Andersen: The wisdom of compromise

If compromise is a sign of maturity, then 20-something Dylan Warburg gained years of wisdom on a recent flight across the Southwest. Dylan was a passenger with EcoFlight, the Aspen-based nonprofit that offers aerial perspectives on land-use issues to politicians, policy makers, media and students.

Run by Aspenites Bruce Gordon and Jane Pargiter, EcoFlight takes passengers into the air for a literal overview of landscapes in transition. The perspective they achieve, however, means more than being a few thousand feet off the ground.

“I wanted to learn about efforts to protect natural systems in the Rocky Mountains,” wrote Warburg. “What I got was a firsthand experience in compromise.”

Warburg said he witnessed the frustration of citizens “who feel alienated by the environmental community.” This frustration plays out regularly in the form of land-use restrictions that seemingly target motorized recreation and resource development.

During a presentation staged by EcoFlight on wilderness at Aspen High School two weeks ago, a student in the audience pushed back against wilderness designations by asking why he and his snowmobile should be banned from public lands. For Warburg, that question now has validity as a spur toward land-use compromises that could appease hostilities.

He and his fellow students acted out a skit that demonstrated compromise on sensitive land-use issues. Each student played a role that described a particular interest group — backpacker, mountain biker, energy driller, hunter — and effectively advocated for their roles. In the end, they drew lines on a map and made a working compromise.

In this ideal world the stakeholders described their positions rationally, accepted each other’s views and needs sympathetically and came to terms that were equitable, logical and beneficial to future land-management goals. Everyone was satisfied.

In the real world, carving up parcels on maps rarely appeases all interests. However, after three days of immersion in land-use issues, the skit put on by these students described the spirit of compromise Warburg now regards as a social, cultural and political necessity.

“Winning” a land-use dispute can become a Pyrrhic victory when any stakeholders feel shortchanged. The rise of the tea party and the Sagebrush Rebellion might not have happened without residual acrimony over embattled ground.

The ideological divisions in Congress that led to the recent government shutdown are of the same nature, born of disputes waged without compromise. History teaches that there is no real settlement until parties come to equitable terms, as seen in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the current imbroglio with a nuclear Iran. Hostile stalemates are headline reminders of a failure to compromise.

Reflecting on his EcoFlight experience, Warburg said, “I heard from individuals establishing bipartisan community-based land agreements in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. The popularity of this new age of conservation effort demonstrates that successful initiatives incorporate diverse voices.”

He pointed to the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act near Durango, which has gained the approval of both the Colorado Snowmobile Association and the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Association.

“This represented two firsts for a bill that includes new wilderness which is off limits to all vehicles. While federal representatives are mired in ideological stalemates, coalitions such as this provide hope that crucial conservation can be a rare point of unity rather than division.”

“It’s not that oil and gas drilling shouldn’t happen anywhere,” Warburg quoted a fifth-generation rancher in western Colorado. “It’s that oil and gas development shouldn’t happen everywhere.”

Warburg concluded, “Replace ‘oil and gas’ with any other use of public lands and you have the paradigm which can guide us toward a more healthy national discourse on energy, recreation and the environment.”

For Warburg, EcoFlight was “an eye-opener.” Describing himself as an “aspiring mountaineer,” he holds steady to the value of protecting public lands. “I also pledge to respect and listen to those who see things differently.”

Either Warburg needs to speak that message to Congress or EcoFlight needs a squadron of small planes to show our elected officials how compromise is done in the West. They just might learn something about how to act in the East.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at Connect with him on Facebook at paul.andersen.9003.