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Flight Across America: An Aerial Perspective of a Modern Decision-Making Process

Students in EcoFlight

View of mountains from flightFrom the back of the small, six-seat, Cessna 210, I peered out the window at Grand Teton National Park, the Tetons, and Jackson Lake. This perspective of the mountains, unlike any I had seen before, is my most memorable view from the Flight Across America program through EcoFlight, even though the park was not the focus of the trip. On October 10 and 11, 2017, myself and six other students from the University of Wyoming traveled to five counties to meet with their Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI) committees and fly over their wilderness study areas (WSAs). EcoFlight uses a small aircraft to offer an aerial perspective of wild lands to provide education and advocate for their protection. At the close of their flying season, EcoFlight offers a program called Flight Across America to engage students with land management issues.

This year’s Flight Across America program provided student access to the WPLI committees’ process on WSA designations. WPLI works to make a collaborative decision on determining the future status of Wyoming’s WSAs. View of land from flightEach member of these WPLI committees represents a certain stakeholder perspective when it comes to public lands. County commissioners spearhead the committees and coordinate the various interests in recreation, grazing, conservation, and the general public.

Having diverse interests work together to form a management plan is a noble goal. Who better to manage public lands than the people who live right beside them every day? As one can imagine, within collaborative groups like these, there are many challenges. Determining the future of the WSAs requires commitment from the committee members, time outside of their regular working hours, resources to reach out to the public and receive input, and a dedication to the process. Beyond this, the very nature of coordinating multiple viewpoints creates a challenge in finding common ground on collaborative decision making.

View of mountains from flightI completed the two days of flying feeling overwhelmed. There remains a lot of work for the committees, and it often seemed like little progress was made in the last year, but that is far from the truth. Regardless of how slow the process, WPLI is a modern approach to public decision-making and collaboration. Many of the stakeholders we met with stressed that the key aspects of the work they were doing in the WPLI committee had less to do with the outcome and more to do with the process. Collaborative decision-making groups are driven by common interest in the land, and they are instrumental in developing effective tools for future land management.

View of mountains and plane from flightWhile I saw many beautiful aerial views, the highlight of this flight program was meeting with citizens of Wyoming who invest in improving public land management. Whether you agree with the WSA designation outcomes or not, a collaborative approach to land management decisions to engage the community in the political process and to best represent stakeholder interests in the management decision is the way of the future. The WPLI process brings the future of public lands to public hands.

 

Story and photos from Savannah Hook, a junior majoring in English and environment and natural resources and minoring in honors at the University of Wyoming.


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