Thursday, June 21, 2007

Planners tour wetlands before vote

The following article was published in the June 21, 2007 Jefferson County edition of the Peninsula Daily News.

Planners tour wetlands before vote

By Evan Cael
Peninsula Daily News

CHIMACUMBefore Jefferson County Planning Commission members issue a recommendation for wetlands buffer zones, they want to see what they are talking about.

So, on Wednesday, they donned rubber boots for a field trip to view some fo the county's streams and wetlands.

The nine members of the Planning Commission were joined by Department of Community Development staff and members of a critical area ordinance advisory committee.

The advisory committee has issued its proposals for revisions the county's critical areas ordinance, which include recommendations for buffers around wetlands.

The Planning Commission is considering those recommendations.

It has until Aug. 22 to decide on its recommendation to the three county commissioners, who will make the final decision by Oct. 15.

The ordinance is meant to protect streams, wetlands and wildlife habitats through setting up buffer zones between the critical environmental area and dvelopment.

The first stop on the field trip was a wetland on Port of Port Townsend land near Jefferson County International Airport.

Next, the group of about 20 headed to H.J. Carroll Park in Chimacum to look at Chimacum Creek, which runs through a wooded area of the park.

Community Development staff had positioned wooden stakes in the ground at various locations near the creek to show differing buffer width recommendations.

One stake was positioned 90 feet from the creek, representing the critical area ordinance committee majority opinion.

Another stake was at the 100-foot mark, representing the committee minority recommendation.

Committee member Jill Silver — who has spearheaded the minority opinion — announced during the field trip that, after consulting with her "constituents," she was changing the minority recommendation to 150-foot buffers for streams smiliar to Chimacum Creek.

When fellow committee member Norm MacLeod asked Silver who her contituents are, she replied, "Norm, that's not your business."

A third stake was stuck in the ground 150 feet from the creek bank, reperesenting the current requirement in the Jefferson County critical areas ordinance.

That is the buffer width included in a revision to the ordinance that was drafted May 17, 2006.

The revision came about through an agreement between Jefferson County and the Seattle-based Washington Environmental Council.

The revision has sparked controversy in Jefferson County over wetlands buffer widths.

The Planning Commission plans to have public hearings on the proposed ordinance before it makes its recommendation.

Public outcry

The May 17 draft update to the ordinance was met with public outcry.

That lead to an extension of the agreement terms and the formation of an 18-member Planning Commission committee — coined the crtical areas ordinance committee and citizen advisory group — that met weekly from August to April to deliberate possible revisions of the county's critical areas ordinance.

The committee presented a majority view to the Planning Commission outlining buffer widths between 7.5 feet and 180 feet and a minority view included buffers between 25 feet and 300 feet.

The Planning Commission also recently heard a presentation from state Department of Ecology representatives who also recommended buffer widths that fall between 25 and 300 feet.

Reporter Evan Cael can be reached at 360-385-2335 or

Friday, June 01, 2007

Wetland buffers defended

The following article appeared in the June 1, 2007 Jefferson County edition of the Peninsula Daily News.

Wetland buffers defended
Ecology specialist outlines how much perimeter state wants

By Evan Cael

Peninsula Daily News

PORT HADLOCKRepresentatives from the state Department of Ecology laid out the agency's policy protecting critical wetlands at Wednesday's Jefferson County Planning Commission meeting.

"Buffering is necessary," said RIck Mraz, Ecology wetlands and shoreline specialist.

He spoke to the nine planning commissioners and an audience of 60 at the Washington State University Learning Center in Port Hadlock.

Few have debated that point since a controversy ballooned last June over the increased buffer widths in a proposed critical areas ordinance.

The question that has been ringing repeatedly and loudly ever since remained the same Wednesday night:

What is the necessary buffer width to protect water quality and wildlife habitats?

Ecology's policy is that between 25 feet and 300 feet of buffer is necessary, depending on the type of wetalnd and activity adjacent to it.

