Landscape Ruralism: management design of 248,000,000 acres

[“Flames and smoke from a backfire dwarf a firefighter along U.S. 95 in southeastern Oregon just north of McDermitt, Nev. Fire crews set backfires like this in an effort to block the spread of the fast-moving Long Draw fire that scorched 871 square miles earlier this month.”  The agency behind the fire – weather, weeds, cheat grass, BLM management prescriptions, climate change –  is still up for conjecture. Image/caption via the Oregonian.]

[“In the Nine Mile Canyon area, which is known for petroglyphs, a natural gas company is installing a pipeline despite concerns of archaeologists”.  “…Grazing, wildlife, along with threatened and endangered species — they commingle here,” Mr. Stringer said in an interview, waving his hand across a map of northeastern Utah in his office. “But oil and gas — that’s the major use.” Image Text via the NYT]

The New York Times reports on the difficulties the Bureau of Land Management  (B.L.M.) faces as the U.S. federal agency charged with both “protecting [248 million acres of] public lands while exploiting their resources”; the agency, it claims, “many Americans have never heard of.”  The Times article focuses on oil and gas drilling in designated wilderness areas of the state of Utah, illustrating a specific and regional instance of the competing demands the Bureau must negotiate throughout its huge territories of the western United States (47% of the 11 western states are federally managed).

Within this multitude of ‘non-urban‘ landscapes – those networked territories beyond the city proper upon which such centers covertly depend – the BLM performs all sorts of design operations.  Through the articulation of management techniques in these quasi-wild realms, quasi-designed ecosystems emerge in range lands, remote desert canyons, ‘wild and scenic rivers’, as well as more overt anthro-constructions, such as leveed wetland impoundments in the Klamath watershed that are being managed for subsidence reversal (more on that later).  The BLM has long pioneered “mixed use” development beyond the city.

“Adaptive management [is a decision process that] promotes flexible decision making that can be adjusted in the face of uncertainties as outcomes from management actions and other events become better understood. Careful monitoring of these outcomes both advances scientific understanding and helps adjust policies or operations as part of an iterative learning process. Adaptive management also recognizes the importance of natural variability in contributing to ecological resilience and productivity. It is not a ‘trial and error’ process, but rather emphasizes learning while doing. Adaptive management does not represent an end in itself, but rather a means to more effective decisions and enhanced benefits. Its true measure is in how well it helps meet environmental, social, and economic goals, increases scientific knowledge, and reduces tensions among stakeholders.”   -definition of adaptive management by the National Resource Council, utilized in the Dept. Of the Interior Adaptive Management Technical Guide.

The BLM has firmly embraced the tenants and techniques of adaptive management.  But it seems the model needs to be extended (both within and outside the BLM) to not only include management of “natural resources” via “learning by doing” with water regimes, grazing patterns and creative applications of fire, but to also encompass the ecological processes of corporate lobbying practices, bureaucratic and institutional inertias, media trajectories, and formalized operations of politics in general.

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