Examining the Compatibility between Forestry Incentive Programs in the US and the Practice of Sustainable Forest Management

Forestry faces the curious situation that management approaches come and go much more frequently than the underlying production period. Although it takes decades to grow a stand of sawtimber to maturity, the notion of what represents the best science or the most socially appropriate management changes much more rapidly. As a result, a stand may be planted, thinned, or harvested with what might be regarded as best management practices of the day, only to be subsequently viewed as being shortsighted or somehow less than ideal. There are few other endeavors where the legacy of one’s choices is both as visible and as long-lived as in forest management.

The research reported in this paper examines the links between a policy institution in the US that dates back nearly a century—the framework of state and federal forestry incentive programs—and a global movement that has become increasingly institutionalized over the past 15 years under the rubric “sustainable forestry.” Both the forestry incentive programs and the sustainable forestry movement face a core policy challenge of altering the behavior of forest landowners. Even though the various incentive programs have undergone a number of changes over the decades, there nevertheless remains considerable possibility that these programs and the newer notions of sustainable forestry are somewhat at odds—simply because they arose in different historical contexts. This research examines the intersection between sustainable forestry and forestry incentive policies by asking: How compatible are forest landowners’ objectives with sustainable forestry, and in what ways might forestry incentive programs either impede or enhance the adoption of sustainable forestry practices among non-industrial forest landowners in the US?

A nationwide research project recently examined this issue through two major research activities: a survey of the managers of state forestry incentive programs in all 50 states to examine the effectiveness of those programs in promoting sustainable forestry practices, and a series of focus groups across the country involving nonindustrial private forest (NIPF) landowners themselves. The results of the survey of assistance foresters are presented elsewhere; this article discusses solely the focus group component of the research, which itself is rich with insights and policy implications.

This article follows a format dictated by its emphasis on the intersectionality of incentive programs, sustainable forestry, and landowner objectives. Both the various forestry incentive programs and the sustainable forestry movement are briefly described. The details of the focus group methods used to surface the landowners’ ownership objectives are presented, followed by the salient themes that emerge from each landowner focus group as well as the cross-cutting themes that both unify and differentiate NIPF landowners in various regions of the country. Finally, the policy implications of this research are presented.

Read the full article here in PDF format.

Citation: Daniels, S.E.;Kilgore, M.A.;Jacobson, M.G.;Greene, J.L.;Straka, T.J. Examining the Compatibility between Forestry Incentive Programs in the US and the Practice of Sustainable Forest Management. Forests 2010, 1, 49-64.

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