After Malheur, side effects of the Bundys’ extremism linger

High Desert Partnership began about 15 years ago, as a conversation between Chad Karges, who was then deputy manager for the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and a cattle rancher named Gary Marshall. Relations between local ranchers and refuge employees had been volatile for decades, as the two sides butted heads over livestock and wildlife. The bad blood extended beyond the Fish and Wildlife Service, to the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service, whose management decisions were tied up in litigation.

Karges knew something had to change. The refuge was supposed to create a new 15-year plan in a few years. “If we didn’t do something different, we shouldn’t expect a different outcome than what the BLM and Forest Service were experiencing.”

So Karges and Marshall started looking around the West for communities that had forged lasting solutions to thorny disagreements. They reached out to the Blackfoot Challenge in Montana, the Quivira Coalition in New Mexico, and the Malpai Borderlands Group in Arizona, all of which created successful partnerships between federal agencies, locals and conservation groups.

Two things became clear: Natural resource projects needed to come as much from the community as the federal government, and they needed a nonprofit to provide a safe, neutral forum for conversation around tough issues, like cattle grazing in a bird sanctuary.

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