Navigating Social Forestry II: Questions to Authors

Steve posted this link earlier. The study here is about two Nation Forests in Oregon, the Siuslaw and the Williamette, both of which apparently have vibrant “thinning plantations less than 80 years old” programs and an active forest industry. I’ve written to the author of the paper, who is willing to answer our questions about what they found.

Here are a couple of paragraphs that interested me..

“Based on this literature, the contemporary institutional regime surrounding federal forest management in the Pacific Northwest can be conceptualized along four main elements: 1) multiple, at times conflicting, layers of institutions from past eras that continue to influence decision making at the local level, including a series of institutional incentives and legacies that create enduring incentives to harvest commercially valuable timber; 2) a shift in funding from long-term forest management to short-term emergency management (principally fire suppression and fire risk reduction); 3) a large number of veto players and veto points that create a highly “vetocratic” system; and 4) an increasing importance of non-state actors at local to regional scales that help to fill in for missing capacity, funding, and legitimacy within the agency.”

It is clear that the social forestry regime implies a much-expanded role for non-Forest Service stakeholders: as conveners, as communicators, as deal-makers, and—for those performing a veto-player role—as regulators of the boundaries on management possibilities. The Forest Service is dependent upon these non-agency stakeholders (1) to not litigate management decisions, and (2) for access to financial resources and the capacity needed to reach restoration objectives. This dependence results in part from the agency’s funding structure, which continues to be tied to timber harvest, even though management objectives have diversified. Additional funding for the agency’s non-timber (and non-fire) objectives is generally tied to connections to collaborative, external partners, such as stewardship groups, other collaborative groups, or watershed councils. Beyond helping to identify pathways through the maze of various veto players, these relationships may also provide the personnel capacity needed to plan and implement projects. The current social forestry regime thus appears to be an example of network governance, making the USFS less autonomous than the agency famously described by Kaufman in 1960. Furthermore, it is an agency increasingly grappling with gaps in funding and capacity, further reinforcing its dependence upon networks of non-state actors. Street-level forest managers, thus, operate within a decision space constrained by both capacity and legitimacy, and frequently search for ways to fill these gaps while simultaneously meeting their statutory mandates and timber targets.

This study points to the need to think beyond the current manifestation of social forestry (largely centered on local-scale actors and concerns) to consider ways to address management needs over larger scales and longer time periods and inform local-scale decision-making. Issues such as climate change, associated patterns of fire and insect activity, and others will require governance processes beyond the local scale. Policy changes that eliminate or reduce the influence of timber targets, provide long-term funding for projects with both ecological and social merit, and engage veto players in collaborative learning and information-sharing would seem to hold promise in this regard. Given that many USFS units around the country have indeed moved to planning over longer time frames and larger spatial extents, the dynamics we observed on the Siuslaw and Willamette may be characteristic of a particular set of circumstances—in other words, their “equilibriums” may be more limited than those of forests with different sets of economic, ecological, and political variables.”

There is also a discussion of the lack of management for early seral species.

So far we have Jon’s question about “how does/did forest planning fit into this?” Here’s a question for current employees “wasn’t there an effort to combine timber with other BLI’s into a joint vegetation management BLI? How did that turn out? I have a question to the authors about whether they see these equilbria as necessarily leading to more local “control” over land management decisions. Please add the quotes you are interested in, and any questions to the authors, in the comments below.

16 thoughts on “Navigating Social Forestry II: Questions to Authors”

  1. As an observer of Siuslaw and participant in a Willamette collaborative, I’d say that social entrepreneurship was key to the formation of effective local collaboratives; in both forests, innovative, charismatic, committed citizen leaders emerged to lead the development of social forestry.
    The Siuslaw was dreadfully overcut, and had a geology which led to massive creek blow-outs down to sandstone bedrock which were painfully obvious, and probably was what shut down old growth harvest there. And the Siuslaw collaborative is a couple of decades old, getting its start through partnership with an activist local Natural Resources Conservation District board.
    Our Willamette collaborative emerged three years back, and is a real pleasure to participate in. Forest managers must confront the most sophisticated questions about ecological impacts from the earliest genesis of projects, which inevitably softens negative impacts on the landscape. And the environmental understanding and ethos of the new generation of agency folks is truly impressive. And stewardship projects are moving forward successfull.
    The NWFP never achieved the vision of its crafters to follow an adaptive management approach, where somewhat overdone initial logging restrictions were supposed to be gradually reduced based on ongoing research carried out in Adaptive Management Areas. When the AMA’s disappeared, policy remained stuck in its earliest, overprotective stage, and refinements- which would include consideration of the ecological importance of early seral stage elements in a functional forest ecosystem- were never permitted to happen. I was told by one of our agency partners when proposing a couple comparative site prescriptions to see which would work better that experimentation was explicityly forbidden under current rules. So our understanding of the logging/ecological interface remains stuck at the 1994 level.