Agreeing with that policy are three citizens on an 18-member critical area ordinance committee that was formed last August to recommend revisions.

An opposing opinion is held by the remaining citizens on the critical areas ordinance committee — spearheaded by Kenneth Brooks, a wetlands scientist who is also a committee member.

They believe the buffer widths should fall between 7.5 feet and 180 feet, with a voluntary additional buffer width for wildlife habitats.

But althought only part of Brooks' recommendations involve voluntary buffers, Mraz said, "Voluntary measures do not adequately address all types of development impacts.

"Prescriptive requirements are sometimes necessary."

Of Ecology's recommendations, "We're giving up some of the simplicity and offering flexibility," Mraz said.

Throughout the question and answer period in which only planning commissioners coupld pose inquiries, Mraz repeatedly said that Ecology's recommendations have not incorporated Jefferson County's unique geological and topographical characteristics.

During the public comment period, Jim Hagen, former Planning Commission chairman and critical areas ordinance subcommittee member said, "I'm leery of regulations that have nothing to do with our area."

But some audience members did agree with Mraz.

Jefferson County resident Frank Hoffman said, "I think a lot of what you said is common sense."

Reporter Evan Cael can be reached at 360-385-2335 or

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Critical Areas Ordinance Public Workshop with Planning Commission and Department of Ecology

Following our comment is a press release from the Jefferson County Department of Community Development.

The reports referenced in the press release were actually submitted on May 2, 2007, not last week. The press release also implies equal weighting between the majority reports (which were adopted by substantial majority vote) and the minority reports.

The Department of Ecology will present their information, and take questions from the Planning Commission. While Ecology's representatives do not intend to engage with the public, anyone may submit questions through the Department of Community Development. Those questions will be then provided to the Planning Commission chairman, who will ask these questions on the public's behalf.

As of this morning, Tuesday May 30, DCD will also make these questions available to the Department of Ecology's representatives prior to the workshop.

The "questions that have arisen from the subcommittee meetings" refers to the work of Dr. Kenneth Brooks, whose review of Ecology's best available science (BAS) found that the science in Ecology's recommendations for wetlands buffers is incomplete as it pertains to conditions in Jefferson County. After their comments on his findings, Dr. Brooks' further review found additional concerns with Ecology's work. Although repeated requests have been made for this workshop to be centered around a discussion between the Department of Ecology's scientists and Dr. Brooks, so that the Planning Commission can have the benefit of an open and frank discussion between contrasting scientists, that opportunity has not materialized.

For Immediate Release — May 24, 2007

Contact: Al Scalf
Director, Department of Community Development
Jefferson County
(360) 379-4450 or

Critical Areas Ordinance Public Workshop with Planning Commission and Department of Ecology

Port Townsend, WA
—The Jefferson County Planning Commission will hold a special public meeting on Wednesday, May 30, 2007, at 6:30 p.m. at the WSU Learning Center, Shold Business Park, located at 201 West Patison, Port Hadlock. A workshop will be held with representatives from the Department of Ecology who will present information regarding wetlands and best available science (BAS) related to the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO).

“This workshop is an opportunity for the Planning Commission to ask questions of Ecology so they can better understand the complex issues of the CAO,” said Al Scalf, Director of the Department of Community Development. “A discussion about wetland Best Available Science will help clarify questions that have arisen from the subcommittee meetings held weekly over the past nine months.”

Anyone having a question on wetlands and BAS may submit their question to DCD prior to the Planning Commission meeting. These questions will be forwarded to the Planning Commission Chair, who will be facilitating the meeting on May 30.

Twenty reports were submitted to the Planning Commission from the CAO subcommittee last week. The Planning Commission will utilize the reports for policy direction in the drafting of a new CAO code.

It’s anticipated that the CAO draft will be completed in the first few weeks of July, with a public hearing to be scheduled with the Planning Commission later that month. The Planning Commission will then make a recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners in late August. A decision of the BOCC on a CAO is expected by October 18, 2007.

