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Cooperative Conservation Listening Sessions Final Report

As a follow-up to the President’s Conference on Cooperative Conservation held in St. Louis in August 2005, the federal government hosted 25 Cooperative Conservation public Listening Sessions across the United States between August 9 and October 9, 2006.  The Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, and Interior; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the White House Council on Environmental Quality all hosted sessions.  Public participants attending provided their comments directly to high-ranking officials representing one or more of the five host agencies. Citizens submitted comments via mail, fax, and email.  All comments were compiled and analyzed with equal importance.

To help focus public input, Americans were asked to share their ideas about the following five questions:

  1. How can the federal government enhance wildlife habitat, species protection, and other conservation outcomes through regulatory and voluntary conservation programs?
  2. How can the federal government enhance cooperation among federal agencies and with states, tribes, and local communities in the application of environmental protection and conservation laws?
  3. How can the federal government work with states, tribes, and other public- and private-sector partners to improve science used in environmental protection and conservation?
  4. How can the federal government work cooperatively with businesses and landowners to protect the environment and promote conservation?
  5. How can the federal government better respect the interests of people with ownership in land, water, and other natural resources?

The public offered input at many scales and ranges; for example, individuals spoke for themselves about very specific issues; elected officers of non-government organizations commented on behalf of their large memberships about national or state legislation; individual business owners or representatives of business associations commented about local, regional, or national concerns; government and tribal officials at all electoral levels spoke on behalf of their constituents about a wide range of issues, policies, and regulations.

The open-ended “Listening Session” methodology honors the diversity of opinion in the United States.  Predictably, this methodology elicited a full range of often passionately felt public pro/con opinion and experience.  A result different from a “voting booth” or forced-choice polling approach that, by necessity, reduces variability in citizen input to arrive at majority or plurality decision—and thus, “winners and losers.” 

Yet, the thousands of Listening Session comments required some form of systematic analysis to facilitate compilation, interpretation, and understanding, and because of the different forms of submission (verbal, electronic and written/hard copy), different methods were employed to conduct the analysis.

Thematic analysis and key-word analysis were used to categorize Listening Session comments. Session transcripts and written comments were reviewed for common themes. Additionally, Atlas.ti  was used to search all electronic files (transcripts and e-mailed submissions) for (a) thematic similarities and (b) 250 selected keywords of special interest to the federal agencies that participated in the Listening Sessions.

Major categories that emerged for analysis and characterization included:

For a detailed analysis of above topics, please see the full report (42 pp, 400K, About PDF)(http://www.cooperativeconservation.gov/sessions/sessionsfinalreport122006.pdf) Exit EPA Disclaimer

Of the many scales of issues and ranges of opinions that emerged in the Listening Sessions, perhaps the most telling of all was the range of opinions that participants expressed toward “Cooperative Conservation” as a problem-solving model. These opinions became obvious during the course of thousands of comments, and ranged from embracing, to guarded but hopeful, to skeptical, to opposed.

These thousands of opinions identified general characteristics of “Cooperative Conservation” that would help the citizenry and the federal government (as the public servant of the citizenry) reach mutually beneficial goals, while satisfying personal, corporate, and government obligations.  Through their comments, participants in these Listening Sessions identified characteristics and qualities associated with Cooperative Conservation, including the following:

Practically all those offering comments through the Listening Session process expressed a willingness to engage in Cooperative Conservation. But if even one quality were lacking, many participants expressed concerns about outcomes.  Most commenters closed by thanking the “guest listeners” for the opportunity to be heard. It was obvious to many that this “thank you” was more than a gratuitous final gesture—it expressed an appreciation that, regardless of where speakers and listeners stood on the issues at hand—the process of one person speaking to another, expressing their hopes, concerns, bad experiences, good experiences, and recommendations for actions—is the purest, most direct, and most gratifying form of governance.

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