Call it application of the law of unintended consequences. This time, though, the results were positive.

Like most instances where good intentions produce unintended consequences, Eric Peterson began with the goal of helping ranchers develop a way to be better stewards of the public lands they graze in Western Wyoming. In the process, he also developed a program that would lead to a much better relationship between the ranchers and the federal agency rangeland managers they work with.

Peterson, a natural resource education specialist in Pinedale with the Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service, began work in the mid-'90s on the Cooperative Permittee Monitoring Program after public lands ranchers in the area wanted to develop a monitoring program on their Forest Service grazing permits.

“The guidelines for that program recognized the importance of establishing a pretty good partnership between the agency range specialist and the permittee,” Peterson says, “a partnership within which they would set out objectives for that rangeland that they both could support and also agree on the methodologies they would employ in gathering data on that rangeland.”

That means taking a relationship that has lots of potential for antagonism and turning it into a positive for both sides. While the idea of sitting down in a spirit of mutual cooperation may have at first seemed as odd to the ranchers as it did to the Forest Service personnel, that's what they did. And what started as simply a desire by those public lands ranchers to be better stewards of the resource turned into something much larger — an approach to a positive relationship between people who too often have looked at each other as adversaries.

Public lands partners

Public lands ranchers and public lands agencies, whether they like it or not, are partners in managing the land, Peterson says. And as both the ranchers and the agency employees in Western Wyoming discovered, that partnership can be a positive relationship.

“The two large grazing associations we first started with are ardent supporters of the program and so are the range specialists and the district forest ranger,” Peterson says. “We've got Bureau of Land Management range specialists on board and actively seeking to put together more of these programs. They've seen the value of being able to get together in a friendly fashion and have a true dialog about how to achieve the things everybody wants.”

But getting to that point first requires that everyone involved agrees to at least try to agree. “There can be all kinds of relationships,” Peterson says. “Some of them are good and some are bad. In order to make it work, you need to forge a relationship that's healthy. So if you're interested in having a win-win situation where everybody's happy with their involvement in the program, it's important that you identify what your interests are and share them with your partner and they do the same.”

Once those interests are identified and heard, both parties can begin to forge the elements of a relationship and the elements of a program that bring them together in a common venue.

How it works

Getting to win-win is the difference between interest-based negotiation and position-based negotiation, Peterson says. Interest-based negotiation begins when you share with others what your interests are, understand what their interests are, and begin to look for solutions that move you toward an objective everyone can identify as a uniting factor.

“Contrast that with positional negotiation where you would basically predetermine in your mind what needs to happen, then fight for that. That puts you in a confrontational situation."

Next Page: Everybody likes success

Previous Page: Public lands partners

And as Peterson aptly observes, it's no fun being in an antagonistic relationship. “The odds are good, though, that if you begin with an interest-based approach where you share your interests and concerns with the other person, and let them share their interests and concerns, you can find some common ground in that. From that common ground, then, begin to build a program or set of strategies that get you closer to achieving your interests as well as the other person's interests.”

Here's an example. A rancher's list of interests might include being financially stable, balancing the workload and time commitments of the various enterprises on the ranch and long-term sustainability of the resources so they're still around 25 years from now. On the other hand, the agency rangeland manager needs to respond to the policies, mission and goals of the agency they work for. That person is interested in being successful in the job and also probably has a personal as well as professional commitment to the long-term sustainability of the resource they manage.

Of those interests, two are different and one is closely aligned. “So that's the one you would begin to work with and talk about with each other as it pertains to building objectives,” Peterson says.

On the other hand, a positional approach might look like this: The agency rangeland manager has been getting complaints from recreationists about cattle in a particular area. Their solution is to order the rancher to remove the cattle.

“If they came to the permittee with that solution already built in their mind, they're going to run into quite a lot of immediate resistance on the part of the rancher,” Peterson says. On the other hand, if the rangeland manager approached the rancher by detailing the problem, exploring interests and cooperatively seeking a solution, they can walk away with a workable solution and a positive relationship still intact.

“Everybody likes success,” Peterson says, “and if you want the relationship to be durable, it must service the interests of both parties.” And while both sides may not fully get what they want, the relationship must be fair. “The balance between satisfying interests and resources invested must be reasonable for both sides,” he says.

“We built this to work in a public lands situation, but the principles are applicable in any relationship,” Peterson says, from your personal life to your business. Even if you're not a public lands rancher, you still have relationships with a government agency, whether it be your county tax assessor, state wildlife agency or a federal agency. “And I think this stuff can help agriculturalists working with their neighbor over a pasture lease or cash rent on a piece of farm ground. This stuff works.”


For more information

When Eric Peterson, a natural resource education specialist in Pinedale with the Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service, began digging into the concept of win-win relationships in an attempt to explain their success, he found the answers in the management literature. Two books he found helpful are “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey, and “Getting to Yes,” by Roger Fisher and William Ury.

In addition, thanks to a federal grant, Peterson developed an instructional DVD and booklet on the Cooperative Permittee Monitoring Program that he's shared throughout the West with state and federal agencies, producer organizations and universities. For information, go to