The CAO reports that are currently being reviewed by the Planning Commission are available to the public at either the Jefferson County Library, the Port Townsend Public Library or at the office of the Department of Community Development.

For further information or submitting possible questions, contact Long-Range Planning at the Department of Community Development, 621 Sheridan St, Port Townsend, WA 98368, (360) 379-4450, or

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Reports differ on county's plans for critical areas

The following article appeared in the May 4-5, 2007 Jefferson County edition of the Peninsula Daily News.

By Evan Cael
Peninsula Daily News

PORT HADLOCK —  The Jefferson County Planning Commission heard three different suggestions for a revised critical areas ordinance at its meeting this week.

The three reports were a majority view that recommends minimum wetlands buffers with some voluntary aspects, a minority view that sets larger buffers to err on the side of caution and a critique of both those reports.

All exempt agriculture from the ordinance.

The reports were developed by an 18-member critical area ordinance committee that has met weekly since last August to make recommendations based on best available science to update the county's ordinance.

Wednesday was the first look the full Planning Commission has had at the committee's views.

"This represents a ton of work from a lot of people," said Planning Commissioner Peter Downey, District 2, speaking before about 60 people at the Washington State University Learning Center in Port Hadlock.

Downey was elected chairman of the commission at Wednesday's meeting.

He replaces Planning Commissioner Bud Schindler, District 3, who was elected vice-chair.

On May 17 last year, the Jefferson County Department of Community Development drafted a critical areas ordinance update, which — in some cases — required 100-percent increases in wetland buffer zones, the largest being 300 feet.

That change was part of an agreement with the Washington Environmental Council, an environmental state lobbying group that appealed the county's critical areas ordinance before the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board.

WEC argues that the county had failed to incorporate best available science in its ordinance, which is a requirement of the Growth Management Act regarding such critical areas as wetlands, salmon habitat, channel migration zones and flood zones.

Public outcry when the revised ordinance went before the Planning Commission in June prompted the formation of the review committee.

It consists of four planning commissioners and about 15 citizens.

The Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the county commissioners, who are scheduled to make the final decision by Oct. 18

"The update we have in front of us can support a healthy relationship between the government and our citizens," said Norm MacLeod, who presented the majority report.

He stressed compliance versus defiance, saying people may begin to defy regulations they perceive as being too stringent.

"With any ordinance, you want to have willing compliance," MacLeod said.

Otherwise, "the folks simply stop observing the statutes of the ordinance."

He said the majority report aims to provide land owners with maximum flexibility in protecting critical areas.

But he emphasized that, "We're not saying no regulations."

The buffer zones recommended by the majority range from 7.5 feet to 150 feet, depending on the type of wetland.

A voluntary extended buffer for wildlife areas is also a component of the majority's recommendations.

Committee member Jill Silver presented the stricter minority report, with larger wetland buffers.

Silver said the minority report — backed by three citizens on the committee and Planning Commissioner Henry Werch, District 2 — was aligned with state Department of Ecology recommendations.

Therefore, she said, it should not be subject to legal challenges because the best available science is not questionable.

The recommended wetland buffer zones range from 25 feet to 300 feet, depending upon the type of wetland.

Silver said the recommendation is not because the group doesn't trust current landowners to be responsible stewards, but because of "an enormous amount of people who will be moving into the county soon."

"I don't have mistrust about long-term land owners in Jefferson County," Silver said.

"I don't trust new land owners coming in."

Many people will be coming from California or other states who are unaware of the unique environment in Jefferson County and won't know how to maintain it or will be purchasing land to sell it, she said.

Therefore, Silver said, the ordinance should err on the side of caution.

"The reality is that, in the absence of regulations, individual financial gain will often trump land use and management decisions," Silver said.

Robert Crittenden presented his own dissenting report that criticized both the majority and the minority.

"The general approach proposed in both reports may reasonably be expected to result in the opposite of what they aim to achieve, because they penalize those property owners who have protected their critical areas and reward those who have degraded or eliminated them," Crittenden said.

