Ecosystem Restoration as Community Economic Development? an Assessment of the Possibilities

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The decline of the primary economy over the past two decades has had devastating socioeconomic effects on rural communities and people across the American West. However, it has also opened up an opportunity to restore ecosystem health while rebuilding local communities--by organizing resource management efforts so that their objectives include not only environmental health but also the creation of jobs and wealth and promotion of strong local social institutions. It is an approach that has implications for agricultural and resource-based communities throughout the industrialized world.

This paper describes an assessment of a three-year demonstration project to test the possibilities of ecosystem restoration as a tool for community development. The assessment uses a quasi-experimental design to compare the socio-economic climate and community problem-solving capacity among four demonstration ("experimental") communities and two control communities. Baseline socio-economic data were collected on all six communities in 1998 and follow-up data in summer, 2001. Data sources include existing demographic, social, and economic statistics; household surveys; and in-depth interviews.

Keywords: civil society, community capacity-building, community economic development, ecosystem management

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INTRODUCTION

The decline of the primary economy over the past two decades has had devastating socio-economic effects on rural communities and people across the American West. However, it has also opened up an opportunity to restore ecosystem health while rebuilding local communities, through the shift toward "collaborative stewardship" between land managers and local communities. In the Pacific Northwest, this shift has emerged from the environmental, economic, and political crises over the management of federal timberlands that dominated the early 1990s. Similar cooperative, community-level approaches are emerging with respect to resource management on private lands, such as the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds (the "salmon recovery plan") and the watershed councils that have been instituted by several states including Oregon and Washington.

These community-based approaches are local, place-based projects, programs and policies that aim to "meld ecology with economics and the needs of community in pursuit of symbiotic sustainability" (Weber, 2000, p. 238). Their emergence has led to a new appreciation of the possibility of resource management as a community socio-economic development strategy. This is done by organizing resource management efforts so that their objectives include not only environmental health but also the creation of jobs and wealth and promotion of strong local social institutions. It is an approach that has implications for agricultural and resource-based communities throughout the industrialized world.

This paper reports on an assessment of a three-year demonstration project to test the possibilities of ecosystem management as a tool for community development. (1) The demonstration actively promotes community-based ecosystem management in four rural Oregon communities. The research question is:

 
     To what extent does the community-based approach to environmental 
     management contribute to enhancing community problem-solving 
     capacity? 

The assessment uses a quasi-experimental design, comparing the four demonstration ("experimental") communities with two control communities. Baseline socio-economic data were collected on all six communities in 1998 and follow-up data in summer 2001. Data sources include existing demographic, social, and economic statistics; household surveys; and in-depth interviews.

We begin by describing the situation of our study communities and, by extension, that of agricultural and resource-based communities in general. …