Putting Community in Forests: A Look Back at the Evolution of American Forests' Policy Niche and toward Recommendations for Expanding the Role of Those Who Live Closest to the Land

By Gray, Gerry | American Forests, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Putting Community in Forests: A Look Back at the Evolution of American Forests' Policy Niche and toward Recommendations for Expanding the Role of Those Who Live Closest to the Land


Gray, Gerry, American Forests


In the mid-1990s AMERICAN FORESTS, with a mandate from its Board of Directors, began to search for a "durable niche" in forest policy. The board felt national forest policy dialogue was mired both in conflict and a complex transition toward ecosystem management. So AMERICAN FORESTS reached out to local leaders, largely in the West, who were affected by these changes. Together we developed activities through which we could partner on policy issues, with AMERICAN FORESTS acting as a bridge between local and national aspects.

Community-based forestry has become our durable niche--and the central focus of our policy efforts, as we work with local partners in rural and urban communities and help them participate in national policy discussions. We have helped them understand policy processes and issues, develop information based on local knowledge and practical experience, and effectively communicate key messages. We also have shared their stories with a broader audience through this magazine.

Over the past year, we have been looking back over what we have accomplished together with our community-based forestry partners, the lessons we have learned and ways to strengthen future policy work. With support from the Ford Foundation and the Surdna Foundation, we have prepared a report for those interested in learning more about, becoming more involved in, and supporting community-based forest policy efforts. That report, from which this is taken, can be found in full on our website, www.americanforests.org.

Community-based forestry (CBF) emerged in the United States in the early 1990s, drawing from both international initiatives, such as social forestry and community-based natural resource management, and domestic experience, such as the work of collaborative watershed and urban forestry groups. While it has many dimensions, community-based forestry focuses on the interdependence of forests and communities and recognizes the vital role of communities-of-place in protecting, restoring, and maintaining forests

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Many community groups, particularly in the West, formed in response to local crises that arose from changes in federal forest policies. Those changes meant conflict; a lack of management of federal forests; a loss of mills, jobs, and related economic activities; and reduced support for essential community services such as education.

Often local groups first sought to bring diverse elements of their communities together to develop common-ground goals, strategies, plans, and actions. But when they tried to put forth these ideas, they often found themselves blocked at the regional or national level. National interest groups objected, existing laws or policies blocked them, funding wasn't available, or agencies resisted change.

So local and regional CBF groups turned to national organizations that could help them participate in the policy arena. As a national citizen conservation group long involved in forest policy AMERICAN FORESTS was a good fit. Policy activities--seeking to gain "a place at the policy table" or a voice in national policy discussions--became an important early emphasis of the community-based forestry movement.

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APPROACHES AND ACTIVITIES

First we needed to characterize community-based forestry. Four principles have become the cornerstones of CBF policy work and are consistently used by partners in their policy activities:

* Process: reflecting the need for open, inclusive, and transparent processes.

* Stewardship: the call for a greater integration of activities that restore and maintain forest ecosystems and activities that revitalize and sustain community well-being.

* Investment: recognizing the basic need for investing--or reinvesting--in both the natural capital of forest ecosystems and the social and economic capacity of communities.

* Monitoring: requires that data and information be collected on projects' environmental effects on forest ecosystems and their social and economic effects on communities. …

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