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The Dynamics of Incrementalism: Subsystems, Politics, and Public Lands

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Abstract

A host of research has been produced in the decade since Baumgartner and Jones’ theory of punctuated equilibrium first drew attention to the dynamics of policy change over time. Much of this research follows a topic across time, highlighting the shift from negative to positive feedback as challengers push an issue from subsystem to institutional level. Far less attention has been paid to the periods between major punctuations, neglecting key questions about whether incremental periods reflect an absence of challengers or the successful defense of established subsystem interests.

This research is a comparison of policy change across two segments of environmental policy. The breakup of the timber subsystem was a clear victory for environmentalists, yet these same actors have been largely unsuccessful at dislodging established grazing interests. These findings highlight the strategic value of venue shifting for bypassing entrenched interests and illustrate the potential for successful challenges to occur in judicial venues.

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