His report proposes exemptions for sustainable living.

Do no harm, suffer no regulation," Crittenden said.

A few reasonable restrictions would be placed on compost heaps, driveways and stormwater management, he said.

". . . my recommendation is that the Planning Commission adopt the minority report as a basis, add an exemption fo sustainble living, reduce its excessive regulation, and, also, add any ideas from the other reports, or from elsewhere, that are worthy of inclusion.

"There are many ideas in there that should be incorporated."

A special Planning Commission meeting has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to conclude the committee report presentations.

Most of this week's presentations laid out the philosophical approaches of each report.

When the presentations are continued next week, more of the substance of the reports is expected to be heard.

The Planning Commission will call for public comment on the recommendations for the critical areas ordinance update sometime this summer.

At the conclusion of Wednesday's meeting, during general public comments, Chimacum farmer Roger Short apologized to the Planning Commission for making a threatening comment at the April 18 meeting.

The threat led to Jefferson County Administrator John Fischbach positioning two sheriff's deputies outside the county commissioner's April 23 meeting.

Reporter Evan Cael can be reached at 360-385-2335 or


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Newcomers appointed to replace longtime planning commissioners

The following appeared in the March 20, 2007 Jefferson County Edition of the Peninsula Daily News.

Newcomers appointed to replace longtime planning commissioners

By Evan Cael, Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND - Wednesday will be the first Jefferson County Planning Commission meeting after restructuring of the nine-member advisory commission, with two newcomers chosen over former commissioners.

On Friday, the three Jefferson County commissioners appointed to four-year terms Ashley Bullitt, of Port Townsend, for the District 1 seat - which had been held by Dennis Schultz, of Port Townsend - and Patricia Farmer, of Kala Point, for the District 2 seat - which had been held by Jim Hagen, of Cape George.

The terms of Shultz and Hagen expired on Saturday.

Both had applied for reappointment.

Wednesday's Planning Commission meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Washington State University Community Learning Center, Shold Business Park, 201 W. Patison St., Port Hadlock.
Bud Schindler of Brinnon, planning commission vice-chairman, will take over as chairman of the commission, beginning Wednesday, since Hagen had served as the commission chairman.

The county commissioners conducted interviews Friday with seven candidates - including Hagen and Schultz - in the Superior Court courtroom for the two seats.

The questions elicited some complaints on Monday.

Dragged through mud

Hagen said in an interview Monday that he felt chided by the commissioners.

"They could have taken the high road and honored our service," he said.

"They chose to drag us through the mud."

Commissioner David Sullivan, D-Cape George, said the questions asked of Hagen and Schultz may have been harsher than those asked of other applicants because the two incumbents had a history of Planning Commission decisions to inquire about.

"They had a record of four years to ask about," Sullivan said.

He said he was especially curious about why they had recommended going ahead with the Hadlock-Irondale urban growth area plan - which the Western Washington Growth Management Hearing Board found in 2004 to be noncompliant with the state Growth Management Act because of lack of an adequate facilities plan for sewage.

Port Townsend resident Al Frank accused the three commissioners - Sullivan, Phil Johnson, D-Port Townsend; and John Austin, D-Port Ludlow - of being unnecessarily harsh with the two incumbent planning commissioners and of failing to thank them for their thousands of hours of volunteer service during the interviews.

"Why put these guys through that?" Frank said.

"It was a complete charade," Frank told the county commissioners during the public comment period of Monday's commissioner meeting.

"It was just set up."

Sullivan said he didn't specifically thank Hagen and Schultz because the three commissioners decided to send a letter of thanks to each of the candidates for applying, and he thought that covered it.

New appointees

Bullitt has lived in Port Townsend for the past seven years.
Her family, which is responsible for the Bullit Foundation, has lived in the state since 1889, she said.

She said she will deal with each issue that faces the Planning Commission with flexibility.

