South Yuba River plan a product of compromise |

South Yuba River plan a product of compromise

The opinion expressed in recent edition of The Union got it right. (The Union’s View: “South Yuba planners deserve praise,” Feb. 12.)

The planners of the South Yuba River Comprehensive Management Plan should receive high praise. The planners, however, were not government employees; they were the citizens of Nevada County. Agency staff played a critical role in organizing and facilitating the project, but the real job of planning was the work of the people.

About 340 people attended at least one of 48 public meetings (38 in Grass Valley, two in the town of Washington, one at each major river crossing, and two river tours). That’s how many meetings were needed to adequately discuss, debate, deliberate and develop an agreement of 80 percent or full consensus on each and every management issue. The result of this extraordinary effort is a draft plan that is available now for public review and comment.

As The Union noted, the participants represented a broad range of often conflicting viewpoints. In this process, called Community Based Planning, the focus is on accommodating each point-of-view. All points-of-view can usually be satisfied through reasonable compromise. Focusing on specific interests rather than on seemingly irreconcilable political differences or conflicting environmental viewpoints, is central to the process. That’s why the plan required so many meetings.

Time is required for the participants to learn and accept the fact that the process really does consist of a level playing field, that every voice will be heard, and every viewpoint will be respectfully considered. In the meetings, when all participants were satisfied they have been heard and that the issue was well understood, they would suggest one or more management actions to resolve the issue. By a simple thumb up, thumb down or thumb sideways method, the participants were polled to see if there was agreement or full consensus. If there was, they moved on. If not, more discussion took place.

No, narrow interests were not optimized. Yes, there was compromise. Most of all, this group of diverse participants were reasonable and respectful toward one another.

The significance of this achievement is apparently lost on some.

Imagine, if you will, planning for the management of the South Yuba River corridor in a respectful and constructive manner – the same river corridor that was the source of so much acrimony and bitter dialog during the wild and scenic river debate.

Possibly the most important lesson to come out of this effort is that the toxic political climate that resulted from the wild and scenic river debates and the NH2020 calamity doesn’t have to be repeated. Those efforts don’t have to be the model for dealing with sensitive environmental issues in Nevada County. There is an alternative, and the citizens of Nevada County who participated in river planning clearly showed how it works.

As The Union observed, local elected officials did not truly participate in the process. This was unfortunate but understandable. They have never experienced the power of community-based planning. They are, however, aware of the political pain usually suffered in dealing with high visibility environmental issues in the county. With time and an open mind, they will begin to appreciate what has taken place here.

From almost any point of view, it is difficult to find fault with citizens from a diverse set of political and environmental viewpoints who worked with their local, state and federal agencies to cooperatively plan for the future of one of the most important resources in the county.

It was democracy in action Ð the real thing.

We need more of it.


D.K. Swickard is a field manager for the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management Folsom Field Office

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