The Nature of Group Influence / Participants' Views
The preceding chapters have shown that a large number of groups with widely divergent interests in the public lands regularly deal with local land managers in the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). However, determining the existence of local interest group constituencies only leads to a more important issue--what influence, if any, those groups have on rangers' or area managers' administrative routines and, ultimately, their decisions. This chapter and the remaining chapters in Part III examine constituencies' effects on agency decision making.
An understanding of group influence must begin with an examination of the perceptions that public lands politics participants themselves have about group influence. Group influence is an elusive phenomenon. All participants in politics recognize--or think they recognize--influence when they see it, but students of politics have had some difficulty agreeing on how to define influence and how to see it. The most widely accepted definition of influence is the ability of one person to cause another to arrive at the decision preferred by the former. The problem with this definition is that it is often difficult to prove that the influencer's preferences caused, or even affected, the decision.1 Because of real methodological difficulties in proving influence, some students of politics have compromised and asked political actors which groups they believe to be influential. Influence becomes, in effect, the ability to be perceived as the cause of policy.2 Thus, in dealing with participants' views of local public lands policymaking, we are using this second, subjective definition of influence.