"You can't serve the public well if you are inflexible," she said.

Bullit said Jefferson County residents made their voices heard in the November 2006 general election by electing Democratic candidates and with the failure of I-933.

"I'm in agreement with the voters of Jefferson County," she said.

Farmer has lived in Jefferson County since 1993, when she became a master gardner.

"I didn't look at it as a political appointment at all," Farmer said.
"I don't look at it as a black and white thing at all, and I think that's one of the reasons I was picked."

Along with serving as commission chairman, Hagen had also served as chairman of the Planning Commission's critical areas subcommittee that has been working on a revised ordinance for critical environmental areas  since August.

It has not yet been established how the critical areas subcommittee will be affected by the Planning Commission member restructuring.

Sullivan said that both the two new appointees are members of the same political party that he is a member of.

Shultz and Hagen are Republicans.


Reporter Evan Cael can be reached at 360-385-2335 or

Monday, February 19, 2007

Critical areas rewrite enters home stretch

The following article appeared in the February 19, 2007 Jefferson County edition of the Peninsula Daily News.

Critical areas rewrite enters home stretch
Draft expected Thursday with dissent report

By Evan Cael
Peninsula Daily News

PORT HADLOCK — A group of volunteers charged with suggesting changes to Jefferson County law that affects environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands are preparing to write their final recommendations.

Four members of the 18-member critical areas panel don't agree with the majority and plan to issue a minority report on Thursday.

Also on Thursday, the panel will select a subcommittee to tackle writing the group's recommendations in legalese - without help it said was expected from the county Department of Community Development.

The meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Washington State Extension Learning Center Madrona Room, Shold Business Park, 201 W. Patison in Port Hadlock.

"Jefferson County has not fulfilled its part of the bargain," said Ken Brooks, a wetlands scientist on the panel, last Thursday.

"I move that we establish a code writing subcommittee to do the county's work."

The advisory group, which includes four planning commissioners, was formed in August after a critical areas ordinance proposed in May drew public criticism.

The biggest outcry was against a portion of the law that would change the buffer zones around wetlands.

In many cases, the required buffer zone around wetlands would be larger than had been legally required before, thus cutting the amount of private property that could be developed.

Once the Planning Commission has the advisory group's recommendations, it will go over them and put together its own recommendation to the Jefferson County board of commissioners.

The commissioners have a mid-October deadline to adopt the revisions to the critical areas ordinance.

Jefferson County Commissioner John Austin, D-Port Ludlow — one of three commissioners who will consider the final version of the legal changes — said that the minority report "might well be" more representative of all county residents than the majority report.

Austin said last week that the committee itself was not representative of the county.

"It was basically selected by Jim Hagen during a public meeting," said Austin, a Democrat.

"I don't know if [the committee] represents the majority of citizens in the county."

Hagen, a Republican, is the Planning Commission chairman and the chairman of the critical areas subcommittee.

Hagen said that sufficient notice was given about the Aug. 2 Planning Commission meeting at which the volunteers were chosen.

Hagen said he chose everyone who volunteered.

"I think it's very representative," Hagen said of the committee.
"It was based on the public response to this issue, which is really the only definitive way to judge it."

Wants help

The critical areas group agreed to take on the task of writings its recommendations “in code” — language appropriate for a legal ordinance.

The advisory group — which has been meeting weekly since Aug. 10 — is expected to deliver its recommendations to the full nine-member Jefferson County Planning Commission by April 1.

But a contracted worker to assist the group in writing the recommendations in “code language” will not be available until March, said Brent Butler, lead planner with the Department of Community Development.

Two weeks would not be enough time, the group decided.

So members voted to do the job themselves and form a code writing subcommittee.

Austin said he didn’t believe the committee needs to write the recommendations in code language.

“I can see why, with all the time they’ve put in, there’d be e pretty low threshold for frustration,” Austin said.

But, “their mission is to advise the Planning Commission, not produce code in its polished form.”

