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Policy Transformations in the US Forestry Sector, 1970-2000

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Trosper, Ronald L.
Conference: Constituting the Commons: Crafting Sustainable Commons in the New Millennium, the Eighth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bloomington, Indiana, USA
Conf. Date: May 31-June 4
Date: 2000
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/305
Sector: Forestry
Region: North America
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
forest management
forest policy
Abstract: "Between 1970 and 1999, two similar scenarios occurred in the management of national forests in the United States. In each scenario, the action began when a local problem of ecosystem imbalance induce litigation that led to a court halting Forest Service timber harvesting. After the first stoppage, Congress passed the National Forest Management Act, but the Forest Service continued high levels of wood fiber production from the national forests. The impact of these cuts on an endangered species led to the second halt. In the second scenario, the President intervened and assisted the Forest Service in creating the Northwest Forest Plan. This action invalidated a whole set of forest plans, in turn creating a need to examine the system that provided the plans. This paper provides an interpretation explaining why the second scenario ended with a proposed major revolution in the approach to forest planning in the United States. "In the first case, no significant change occurred because the dominant elites in the forestry sector were able to continue the cultural relevance of a constraining contradiction, the idea of 'sustained yield,' with the emphasis on 'yield,' rather than 'sustained.' When sustained yield is applied to the timber resource, the maintenance of a high production of timber inevitably raises questions about sustaining that yield and about the condition of the forest in general. If the yield of one resource is driven too high, the yields of other uses fall and the future yield of the dominant resource is also threatened. The 1897 Organic Act of the Forest Service, a 1944 Act, and the 1960 Multiple Use and Sustained Yield Act all provide the contradiction. In the presence of such a contradiction, powerful elites must contain it, which they did in spite of the National Forest Management Act. "While the harvest continued, many interests outside of the forestry sector developed ideas that emphasized the idea of 'sustain,' which became 'ecological sustainability.' A successful challenge to the Forest Services 'yield' policy occurred under the Endangered Species Act, allowing the formerly suppressed idea to rise to the top and displace the previously dominant idea. 'Sustained' became the concept, with great consequent changes in the way of defining and thinking about forests. A Committee of Scientists provided a reinterpretation of the provisions of the NFMA and the other environmental legislation as applied to forest planning, by asserting that protection and promotion of ecosystem integrity is needed for all of the multiple purposes of forests. They proposed redefining the planning units at regional and local levels in ecosystem terms. Their proposal also emphasized communication among parties, which would change the Forest Service from an arbiter among competing interests to a facilitator of local collaborative efforts. Whether these changes create a system of continued conflict or the realization of complementarities in forest management remains undetermined."

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