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Conservation Toolkit

U.S. Forest Service | Environment and Natural Resources

Public Agency Participation in Local Land Use Planning

Resources for Collaboration, Cooperation, and Consensus Building

Many information and guidance resources exist for collaborative process and collaborative planning in the West. In fact, most federal agencies have worked with experts in the field of collaborative practice to better understand or exchange information about how their agency can work more effectively with communities and outside organizations to achieve goals and fulfill their agency’s mission. The University of Wyoming is a good resource for information and research on collaborative processes. The Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming has published research on collaboration and consensus building in the state, has hosted forums for discussions about the collaborative process, and recently added an expert on collaborative practice and a mediator to its staff. Federal and state-level resources for collaborative process are outlined below.

Collaboration and Federal Agencies

The U.S. Forest Service

In an August 2006 publication, “Cooperating Across Boundaries: Partnerships to Conserve Open Space in Rural America” (, the USFS states that collaborative planning and working with local communities can lead to healthy forests and grasslands. The publication outlines how the Forest Service can be a community partner by:

  • Facilitating communication, partnerships, and collaboration to arrive at local solutions;
  • Bringing information and technical resources to help inform the local planning and management process; and
  • Offering creative and flexible programs to help address open space conservation.


The publication also offers six ways for the USFS and communities to work collaboratively, including:

  1. Communicating and sharing information about current and potential land use decisions.
  2. Including each other in planning sessions, whether for local plans or national forest plans.
  3. Using the local USFS staff’s biological and resource management expertise to help identify conservation needs and priorities.
  4. Jointly developing community protection plans to reduce potential loss of life and property from wildfires.
  5. Seeking funds through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (see section on “Sources of Funding for Land Acquisitions and Easements”) to add critical open space to the national forests and to buffer public land from encroachment.
  6. Considering the impacts of public land decisions on the local economy and subsequent spin-off impacts on private open space.

The Bureau of Land Management

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has worked with the Sonoran Institute, a non-profit organization that supports community-based collaboration, to create “A Desktop Reference Guide to Collaborative, Community-Based Planning,” which outlines seven guiding principles for successful collaboration between public agencies and local communities.

Briefly, the principles are:

  1. Build lasting relationships with neighbors, community leaders, interested groups, and individuals, which entails being inclusive, having informal, one-on-one dialogue, and connecting and being involved with the community outside of formal meetings to develop trust and credibility.
  2. Identify the legal sideboards early on, such as the laws and regulations that guide federal land management.
  3. Encourage diverse participation and communication by including community leaders; tribal, state, and local government officials; and regional and national interests groups. Engage people as neighbors, answer and return phone calls and emails, and widely circulate outreach materials.
  4. Work at an appropriate scale at which the community can identify.
  5. Empower the group and let the planning process be driven by the community. Support the agency’s role as a convener, manager, information provider, and contributor while refraining from controlling the collaborative process.
  6. Share resources, including important scientific, legal, and socioeconomic information, as well as the risks, responsibilities, and rewards.
  7. Build support for the collaborative process within your agency.


The BLM/Sonoran Institute publication defines collaboration as “a cooperative process in which interested parties, often with widely varied interests, work together to seek solutions with broad support for managing public and other lands.” Collaborative partnerships and collaborative stewardship are defined as “people working together, sharing knowledge and resources, to achieve desired outcomes for public lands and communities within statutory and regulatory frameworks.”

The BLM/Sonoran Institute publication notes the importance of being flexible and recognizing the limitations of collaborative approaches and concludes by stating the many rewards of collaboration, such as building trust and working relationships, leveraging scarce resources, improving management practices, and creating a shared sense of ownership and responsibility for the land.

The National Park Service

The Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) program through the National Park Service provides technical assistance to project partners by helping build partnerships to achieve community-defined goals, assessing resources, developing concept plans, engaging in public participation, and identifying potential sources of funding for conservation and outdoor recreation projects. The program supplies a staff person with extensive experience in community-based conservation to work with a local group on a project. This places the responsibility for decision making about conservation matters in the hands of the community’s residents. Believing that the best plans are made by local residents, the RTCA program supports those local groups whose projects offer extensive public involvement (see:


Collaborative Process at the University of Wyoming

The Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources
The Ruckelshaus Institute is a model in the Rocky Mountain West for developing collaborative approaches to addressing complex environmental and natural resource challenges. It advances effective decision making on environmental and natural resource issues through research, policy analysis, education, process support, and outreach. The Ruckelshaus Institute offers services related to collaboration, including convening discussions and designing and facilitating collaborative processes.

