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Edward P. Weber

The management approach of U.S. agencies to public lands, natural resources, and environmental protection has varied greatly across the years, starting with an exploitative utilitarianism, then gradually adding considerable protections for natural resources and ecosystems in response to changing societal values. Along the way, federal natural resource agencies have cultivated uneasy and shifting partnerships with private development interests (e.g., logging, grazing, water, mining, energy), recreationists, and preservationists. In fact, conventional wisdom holds that many natural resource agencies historically have been controlled by powerful congressional representatives in partnership with and for the benefit of private development interests. However, the claims of capture have been increasingly challenged by the significant advances in environmental protections for natural resources since the 1960s. At the same time, innovative new approaches for managing natural resources such as market-based environmentalism and collaborative governance have emerged to compete with more traditional top down, government-based, command-and-control approaches.

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Edward P. Weber

In this chapter Edward Weber examines the issue of political support for collaborative governance and the logic of support that spans both liberal and conservative politicians in the western United States. For liberal politicians, collaborative governance is viewed as a way to achieve environmental goals such as species recovery. From their perspective, the national environmental superstructure of environmental laws provides enough security that their preferred environmental protection outcomes will be reached that they are willing to loosen the reins of discretion in order to produce better outcomes. For conservative politicians, the place-based collaboration approach matches the conservative ideas of small government and governance close to home. This support continues to be challenged by lawsuits from the left and right, but broad-based public interest outcomes offer policy solutions that are often hard for elected officials to oppose. In response to these trends, Weber notes that politicians have been granting more discretion to agencies, which have been also lending more support to collaboration due to declining budgets and more emphasis on collaboration.