The Role and Influence of Voluntary Associations in the Planning and Management of Public Lands
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Public interest and involvement in natural resource management is nothing new. Various case studies point to an increased level of citizen involvement in natural resource decision-making (Kline, 2006). This level of interaction takes place in several different forms and at various levels, e.g., citizen science groups, voluntary associations and organized public meetings. A variety of laws have been instituted over the last three decades to grant citizens input into resource policy decisions such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA). Several factors have contributed to increased public involvement in natural resource management decision-making including declining trust in government, lack of confidence in government leaders, impasses in resource decisions, and an entrepreneurial attitude about "getting things done" (Wondolleck & Yaffee, 2000). Citizens have grown weary and impatient with the "decide, announce, and defend" (DAD) philosophy of land managing agencies (Leach, 2004). The measurement of "success" and questions about "effectiveness" in collaborative efforts highlight the need to explore engagement processes from both sides in order to explore the costs and benefits of these endeavors (Steelman, 2010).Increasing threats to recreation areas through urban sprawl and development have led citizens and organized groups to access educational materials and local information to pursue involvement in the stewardship of public lands. People are choosing to live and recreate close to protected areas and are increasingly concerned about land use decisions that may impact their recreation opportunities and quality of life. Given the fact that Texas has a limited amount of public land, i.e., 2.6% federally managed and 3% state managed (Texas Environmental Profiles, 2004), any changes to land use or management would not go unnoticed. Data from the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau show Texas population estimates for 2015 at 27.4 million residents an increase of 9% from 2010 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). Recent research examining population shifts and increases near parks and protected areas in Texas and across the U.S. show more use of our public lands and subsequent involvement of voluntary associations in natural resource-decision-making (Kline, 2006; Schuett et al., 2008; Schuett et al., 2014). For example, the Sam Houston National Forest which lies 60 miles north of Houston is experiencing increased development pressures every day. In the next four years, an estimated 12,000 new single-family homes will be built within ten miles of the forest, and the impact of these challenges will require careful planning for residents, land managers and forest users (Tresaugue, 2015).Individuals representing specific interests, i.e., hikers, bird watchers, disabled individuals, friends' groups, etc., understand the necessity of forming/joining national and local associations to access, secure, and maintain the use of our public lands..........