Public Speaker on Public Issues



The magic of words……..  

‘When all else fails manipulate the data’ is a phrase which finds its tee shirt humor in the sad reality of how some have begun to achieve many objectives and implement many agendas in this nation.  

‘When management fails manipulate the meaning’ is the newest variation added to this ‘tool box’.  

The realm of public land management is not immune to the erosive effects of marginalizing well intended public land resource laws through the use of either of these ‘tools’.  

I contend that public land management is the main target and largest victim of each of these tools. The special focus of this article is the second tool, i.e., manipulating the meaning.  

The marginalization of the Multiple Use & Sustained Yield Act of 1960 is one example. It is, however, the most compelling one because this law is both a framework and a foundation for managing the public’s natural resources.  

This brief and clearly stated law was intended to require people to share the public landscape rather than fight over it; avoid domination of use by any one special interest group and legally recognize various types of uses by the American public.  

This legal requirement to share continues to be welcomed by some and abhorred by others. The United States Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are required to comply with this law and numerous other public land laws.  

Easier said than done, but at one time both the management maturity and skill level of these agencies were there to get’r done by explaining the how and why to both employees and the general public. Neither of these management resources are the caliber of what they used to be, nor are they of the caliber we need in todays even more complex and self-centered world.  

With these two critical management resources underpowered the agencies are: extremely vulnerable to pressure and persuasion from extremists who would do away with the Multiple Use & Sustained Yield Act but want to avoid the public outrage that effort would cause; more susceptible to the pressures of constantly changing political winds; less willing to develop and articulate management prescriptions that would address special concerns without needing to exclude other multiple uses; more likely to manage by exclusion rather than deal with conflicting value systems.  

Why the management maturity and skill level has dropped is not as important to this article as is identifying examples of how meaning is being manipulated with words.  

Does the increasingly popular acronym ACEC (Areas of Critical Environmental Concern) sound familiar? How about SMAs (Special Management Areas).  

The use of such terms and the designation of areas under these terms do not reflect better management or resource protection. These are terms that the agencies are adopting and imposing because it is much easier to justify excluding or marginalizing other multiple uses in such areas by simply invoking these labels of protection.  

In the development of Resource Management Plans by the BLM and Forest Plans by the USFS these terms are finding their way into Environmental Impact Statements and Environmental Assessments. This is unnecessary and actually very inappropriate.  

All that needs to be done is: (1) Have very clearly stated management prescriptions written right into environmental documents to address special situations; (2) Make certain (don’t assume) that the field staff know how to substantively respond to public inquiry regarding the integrated management of special situations as part of the multiple use picture.


Using the editorial crutch of ACECs and SMAs sets up an automatic ‘no fly zone’ where the interests of other multiple uses are not welcome and barely tolerated. Inquiring about the use of these terms sets the questioner up to be seen as insensitive or driven by profit motive only. This is not necessarily an unintended consequence. Words do matter.  

Each of these agencies attracts strong natural resource professionals to their ranks. The agencies need to consciously develop the management maturity skills of how to integrate AND manage multiple use and sustained yield of the public’s resources. That does not include equipping them with bumper sticker phrases and terms that are exclusionary, divisive and unnecessary. Terms that marginalize the meaning of reasonable and sound public law.  


Kathleen Jachowski is a freelance writer and public speaker on natural resources and cultural issues. She also serves as Executive Director of the Guardians of the Range. Opinions expressed are her own. Contact:


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