    It’s possible that the flexibility possible under “social forestry” may permit some working around this structural barrier to the evolution of intelligent forest management practices under the NWFP. For certain it has the capacity to breathe some fresh air into forest planning- and can help creative agency folks overcome internal management constraints.

    • Thanks for your observations, Fergus. Is there a write up about the Adaptive Management Areas and what happened to them? Historical/scholarly or whatever?

    • AMAs are still a land allocation – they have not disappeared. And while the National Forest System cannot use National Forest System funding to do “research”, it can and is used to do the types of comparisons that you mention on many forests across the US. Check out the Hebo RD (Siuslaw) Cedar (?) Timber Sale from the 1990s in the AMA there that compares several management approaches, as well as the Five Rivers Project (also on the Siuslaw) that compares different types of “roadshed” management approaches. And, the LTEP site on the Willamette (on the former Blue River RD). And, check out the Adaptive Management Experiment that was part of the Biscuit Fire Recovery project on the Rogue River-Siskiyou. The Gifford Pinchot also used a CE to implement a small comparison of different types of thinning (on the Mt. Adams RD) several years ago to be able to show the public what it would look like.

    • This does not sound quite right …

      The NWFP never achieved the vision of its crafters to follow an adaptive management approach, where somewhat overdone initial logging restrictions were supposed to be gradually reduced based on ongoing research carried out in Adaptive Management Areas. When the AMA’s disappeared, policy remained stuck in its earliest, overprotective stage

      Since the NWFP was adopted there are more reasons for conservation and less reasons for logging, e.g, carbon storage, barred owl, new science on the value of snags and dead wood, climate preparation, diminishing social and economic value of wood products industry, etc.

      • I think the climate pros and cons are disputed. And I think the wood products industry has plenty of value.. maybe where you live isn’t a rapidly growing part of the country where wood is used in construction. And I think the industry is felt to be important by some Oregonians, including the legislature and at least one Senator.

  2. From Sharon’s post:

    …This study points to the need to think beyond the current manifestation of social forestry (largely centered on local-scale actors and concerns) to consider ways to address management needs over larger scales and longer time periods and inform local-scale decision-making. …

    Anyone remember the book Supply Side Sustainability?

    In the book, authors’ Allen, Tainter, and Hoekstra recommend that we look up a scale (or two) for both context and for management. That made sense then, and makes sense now. Furthermore, managers need to reconsider whether context includes multiple agencies working together instead of single agencies trying to “go it alone.” All the stuff of Adaptive Governance.

    • I thought the governance of the NWFP was intentionally multi agency? Do I remember a Board of Directors? Again, I wonder how that worked out, and what can be learned.

      • You are right, Sharon. The NWFP was multi-agency, sort of. And it was “up a scale or two.” Both good ideas. And yes, we do need to learn from mistakes made there. In my frame of reference (admittedly biased) the biggest problems were “firewalls” that separated science teams from management teams and public engagement teams. Why? I don’t know, but I suspect a failure to realize the political nature of the issues/resolutions involved. See below, from my second epistle to the Clinton-era Committee of Scientists.

        … Take the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project (ICBEMP) assessment/planning effort, for example. What prompted us, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to largely ignore good initial strides in collaborative planning that were ongoing in that arena, or if not ongoing at least so recently over that they could have been reopened when we began? Kai Lee’s book Compass and Gyroscope is a favorite in my library and details planning efforts already at work when be began our foray into the Columbia River Basin. But we either failed to read Lee’s book or failed to understand that Lee’s “working politics gyroscope” must accompany his “adaptive management compass” for large-scale and/or “wicked” problems. If the public is to be involved, the stage must be set in a way so as not to create too many arenas or to engage actors in too many arenas at one time. One could argue that arena management was exactly what the USFS and BLM had hoped to do with ICBEMP, but why we chose to go it alone in dealing with problems of that magnitude of wickedness remains a mystery. Could it be that we have yet to accept the political nature of these problems, still clinging to a naive belief that, “Science will find the answer”? …

        • The Northwest Forest Plan is governed by a Regional Interagency Executive Committee. A list of agencies represented is at the end of this document:

          Both it and ICBEMP were creatures of the Clinton Administration. I worked on the latter for several years and here’s what I saw. When there were disagreements, the Administration backed the ESA agencies. The Forest Service and BLM were visibly frustrated with having to share their authority, and every meeting of the Executive Steering Committee felt like a power struggle. I think the different FS regions and BLM states were able to work together fairly well because of the “common enemy.” Once Clinton was gone the power shifted quickly back to the land management agencies and regional/state autonomy. FS/BLM decided to not make a Columbia Basin-wide decision and the project devolved into watered down general guidance for use of science that let every region/state go back to doing its own thing. That decentralization is now showing up in individual forests reinventing their own wheels for things like aquatic conservation strategies. The institutional (including fiscal) inertia keeps the agencies from looking at the bigger picture. (That’s why landscape conservation cooperatives were helpful.)