The Ruckelshaus Institute published An Assessment of Collaboration and Consensus Building Needs and Opportunities in Wyoming in early 2000. This publication highlights the needs, opportunities, and issues regarding public decision-making processes within the state, and points out that the increasingly complex issues that accompany natural resource and environmental management in the West require an approach to decision making that is inclusive, is influenced and driven by stakeholders, has accessible information, and has a flexible and voluntary process. Its findings also included that community decisionmaking should be focused on shared goals, building consensus on tough issues, and implementing durable solutions.

The publication identifies a list of important elements of successful agreement building:

  1. Assess the situation – Determine the best approach, values, and viewpoints; develop common understanding of the issue, needs and interests, and consequences of various resolutions; and determine areas of opportunity for agreement.
  2. Agree on the purpose – Participants must agree on the consensus-building approach, the scope of the work, and level of decision-making authority; participants must also set realistic expectations.
  3. Ensure that the process is inclusive, not exclusive – All those who can affect or will be impacted by the outcome should be involved from the initial stages.
  4. Allow participants to design and drive the forum – Trust that the process must be built from the inside, among all the participants.
  5. Secure adequate financial, technical, and training support – An impartial, trained, and credible facilitator will enhance the process and help to ensure success; the process must be supported both financially and technically.
  6. Encourage cooperative learning – Identify sources of accessible information and data; work together while gathering, analyzing, and interpreting data.
  7. Insist on accountability – All participants are accountable to the consensus–building process and are responsible for keeping the public informed of progress.
  8. Implement and monitor agreements – Clarify and assign roles and responsibilities and design a strategy for monitoring and evaluation.


Setting aside personal and political agendas is important when deciding to use a consensus-building process. This publication notes that collaborative processes are easily stymied by distrust or disdain for other participants. Acknowledging other viewpoints and stakeholder concerns and building trust from within the collaborative group are vital to the progress and success of this approach to decision making.


Coordinated Resource Management
Coordinated Resource Management (CRM) is a collaborative decision-making process that includes all stakeholders involved in an issue. In Wyoming, CRM was developed in the early 1980s as part of a cooperative effort between the USFS, National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), BLM, and Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service to improve decision making about natural resource use and management among resource owners, users, and managers. CRM is a voluntary planning process that is driven by local people that have a high stake in the natural resource issue in question. The stated goal of CRM, as written by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, is to “serve as a vehicle to reach an agreement that will improve natural resource values for all users and promote quality natural resource management through collaborative efforts.”

Its objectives include:

  1. Encourage coordination and cooperation of natural resource management efforts between local landowners and permitees and local land management agencies and personnel;
  2. Provide for optimal public and private benefit from the land and its resources;
  3. Improve or maintain natural resources for the benefit of domestic livestock and wildlife, watershed values, water quality improvement, wetland and riparian management, recreational opportunities, and other uses in the CRM area;
  4. Provide for public involvement in public land natural resource management decisions;
  5. Allow decisions to be made by focusing on what is good for the resource, rather than what is good for a single
    interest; and
  6. Improve natural resource values for all users.



The Wyoming Department of Agriculture

The Wyoming Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Natural Resource Mediation Program was established to resolve conflicts outside of the court system, saving time and minimizing expense. The Wyoming Mediation Program employs a trained mediator to meet with the parties in conflict and to facilitate a discussion about the issue at hand. Mediation has been used to resolve issues including, but not limited to:

  • Farm debt and credit disputes;
  • Grazing permits and public land use;
  • Easement and access issues;
  • Split estate conflicts;
  • Wildlife damage and endangered species issues;
  • Livestock conflicts;
  • Family estate transition;
  • Timber sales and cuts; and
  • Water quality facts and data.


The mediation process is voluntary and confidential and does not move forward without the agreement of all parties involved. Mediation may last only a few hours or extend over several days, and if an agreement is not reached the mediation session ends and parties may pursue other methods of conflict resolution. Mediation can offer a fast, inexpensive, and flexible way to come to mutually agreed upon solutions, which are likely to be followed by the conflicting parties. Wyoming has over 50 mediators around the state who have been certified by the Wyoming Agriculture and Natural Resource Mediation Program. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency (USDA-FSA), NRCS, Rural Development, and USFS have provisions for mediation and other alternative dispute resolution processes, which can be accessed through a local USDA office.


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and Natural Resources

University of Wyoming

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Phone: (307)766-5080

Fax: (307)766-5099


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