Wars in the woods solved peacefully

Jan 23, 2003, vol. 26, no. 2
By Diane Luckow



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A new approach to resolving environmental conflicts in B.C. is amazingly successful and is focusing worldwide attention on the province, says a group of Simon Fraser University researchers who are examining the approach and its results.

Ten years ago, B.C. was plagued by intense conflicts between environmentalists and resource users over land use - conflicts that seemed impossible to resolve. Yet today, 15 of 19 land-use disputes have been resolved. The remaining four disputes are still in negotiation.

The breakthrough came when the B.C. government introduced interest-based negotiation, called collaborative planning, which involved all stakeholders, as well as government technical support workers and professional mediators.

Together, the stakeholders took control of the planning process, using interest-based negotiation to identify common interests and, for disputed interests, to identify alternatives mutually agreeable to all parties.
Each land use plan under dispute took from three to four years to complete and involved significant changes.

“B.C. is the first jurisdiction in the world to apply this approach in a systematic way, giving us an unprecedented opportunity to evaluate how it works,” says Tom Gunton, a professor in SFU's school of resource and environmental management (REM), where a group of three faculty and 10 graduate students undertook the study with funding assistance from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Forest Renewal B.C.

“Our research is the first comprehensive evaluation describing the dynamics of the process and identifying the keys to success,” says Peter Williams, also a professor in REM involved in the study. “We're also developing an evaluative methodology for examining the efficacy for these kinds of approaches.” By 2005, the group hopes to complete a manual describing how to manage successful approaches to all types of conflict.

Gunton and his team believe their findings from the B.C. experience on how to successfully achieve consensus among warring parties will provide important lessons for resolving conflicts in a wide number of policy areas.

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