“It’s possible that they’re feeling they’re being required to do more than they’re actually required to do.”

Al Scalf, director of the Department of Community Development, said the reason he plans to hire a contracted worker to help the critical areas advisory group write code is because his department is understaffed and already devotes 112 hours a month to the critical areas group.

The person he had in mind, Eric Toews with Cascadia Planning, won’t be available until mid-March, he said.

Another contracted expert might become available sooner, but, Scalf said, he is not counting on it.


Reporter Evan Cael can be reached at 360-385-2335

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Fine Line Between Compliance and Defiance

The Fine Line Between Compliance and Defiance
A few thoughts from Norman MacLeod

When government develops public policy to deal with natural resource issues, such as the protection of critical areas, there is a risk that human needs will not be recognized as having sufficient importance to be included as key factors when deciding the degree of regulation to be applied in protecting habitat and other values of those critical areas. When people perceive the resulting ordinance or rule as being too onerous, they may find it necessary to choose between willing compliance with the regulations or quiet defiance of them.

Today, many of our rural home and landowners find themselves standing at that fine line between compliance and defiance. They are not the first to stand there. It’s a place where change is born, and crossing that line has led to some of history’s most significant turning points. They include, but are not limited to:

· The Protestant Reformation
· The Magna Carta
· The Declaration of Independence
· The Underground Railroad
· The women’s vote
· Ghandi, whose nonviolent defiance brought down the British Empire
· Rosa Parks, whose refusal to move to the back of the bus inspired a movement
· Martin Luther King, whose articulate nonviolence led to the Civil Rights Act
· Billy Frank, whose insistence on exercising his treaty rights led to a transformation of fisheries policies and how we view treaties between the United States and the Tribes.

Each of these turning points was initiated by either an individual or by a small group of people who felt they had finally been pushed too far by massive self-serving institutions that were oppressing them and people like them. None of them gained the public support of those institutions easily, but all of them eventually did.

When we develop public policy designed to protect wildlife habitat and other critical areas of our landscapes, we are materially affecting the lives, aspirations, and opportunities of the people who live there. In many instances, those policies are set by government officials who do not live in areas where the rules and regulations will be implemented. Because their assigned goal is to protect the critical areas, wildlife habitat, and the environment in general, the people who will be most impacted are often relegated to the back of the bus.

The regulatory frameworks coming out of these public policy exercises are often touted to provide a wonderful public good. However, the costs of providing that public good is laid solidly on the shoulders of a small minority of the population, the rural home and landowners. Bearing the financial and regulatory burden of the regulation, they become rather less than happy campers.

Good public policy in regulating human activities in the rural landscape results in a shared onus between the rural landowners and their urban counterparts. The financial burden of these regulations should be shared evenly across the entire population. Unfortunately, good policy in this light is extremely rare.

Finding themselves unfairly burdened, and unable to find a way to change the situation, many people who would otherwise be fully law-abiding citizens will find it necessary to bend or ignore those rules that make it impossible to do what they feel needs to be done in order to care for their property and enjoy its use. This is where they step over the line from compliance to defiance. For most, it is not a comfortable place to be, and they don’t enjoy being there, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

Let’s take the example of a family who doesn’t have a lot of money, and is heating their home with wood. They don’t have enough disposable income to upgrade to a certified wood stove or furnace. A cold front comes in, a temperature inversion develops, and the Clean Air Board temporarily bans the use of uncertified wood stoves and furnaces. Faced with the option of complying with the law and seeing their kids shiver, or breaking the law and having their children be warm, what do you suppose this family will decide to do?

Let’s say that this same family comes into enough building materials and money to be able to add onto their home a few months later. A couple of weeks before they are going to begin, a pair of eagles comes along and starts building a nest within a hundred feet of the house. What do you think is going to happen? Given the fact that eagles successfully raise their young next door to the hospital in Port Townsend, where their nest occasionally gets rocked by the rotor wash from helicopters, does it make a whole lot of sense to prohibit building activity at this family’s home?

