SW Community Forestry Caucus

Multi-Party Monitoring

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While informal monitoring occurs naturally from many perspectives on a continuous basis, formal monitoring is difficult to implement. It takes time and resources to organize, and for many practitioners and business operators, it seems like a detour from the main objectives. There are always what seem like innumerable technical questions about what to monitor and how to choose the criteria. Such questions become exceedingly complex when discussed between scientists, ecologists, and ordinary folks within traditional forest communities. As a result there are built-in avoidances to pursuing multi-party monitoring.

The following is excerpted from Multiparty Monitoring and Assessment Guidelines for Community Based Forest Restoration in Southwestern Ponderosa Pine Forests, prepared by Ann Moote, DRAFT, February 04, 2003, p. 3.

Why monitor forest restoration projects?

Resource management often follows an "adaptive management" approach, which is designed to allow frequent review and feedback on progress toward project goals while the project is being implemented (Figure 1). This feedback allows project managers to take corrective action when faced with changing ecological, economic, or social conditions. Feedback is particularly important to ecosystem restoration projects to help forest managers, scientists, and practitioners can learn more about how restoration treatments change the forest and modify the treatments to better meet project goals.

Effective monitoring is an essential element of adaptive management, because it provides a reliable feedback on the effects of project actions. Monitoring involves the repeated measurement of variables over time to determine if actions have caused changes or trends - either expected or unexpected. As opposed to casual observation, monitoring is designed to help us identify what changes are occurring in the system and whether or not these changes are due to our actions.

Why multiparty monitoring?

A multiparty process is one that involves a heterogeneous group of individuals from community-based groups; local, regional, and national interest groups; and public agencies in an effort to be responsive to diverse interests and objectives. In many ways, multi-party monitoring reflects a national trend toward broader participation in environmental policy and management, especially on public lands.

A diverse group of interests is more likely to develop a comprehensive list of issues to be monitored. Engaging diverse parties in the multiparty monitoring process can also help avoid duplication of efforts and unnecessary competitions among interests, may promote greater efficiencies, and could help build beneficial relationships among those involved.

The underlying premise of multiparty monitoring is that potentially conflicting stakeholder views are more likely to be resolved when each party is given the opportunity to independently identify what needs to be monitored, and when these concerns are integrated into a jointly developed monitoring program (Kusel et al., 2000, Bliss et al., 2001). Bringing diverse parties into the process early on, therefore, can help a group avoid potential conflicts later on.

One should keep in mind however, that this process approach is not just a way to promote "buy-in" or reduce conflict. Rather, multiparty monitoring should be used to:

  • Identify the right questions to ask;
  • Assess how well a project is meeting desired outcomes and responding to diverse concerns; and
  • Identify how management can be adapted to improve results.

The multiparty approach is designed to promote a mutual learning, as participants work together to better understand project efforts and impacts. Participants can expect to gain a greater understanding of ecological health, the local community's economic and social well-being, and the interconnections between the environment, the economy, and social conditions. They will also learn more about others' perspectives on the project and its potential outcomes.

Here are three distinct statements from the Greater Flagstaff Forest Partnership website that are helpful as goals for monitoring the ecological, economic, and social aspects.

Ecological Research and Monitoring

Research and monitoring are critical components of the Partnership's restoration efforts. Through them, we will expand our scientific knowledge of ecosystem processes, and how those processes are altered by particular management decisions. Research into methods for reducing the risk of catastrophic fire and the impacts on ecological processes will also be a critical component of the Partnership's research efforts. The information gathered through research and monitoring will guide the Partnership when it designs future restoration projects.

