The Bush administration brought its efforts to change environmental regulations to California in September, when high-ranking appointees conducted “listening sessions” in Redding and Colton — two of 24 informal hearings across the country intended to carry out a 2004 executive order calling for “cooperative conservation.”

Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey called cooperative conservation the “fourth chapter” in American conservation, following on the initiatives of Theodore Roosevelt, the New Deal, and the environmental movement of the 1960s and ’70s.

At the Redding hearing, attended by about 140 people, environmentalists expressed skepticism that landowners, developers and resources industries would be willing to cooperate for the sake of the environment unless strong laws require such action.

“Voluntary compliance is a beautiful idea, but we don’t think it has a chance working,” said William Oliver, of the Audubon Society’s Wintu Chapter. He and other environmentalists urged federal officials to “believe in the science that we are paying for.”

However, numerous timber industry representatives at the Redding session focused their comments on the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Tim Feller, a district manager for Sierra Pacific Industries, called the two laws “onerous” and difficult to comply with.

The Endangered Species Act “has turned into a hammer on private lands,” said Dave Bischel, president of the California Forestry Association. “Put away your hammer,” he told the officials.

Representatives of environmental groups did endorse existing programs that bring conservationists, landowners, ranchers and others together. But the environmentalists spoke repeatedly about the need for more funding and pointed out that the administration has proposed reduced funding.

Federal officials have offered little indication of what they will do to implement cooperative conservation, or when. There is a website: