Monday, September 13, 2010

Metrics to Management

Creating Practical Public Lands Policy

I am currently employed as a computer programmer. As a part of every application that I write I build a metrics component within the application. I track what functionality in the application gets used and how often. I do this because it allows me to make informed decisions about the applications that I manage. It allows me to take my metrics, things that I know, and translate that into a better management plan or process for the applications that I am tasked with maintaining. It is my opinion, that this same principle can be applied to managing our public lands.

While trying to sift and sort through all the claims and accusations about what is and what is not taking place at Gold Butte I have heard a lot of different claims from all sides. Working to come up with real world solutions, rather than hope a new political label will fix the “problem”, I thought I would try and gather what metrics I could on public lands at Gold Butte. How can we make management decisions based on abstracted hypothesis and unfounded assumptions?

If people, groups or management agencies have specific concerns about our public lands we have to sit down, list them out and come up with real world, practical solutions for each specific concern. The message that we sent to our representatives is something I truly believe; that we support a fair, transparent and open process to developing a management plan for our public lands. Collaboration and data create the opportunity to deliver results.

Increased Usage (Traffic Data and Visitor Count)
One of the biggest concerns that you hear and read over and over is about the increased usage of Gold Butte for a recreational destination. I won’t point out the obvious conflicting rationale of this claim coupled with, so we need to give Gold Butte more recognition. I will save that for a later post, but it’s something to think about.

In many peoples rational for whatever cause they champion you will hear the claim that there is increased traffic and usage out at Gold Butte. I am not disputing this claim however I wanted some actual numbers to in fact see what the increase in usage at Gold Butte is. I made contact with the BLM requesting this data along with other statistics relating to Gold Butte. Would you like to know what the actual increase of usage over time is? Me too! The BLM does not have any data, past or present, with regard to traffic or visitor counts for this region.

I am not disputing that the number of people that visit Gold Butte is growing. However, to use this rationale at face value with absolutely no numbers to back it up is foolish. People are making life altering management decisions for public lands, whether political or by the managing agency, with no actual data. The basis is nothing but elusive assumptions. How can you measure success unless your only goal is to restrict total access without baseline information and a clear and open objective?

I have heard the argument that we need more rangers to patrol Gold Butte. I do not have a stance on this because I don’t know enough about policing public lands for me to say one way or the other. Some simple questions that I have asked, that would help me better understand, I have never got answered. How many rangers do we need? Is this number calculated off the sheer acreage of the particular region? Is it based off of incident reports and tickets from the field?

When I requested the traffic data for Gold Butte I also asked for data on incidents in the Gold Butte region, both policing and cataloged incidents for cultural sites. I was told that there is some data for the last few years however this information is not available to the public. For people to use this rationale for hopes of getting an NCA without the proper data is short sighted and detrimental to other public lands within the BLM’s purview. This would do nothing but pilfer resources from other public lands within the state. Stressing one place and stripping others of their recognition.

If we are going to find legitimate solutions to the problems that face our public lands we have to first be able to define the problem, have a goal or solution we want to reach, have base line data to gage our progress, and continue to track metrics until we can honestly claim success or failure. There has to be accountability on all sides of the table. We cannot continue to allow people, agencies or special interest the luxury to hide behind a cloud of vagaries due to the lack of accurate and freely available information.

Metrics create accountability and accountability is like disclosure….its nice when there is some.