News.bytes News.bytes Extra, issue 251

BLM Bishop Field Office co-sponsors dispute resolution workshop

In the Old West, land disputes were settled one-on-one with six shooters out on some dusty street.

In the New West, it isn't quite that clear cut. Land use disputes typically involve multiple parties and don't lend themselves to easy resolution.

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy recently presented a two-day workshop in Bishop on facilitated discussions as one possible tool to help resolve those disputes. The workshop was sponsored by the Sierra Business Council, Inyo and Mono counties, the Inyo National Forest and Bureau of Land Management Bishop Field Office.

The group learned about earlier mediation on land use issues
The group learned about earlier mediation on land use issues

In the process, representatives of the various interests meet as a group with a facilitator to try to reach consensus on a decision. Workshop participants heard presentations on the process, held group discussions and got a feel for the process through role playing. Topics included strategies to address common problems, designing the consensus building comments and characteristics of land use disputes.

"More often than not, structured consensus building can bring win-win resolution to land use disputes and better address the needs of the community," said Bill Dunkelberger, BLM Bishop Field Office manager. "As California's population increases, we are seeing more land use issues where numerous parties with differing values are involved. This is one more tool we can use to facilitate better land use decisions."

BLM's Bishop Field Office Manager Bill Dunkelberger listen as a group member makes a point

Merrick Hoben, a workshop facilitator from the Consensus Building Institute, said there are a number of lessons learned the Lincoln Institute and CBI found in a land use mediation study:

  • Parties must believe they will get more through consensus building than the next best alternative;
  • If a viable alternative to consensus building is available, it will be difficult to get people to the table;
  • Political leadership is essential;
  • Participants must be assured the results of their efforts will be taken seriously;
  • Local government plays a central role;
  • Well-done consensus building can bring implementable agreements, increased understanding and improved relationships;
  • Facilitators and mediators can play a central role.

"If it's well done, the agreement implemented, it can lead to increased understanding and improved relations, he said."

Attendees discussed local issues and the possibility for consensus building from housing at Mammoth Mountain to management of BLM's Alabama Hills area near Lone Pine.

Participants saw values in the subject matter presented in the workshop and in the interaction among community residents.

Mary Canada, eastern sierra field representative for the Sierra Business Council, said the portion of the workshop focused on local issues set the stage for some follow-up discussions. "We have regional issues that don't stop at the county line," she said. "We'll come to better decisions if a regional approach is taken."

Kathleen New, Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce director, agreed it was a valuable forum to help address issues in the eastern Sierras. "If everyone applied one thing we learned, we could accomplish a lot together," she said.

Facilitators gather audience suggestions on land issues
Facilitators gather audience suggestions on land issues

- DChristie 10/06

BLM California News.bytes, issue 251