A few examples of potential research questions include:

  • How can restoration efforts be evaluated and improved? Specific experiments will be designed to test alternative restoration treatments, providing guidance for future project design and implementation.
  • What are the impacts of different fuel reduction strategies on wildlife habitat? Restoring dense forests to a more open structure similar to what existed prior to Euro-American settlement will most likely reduce fire risk. However, the impacts associated with such a restoration on wildlife habitat needs to be better understood along with a more precise understanding of how species composition will change.
  • What fuel treatment strategies are appropriate for the Urban Wildland Interface? To better understand how to reduce the possibility of catastrophic fires in the lands surrounding Flagstaff , alternative fuel reduction strategies should be devised, implemented and evaluated.

Economic Research and Monitoring

Restoration is labor-intensive and expensive, and it is unlikely that the Federal government will provide the funding necessary to restore the health of millions of acres in the West. To develop a better understanding of the economic issues associated with restoration, the Partnership will evaluate economic issues associated with each project it undertakes. Possible economic research questions include:

  • Is it possible to fund restoration projects through the removal and sale of forest products from the restoration area? Restoring the ecological health of the region's forests will be an expensive undertaking. Land managers, business representatives, and conservationists need a better understanding of the economics associated with restoration.
  • Given ecological, economical, and social constraints, what is the estimated amount and type of forest products that can reasonably be expected to be removed from the region's forests in the future? Establishing sustainable forestry-based businesses will require a predictable flow of raw materials from the region's forests. The type and cost of products, available volumes, and fluctuations in availability are examples of issues that need to be examined.
  • What are the potential uses of small diameter trees and how can the market for them be improved? Large numbers of small diameter trees, which have low economic value, will be removed during restoration activities. Developing a market for them and increasing their value is critical if they are to help provide funding for future restoration efforts.

Social Research and Monitoring

If the Partnership is to succeed, it must be supported by a broad cross section of the community. Understanding the interests, values and needs, of the community will help the Partnership to design and implement restoration projects that restore vital ecosystem processes, while allowing the continued use and enjoyment of the Urban Wildland Interface by local residents. Some questions that need to be answered include:

  • What tree density and forest structure is acceptable to the community? Science tells us that prior to Euro-American settlement, the region's ponderosa pine forests were much more open and park like, with clumps of individual trees and scattered stands of higher density. However, people are used to the high density of present-day forests and may find the removal of large numbers of trees objectionable. Land managers and ecologists need a better understanding of the range of visually acceptable changes in the Interface forests.
  • What are public perceptions of air quality issues related to restoration? One of the key ecological processes that the Partnership hopes to reintroduce is frequent, low-intensity fire, which will impact air quality. We need a better understanding of people's willingness to accept air quality impacts as part of restoration, as well as on-going baseline research on air quality impacts from prescribed burning and wildfire.
  • Is the Partnership achieving its goals and meeting the expectations of area residents? The success of the non-profit and partnership approach needs to be evaluated, and the factors leading to success or failure need to be determined.

The second area of implementation capacity is the economy. A new economy built around stewardship principles is needed to undertake the difficult work of stewardship of many acres of unhealthy forests. As already noted, this new restoration-based forest products process is highly adapted from the old commodity timber industry of the past. While it can at times integrate with some of the more traditional commodity-oriented wood products, such as timber, beams, oriented strand board, and pulpwood, its success depends on a whole host of new products and services. This contemporary wood products economy has the character of a cutting edge, innovative, technology in the modern business world. Product development and design, marketing, innovative and revenue enhancing practices are critical elements of the new economy of stewardship, as much shaped by forest restoration services as by universal commodities.

If these adaptive, economic elements are not developed and cannot become viable, then the future of community-based stewardship looks bleak. Why? Because there is a general expectation that much of the work needs to be paid for through "market" functions. While in the short term there are public resources to rebuild a stewardship economy, and some "subsidies" are available through the National Fire Plan and possibly through the new Health Forest Restoration Act, the long-term success of forest renewal depends on producing marketable products and services from low value raw materials. At times, this sounds like the proverbial tale of "making a silk purse from a sow's ear." While this is true to a degree, through innovation and entrepreneurship, some successes are beginning to occur.


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