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In the Right Place... At the Right Time

Editorial by Adena Cook,
BRC Public Lands Consultant

The BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC) started as a trickle of ideas, like a small wellspring coming together at the right place, at the right time. The spring became a creek, then a river, and then a mighty river with many tributaries. Timing was crucial, luck and a crazy sense of optimism played a part, and lots of hard work was important. I was there, pumping like mad into the spring, creek, and river.

When did the spring become a creek? For me, it was when I discovered the power of many diverse groups (I call them ad-hoc coalitions) working together to accomplish a common land-use objective.

It happened for the first time ever in 1990, when the National Park Service and the National Forest Service proposed to manage Yellowstone National Park and the national forests surrounding the park as a single "ecosystem," a catchy term in those days, with park-like protection as its overarching goal. It was called the Yellowstone Vision. The Vision proposed to restrict activities in the adjacent national forests with negative impacts on multiple use, recreation, access, and private property. It would have changed the multiple use mandate expressed in forest plans (not too old at that time) to management more appropriate to a national park. "Big Park," we called it. It was also literally in my backyard.

Peggy Trenk of the Western Environmental Trade Association in Montana organized a meeting of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho organizations in West Yellowstone. Chuck Cushman traveled from Washington State to speak up for private property. We aired our concerns and organized a campaign to oppose the Vision. BRC was the new kid on the block among the long established groups like the Wyoming Public Lands Council and the Idaho Farm Bureau, but we showed we could put our shoulder to the wheel and push hard.

Local elected officials became involved and our members of Congress were made well aware that the "Vision" was impaired. Ultimately, all three governors cosigned a letter of objection to President George H. W. Bush.

The "Vision" was pulled back and drastically revised. It ultimately resulted in the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Council, composed of area national forest supervisors and national park superintendents. The Council meets periodically to discuss and coordinate common interests.

I worked hard and learned much; for example, how to reach out and pull together common interests from diverse groups, the importance of local and national elected leaders, maintaining communication with land managers and their working process, media management, and networking, networking, networking. Over the years, we refined and tailored this model to fit many situations in many different places. I discovered that when I worked with sharp and motivated local recreation groups (which was often), I could coach them on the way this worked long distance. It became the backbone of our public lands activism. Little springs sprung up and flowed into the creek.

Fostering ad-hoc coalitions and working the administrative and political processes only went so far. Sometimes we lost out when, after all our work, our anti-access adversaries would sue an agency, and the judge would affirm a settlement agreement between the two that would throw us under the bus. Sometimes a situation would pop up where the logical next step was a lawsuit.

The last straw happened when, in the middle of revising the Targhee National Forest Plan, environmental groups sued the forest service over management of the grizzly bear in the Yellowstone Park and Island Park area. I knew all about it, knew a settlement was in the works and that we needed representation, but we didn't have a lawyer. They settled, and the settlement would ultimately close roads in Island Park outside the forest planning process. I vowed that would never happen again if I could help it.

The time was ripe when I became acquainted with Susan Buxton, a Boise attorney who had taken one of our Idaho desert racing organizations under her wing. She and I had several conversations about recreation and access, and the role of the legal system. I convinced Jack and Clark to drive to Boise with me to meet Susan. At the end of the day, we had a lawyer on retainer! There wasn't any money to pay her yet, but a fundraiser to our members brought an enthusiastic response. They have responded generously ever since. Shortly after that, Paul Turcke joined Susan's firm and became our attorney, and a very successful one. I could never have imagined that, a few years after those meager beginnings, we would participate in a case that won before the Supreme Court. Our legal team is now one of the most important parts of BRC.

As we were growing, achieving, and improving grassroots recreation activism, communication technology was changing the world. It primed all those pumps in all those springs that flowed into the creeks and river. We were among the first to use every bit of it. Once again, our timing was right on.

When Clark first founded the Coalition, he built networks and communicated with contacts with the help of a Commodore 128 computer. It had an early word processing system and mail merge list that kept the mailman busy. Later, he got fax broadcasting software for his PC. The Symms Trail Fund passed in no small part due to Clark's showering our many contacts and clubs with blizzards of faxes.

I can remember downloading documents from the Federal Register by going to a university site to access the government site. With a slow modem and dial-up access, this took time. Thankfully, this phase didn't last long. Instant communication became graphical, fast, and soon was to become even cheaper with the spread of the Internet and email. Technology truly empowered grass roots activism everywhere.

Now BRC is part of a huge river, with many rivers, streams and springs flowing in. We have many partners without whom we would not exist. We're grateful to them all: our members, other recreation groups who play a crucial role in protecting and providing for recreation, other public land users who also depend on and care for our country's vast land resources, the land managers with whom we've accomplished much, and our elected officials both local and national who have supported us. We've come a long way, and together, we still have a long way to go.

--Adena Cook is a public lands consultant for the BlueRibbon Coalition. For questions or comments on this article, she may be contacted through the BRC main office: BlueRibbon Coalition, 4555 Burley Drive, Suite A, Pocatello, ID, 83202. Phone: 208-237-1008, Fax: 208-237-9424. Email: .

June 1, 2016 3:10 PM

POCATELLO, ID (June 1, 2016) – Coalition (BRC) is pleased to reveal that its long-time partner in the fight to protect recreational access, Rocky Mountain ATV-MC (RMATV-MC), has agreed once again to generously match each dollar* raised to support BRC at the upcoming annual COW TAG event hosted by Klim, another long-time partner for access.

April 26, 2016 9:54 AM

POCATELLO, ID (April 26, 2016) -- Coalition (BRC) is pleased to announce the recent release of issue #4 of the BlueRibbon Magazine. This issue is packed with outstanding winter articles and a variety of recreation topics.

Hard copies of the BlueRibbon Magazine should be arriving at doorsteps this week (if they have not already arrived). If your copy has not yet arrived, there's no need to wait! The digital edition of the BlueRibbon Magazine is available today, in FlipZine or PDF versions.

April 13, 2016 10:04 AM

It's time once again for the annual COW TAG event! Please join KLIM and the Sharetrails/BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC) at this one-of-a-kind ride to be held on Saturday, June 25 at Kelly Canyon, ID. Proceeds benefit trail organizations and Sharetrails/BRC. Enter to win a 2016 Beta 300RR Race Edition!...

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