Rare Earth At Bearlodge: Extractive Mineral Development, Multiple Use Management, And Socio-Ecological Values In The American West
Mining is recognized as the "highest and best use" of U.S. Forest Service lands that are also designated for multiple use through statutes that often give precedence to extractive mineral development over local livelihoods and recreation. The complexity associated with governance of these lands arises from the need to reconcile political- legal mandates with the cultural, economic, and other interests of different stakeholders (i.e. agency decision-makers, public land users, and market interests) and the changing natural processes shaping the landscape (e.g. ecological, geologic, hydrologic). Theory from political ecology and socio-ecological systems provide a framework to understand the natural resource management challenges of public lands in an era of increasing resource demand, ecological scarcity, changing climatic conditions, and land use conflict. Together these fields of study have not explicitly addressed how different valuation methods and stakeholder values towards nature shape management of common property resource public lands with a dual mandate of extractivism and conservation. My research fills this gap with the case of a proposed rare earth mine in the Black Hills National Forest - the nation's first multiple use public land - to show how the value and values associated with one use and the many compete. My focus takes three parts: 1) the historic role of the regulatory state in creating conditions for present day land use conflict; 2) the competing economic and environmental perspectives that emerge from public participation in environmental review; and 3) a comparison of social and ecological valuation techniques to assess commensurability in the acquisition of additional land for the siting of mine waste. Methods used in this research include: geographic information systems, archival data collection, Q-sort discourse analysis, real estate property valuation, ecological diversity transects, and recreational user surveys. Findings from this research indicate that project decision-making between land managers, land users, and market forces could be greatly bolstered by integrating economic, ecological, and socio-cultural valuation techniques with competing biocentric and anthropocentric stakeholder perspectives, and by realizing the historical role that the regulatory state plays in shaping present day outcomes.