Friday, December 10, 2010

Bonanza Column 213 – NDOW: Neither Civil nor Servants

Somehow over the years since the Teddy Roosevelt presidency, the environment has increasingly become a political issue. This makes no sense to me unless I take a very dark, conspiratorial view that, in the case of the human role in global warming or the BP spill for example, what is really at issue is not so much the environment as big corporations' making money at the cost of people's welfare. Whatever the reason, and however little sense it makes, somehow the pro-conservation stand of TR and John Muir has become identified as a "liberal cause" and the anti-conservation position as conservative, though many of my most conservative friends will tell you that they are environmentalists, while disavowing the work of any of the environmental groups or movements. As I said, this makes no sense to me, but so little does these days.

Notwithstanding that, sometimes there arises an issue that can be legitimately viewed in political terms, and the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) has succeeded in making the issue of living with bears political. NDOW has approved plans for a very limited bear season as a way of controlling the burgeoning bear population. There are numerous restrictions on this – it's far from open season on bears – as detailed in a Bonanza article on November 24, and Carl Lackey, almost universally respected as THE local authority on bears in the Sierra, has stated that from a biologists' perspective the hunt makes sense.

Naturally, there are a lot of people opposed to the idea and they have been vocal in their opposition since the hunt was proposed. My purpose here is not to comment on the merits of either side's arguments, but on the NDOW's handling of the matter.

I think it's fair to say that the job of government, particularly those areas of government that deal with complex matters where there is both science and public opinion to deal with, is to listen carefully to all views and then to make a decision based on the public good. As Cato put it "the welfare of the people is the highest law," and often government may feel that one view or the other has right on its side, respect for all views is a core principle in a agencies are called upon to make a judgment call on what best serves the public welfare. Even where the agency democracy. When there is a difference of opinion and a decision must be made, one side will inevitably be overruled, and civil discourse and the opportunity for continued respectful dialogue requires that the side that "loses" go away feeling that their view was heard, respected, and taken into consideration. Where people cannot disagree with dignity, they become rebellious.

In this NDOW failed miserably at its hearing on December 4th in Reno. Far from feeling heard and respected, a significant number of those who spoke against the hunt left the hearing feeling ignored, patronized, and, in the words of one letter-writer in last week's Bonanza like it was "an exercise in futility."

I don't care which side of the issue you are on, no one should ever leave a public hearing feeling this way. In a time when so many of us feel alienated from the political process, to have one more piece of evidence that those who have political power are ignoring us is not a good thing. NDOW are supposed to be civil servants – in this instance they were neither.

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