SW Community Forestry Caucus

The Rise of Community Forestry

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Why Community Forestry?

There has been a dramatic growth in community forestry throughout the United States during the past 10-12 years. Why the growth? In many respects, momentum towards a different approach has come from the degree of failure of the previous systems. Various descriptions have been applied to the recent era of forest management: stalemate, gridlock, a cultural war, environmental conflict, mismanagement, and unhealthy forests, among others. Whatever it is called, it has resulted in a widespread climate where active forest management has been disallowed or discouraged. After at least two decades of economic decline, political rhetoric, social turmoil in the field of natural resource management and conservation, some people looked around to see unhealthy, wildfire prone forests, unemployed or displaced wood workers, and an ultimate decline in social and economic capacity to undertake ecological analysis and carry out appropriate forest management. By the early 1990’s, decline in the economic and land management resources of wood products industries and public land agencies had deteriorated to the point of inertia.

In a new study of community forestry (Baker and Kusel, 2003) Mark Baker and Jonathan Kusel describe its development as a social movement, and relate it to associated movements such as sustainable communities, civic environmentalism, and to central values of self reliance and local forms of democracy. While their focus is to analyze community forestry in the context of social and political theories of community change and local control and management of public and private forest resources, they identify a set of descriptive features, which they call "common unifying themes" (pp 65-69):

  • The attempt by people to reorder relations among themselves and between themselves and the forest on which they depend in a manner that simultaneously promotes or improves the forest conditions and enhances community well being.
  • Community forestry involves reordering social relations in a manner that promotes collaborative forms of interaction. Community forestry collaboration differs from more general forms of collaboration because if its focus on place and on people who are involved with that place.
  • Creating jobs, supporting small businesses, and improving the viability of forest landowners have been the foci of many community forestry practitioners. Other examples of investment include developing markets for the byproducts of forest restoration and value-added processing., reorienting timber harvesting from exclusively a commodity extraction to one in which ecosystem restoration is and important land management objective.
  • Community forestry entails a variety of institutional changes at multiple levels. Within public land management agencies community forestry on public lands requires new institutional relationships. This includes changes in the budget process that counter historical links between budget allocations and commodity outputs.
  • Changes in planning processes to make them more participatory and democratic.
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