answers and show their expertise.
- Scheduling the meeting to accommodate people’s schedules is important. Rather than asking people to show up at my office at 3 PM when everyone is working or out enjoying the National Forest, we were able to demonstrate that we were flexible and interested in their input.
I enjoyed this interaction and will take this approach more often. I won’t think of this project in a negative vein anymore and will look forward to interacting with these folks in the future.
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