Photo Credit: John Gallo
December 2, 2013

Social Learning for Forest Management

Collaborative Sierra Cascade Dialogues

Speaking of Social Learning (see my last post), there is an important effort here in California that I think deserves highlighting.  On December 12, The U.S. Forest Service Region 5 (i.e., California and Hawaii) is hosting Session 11 “Still Standing - Wildland Fire and Resiliency” as part of a series of discussions called the Sierra Cascades Dialogue.  The discussions establish a regular conversation among engaged stakeholders interested in how forests work and are managed.  I’ve attended several sessions and really appreciate the knowledge gathered, the connections made, and the insight gained into how other stakeholders view the issues.  

Lessons Learned so far

Four people closely involved in the process recently co-authored a book chapter called: “Interest-Based Deliberative Democracy in Natural Resource Management: New Leadership Lessons Required for New Public Governance.”  Deb Whitall, a social scientist for USFS Region 5 and session leader,  Steve Brink, Vice President-Public Resources of California Forestry Association, Craig Thomas (Past) Executive Director of Sierra Forest Legacy and Gina Bartlett the head facilitator of the sessions, from Center for Collaborative Policy came together to capture where stakeholder group interests overlapped and diverged. The group also explored any lessons learned to date.  The findings are summarized well in the last paragraph:

“The case study and methods also demonstrate that interest-based problem solving is a form of conflict resolution that can contribute to leaders in new public governance. The two individuals, representing the private sector and a non-profit organization, were able to work with the Forest Service to agree on actions to further common public and private goals. The case study demonstrates the shift that is occurring in California from classic public administration and new public management to new governance: a shift in process to create and support agreements; a shift in organizational hierarchy to one of listening; a shift to public and private entities working together; and a shift in exercise of power from command and control to active listening and negotiation. It illustrates the interconnected roles that entities from the public, for-profit, and nonprofit can play in achieving outcomes in the interests of all.”

This dialogue is a good example of the shift that many government agencies are making towards a more collaborative approach called New Public Governance. A very fascinating, hopeful, and helpful component of this approach is the utilization of new technologies and culture, known as Open Government or Government 2.0.  This is illustrated by Our Forest Place a social and interactive portal focused on the forest plan revision process (which has been completely overhauled, with California being a leading pilot).

What will be discussed next?

Fire. Many of us were taught by Smokey the Bear that all fires should be put out.  But wait!  We are now realizing that doing this makes the forests too thick and dense, yielding “Super Fires” that burn through the crowns of the trees for miles.  Most historical fires would just burn the underbrush, leaving the tree branches and crowns intact.  But we can’t just let every fire burn…hmmm.  And there is much to consider regarding the economy, safety, insurance, policy, and liability.  Fire management includes a range of issues and complexities that will be explored during Session 11.  Speakers in the session will share challenges, benefits, constraints and opportunities for using fire as a management tool.   Participants will have the opportunity to discuss the social and cultural effects of large fires such as the Rim Fire and examine the impacts of wildland fire on ecological and community resilience.

If you are interested in land management, wildland fire and ecological resilience, I encourage you to  come on out to discuss the issues at this next session (December 12th from 10:00am - 4:00pm at the Lions Gate Hotel in Sacramento, California).    And, there is always a very tasty lunch! 

About the author:
John Gallo, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist
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