Many of today’s land use regulations appear to be based firmly on a notion that home and landowners simply cannot be trusted to provide adequate stewardship of their properties without the “assistance” of a dog’s breakfast of rules, many of which seem to be rooted in academia rather than on-the-ground reality. While this may seem a harsh assessment to those making the rules, it does reflect the perception of property owners, particularly those who live in our countrysides. For a large share of those landowners, that perception is their reality.

Home and landowners, particularly those living in our rural areas, experience of land use regulation is that there is a complex web of rules that gradually become ever more confining. Urban homeowners often come away from the permit center with the same impression. The increasing pace of new rules today comes across as what you might think of as regulatory galloping goalposts. There is never any certainty that today’s rules will be deemed adequate by “the wise” at the next review of an ordinance, and this uncertainty drives unintended consequences to the fore.

The net effect of this process can easily become apparent in the form of environmental degradation. When forest landowners become concerned that they will not be allowed to harvest their trees in a few years, they are going to harvest sooner rather than risk not being able to harvest at all. Large forest landowners then seek to subdivide to sell large lots to new owners, convinced they will never be allowed to harvest again.

In a time when activist groups are attempting to convince local jurisdictions to include the presence of lights, noise, and pets as factors justifying factors for increasing buffer widths, requiring large pasture acreages per animal unit on the property, and generally micromanaging human activities in our landscapes, the people being managed feel threatened. When policy-makers develop rules adopting the activists’ prescriptions in order to avoid litigation, the citizens are likely to respond by simply not complying with the new restrictions.

The people suffering the weight of land use restrictions on their use of their property are increasingly turning to the courts for relief because they feel that their local governments are not willing to listen or work with them. It’s an expensive and extraordinarily time consuming option, but often the only form of redress open to them. So, in many places around the nation, home and landowners are banding together to share the costs of litigation. This way, or through the assistance of public interest law firms that are qualified to manage cases from the local level all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, they are able to bring their voices and concerns to an imperfectly balanced playing field.

Having learned that getting favorable legislation passed is often only the first round in a complex process, more local and state governments are being offered the choice to be sued by one or more activist organizations, or by their own citizens.

Meanwhile, whether in town or out in the countryside, individual home and landowners are facing the choice of whether to comply with or whether to defy individual provisions of overly onerous rules and regulations. This fraying around the edges of the rule of law is not a good thing, but it is a reality . . . and in most cases, it’s an avoidable reality.

First, before entering into a regulatory process, government should be able to demonstrate that a problem needing a solution actually exists. The nature and scope of the problem should be confirmed by empirical science.

Next, government needs to notify the people whose activities will be regulated of the intent to regulate. This notice should be sent individually by mail to every citizen who will be affected by any new regulations. These people should also be invited to participate in the process of developing solutions to the identified problem(s).

Third, every effort should be made to solve the identified problem(s) through education and voluntary programs.

Finally, if education and voluntary programs do not provide an adequate solution, a regulator framework can be put in place as the last resort. The process of developing such regulations not only needs to take place in the public space, but it also needs to involved the full participation of agreed upon stakeholder representatives from all groups that will be directly impacted by the regulations.

The financial burden of providing a public good through regulation should then be born by society as a whole, so the individual landowner does not have to bear a disproportionate share of the load.

If this general process is followed, there will be a greater chance that those impacted by the regulations will be more willing to stay on the compliance side of the line, rather than crossing over in defiance.

We can have excellent ecosystem protections while also allowing home and landowners full exercise of their property rights. We can enlist the support and assistance of those landowners through an imaginative and effective combination of education, incentives and collaborative projects. The alternative is an onerous, burdensome regulatory environment which will be observed more in defiance than compliance, and watch our ecosystems go into decline in an angry and confrontational atmosphere.

Compliance or defiance. It’s a choice that we are making at every level, whether we have been aware of doing so or not.

Compliance or defiance. Which are we going to choose?