      • It was multi-agency – but with their new management plan for western Oregon, the BLM is no longer a part of it (unless their management plan gets overturned).

      • The “Regional Ecosystem Office” has all but disbanded, and several important functions, such as approving plans for logging in Late Successional Reserves have been reduced to rubber stamps. The Province Advisory Committees have also been mostly dechartered. Now that the agencies do not feel much oversight from Congress or the Courts, the agencies are trying to kill the Northwest Forest Plan. In fact, BLM has already exited, stage right.

  3. Regarding budgets and manpower, I fully expect the Trump Administration to either outsource fieldwork, or impose “Designation by Description”, to be able to push out projects at a ‘pace and scale’ that has significant progress towards making forests healthy and resilient.

  4. There are several issues that should be or may have been addresses elsewhere.
    1) The Siuslaw geology is very similar to the Tyee geology just to the south. After 1996 there was a ramped up effort to study and address unstable slopes, resulting in new restrictions. During the survey’s it was found that headwall and smaller steep gradient stream “blow outs” were not uncommon even outside of harvest areas, but were much more obvious in harvest units. These blow outs often created debris dams in lower streams that would eventually give way during peak flows since they were dominated by hardwood (generally red alder) and usually in restricted channels. The sandstone geology does not lend to lasting cobble in the main stems. Unfortunately, historical data on many of the larger streams in regards to fish use is skewed since the use of splash dams was common from 1920’s – 1940’s and later in some areas. This was followed by intensive large wood removal starting in the 60’s up until the mid-80’s. (based on decision making which ignored all factors)
    2) Both forests are dominated by douglas fir which is not as shade tolerant as other conifer and the older stands were largely even aged. The upper slopes of the Willamette would be the exception. By thinning from below the species will change over to more hemlock and white fir, and in many areas these species have come back in a dense understory, usually preventing douglas fir from returning.
    3) The fire history has been 50 – 200 year intervals usually culminating in large stand replacement fires. These fires created much more forage for both animals and birds.
    4) Both Forests are quickly being “thinned out” from below, then what will be the prescription? The next generation of trees has been removed and replaced by other speciesCurrent prescriptions are/will lead to denser understory, which is resulting in higher mortality on most fires, especially in older stands where fire has been suppressed for 110 years, and mortality is happening on much shorter intervals.

  5. Here’s a question for current employees “wasn’t there an effort to combine timber with other BLI’s into a joint vegetation management BLI? How did that turn out?

    Yes, it was called IRR (Integrated Resource Restoration) and several different BLIs were combined into one. There were 3 “pilot” regions for this (Congress would not approve it for all regions even though it was in the President’s budget request every year). The National Forest Foundation recently had a webinar (that was recorded) that had examples from both IRR and non-IRR regions about integrated restoration. They exposed some of the good things and some of the not-so-good things. One of the not-so-good was that in some areas, since managers were rated on the acres accomplished, they gravitated towards work that cost less per acre – like invasives treatments – and did virtually none of the more expensive work – like noncommercial thinning or like reforestation of burned areas.

    For FY18, the Forest Service expects IRR to no longer be in the final budget bill. The WO expects all regions to implement IRR principles, and most of the non-IRR regions have been working towards that anyway. It helps that “primary purpose” went away a few years ago, and forests can pretty much operate as though they have IRR authority (with a few exceptions). It is now called the “work financing principles”.

    The University of Oregon published a paper on the IRR pilot regions a couple of years ago. It was interesting (disturbing?) to see that a fair number of district rangers knew so little about IRR that they could not answer the questionnaire. As you got farther from the Regional Office, the fewer the number of employees who knew enough about IRR to fill out the questionnaire.

    Schultz, C. A., K. M. Mattor, et al. (2016). “Aligning policies to support forest restoration and promote organizational change.” Forest Policy and Economics 73: 195-203.
    Forestry organizations around the world are increasingly emphasizing forest restoration as a management goal. This reflects a progression in mission away from commodity production towards ecosystem management. A key question is how to promote organizational change to support current management objectives. In 2012, the US Forest Service reorganized its budget and performance measurement structure to support the agency’s current emphasis on restoration. We report the results of a survey designed to understand whether this policy change contributed to organizational change and whether the approach was accompanied by key factors known to support successful organizational transitions. We received completed surveys from 1210 agency employees (47% response rate). Although results were mixed, we found that the new approach resulted in some changes to planning approaches and staff roles. Approximately half of those in leadership positions said prioritization and integration had improved. Staff identified a need for improved communication and reported that effective leadership was central to success. These results provide some indication that similar tools can be employed to shift organizational structure and behavior to support the evolving missions of forestry agencies. Future research should investigate how to promote organizational change and learning beyond individual actors via effective leadership, communication, and evaluation.

      • Maybe she could address my question of how things are (funded) different on lands classified as suitable for timber management and those that are not (see previous post on “extinction” thread).


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