New Opportunities in Forestry
Community forests are common throughout the U.S. and world, but rare in California. This is in the process of changing, however, as a number of rural communities develop new and creative models to participate in their local forests.
But what exactly is a community forest? That’s a good question and not easily answered. Scores of definitions exist. One of the best and most comprehensive states: “Community-based forestry is a participatory approach to forest management that strengthens communities’ capacity to build vibrant local economies, while protecting and enhancing their local forest ecosystems. By integrating ecological, social, and economic components into cohesive approaches to forestry issues, community-based approaches give local residents both the opportunity and the responsibility to manage their natural resources effectively and to enjoy the benefits of that responsibility (Aspen Institute).”
Although community forestry is difficult to define, the Forest Guild has identified some important characteristics:
- Community forestry begins with protecting and restoring the forest.
- Residents have access to the land and its resources, and participate in land management decisions.
- Resource managers engage the knowledge of those living closest to the land in developing relationships with the forest.
- Forestry is used as a tool to benefit and strengthen communities.
- Cultural values, historic use, resource health, and community economic development needs are considered in management decisions.
- Decisionmaking is open, transparent, and inclusive.
These characteristics speak to the underlying goals and values inherent in community forests, which work to provide a sustainable resource base for those living nearby. The focus is on economic stability for the community, as well as aesthetic, cultural, and environmental values. Since local issues and participants vary, each community forest will, by necessity, be unique.
Communities in forested areas are intimately connected with—and dependent on—the local natural resources for their economic and social well-being. Most are suffering from the current recession and poor timber market. In addition, fire safety issues affect everyone. No matter the ownership, communities have a stake in how their local forests are managed. The idea of a community forest, however it is defined or designed, is one way for the community to have a voice in this management.
There are a number of tools that can support community forests. Stewardship contracting, which allows community groups to enter into contracts with the Forest Service and BLM to accomplish projects on public lands, has been used effectively by a number of community forest groups. There are publications and websites that offer guidance for starting a community forest, and document successes all over the world.
Acquiring and Managing A Community-Owned Forest: A Manual for Communities
This manual offers step-by-step instructions to help communities create their own community forest, from assessing the potential for a community forest to organizing the process. It also presents examples from community forests throughout the country.
National Community Forestry Service Center (NCFSC) wants to accelerate the national movement toward local ownership and management of forestland in the U.S.