May 23, 2008

Engaging Forest Stakeholders through Stewardship Contracting

We have seen too many examples of mainstream media spinning and twisting the discourse between science research, environmental concern, and public opinion. I recently attended a workshop that showed a constructive approach that is taking root in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

Back in early March I organized two side events at the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC) on "Bioenergy and Communications." The humble objective of these panels was to address the challenge of communicating bioenergy information to the public and engaging stakeholders the colossal energy and environmental paradigm shifts that are predicted to occur over the next few decades. The panelists were terrific but the central question remained largely unanswered:

What new ways might exist to engage stakeholders in the constructive development of economically sustainable solutions to environmentally sustainable challenges?

The federal Stewardship Contracting program is a good example of one innovative approach. It is providing a constructive means for bringing diverse stakeholders together to plan and finance forest restoration programs while rebuilding the economic infrastructure of local communities.

Last week the first of four traveling workshops titled Biomass Utilization and Stewardship Contracting was held in Auburn, California. It was hosted by the Sierra Business Council and sponsored by Resource Innovations of the University of Oregon, UC / Berkeley Cooperative Extension, USDA Forest Service (Region 5), the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, and Placer County (site of the recent Angora Fire in Lake Tahoe).

During these two days of presentations attendees witnessed the testimonies of Forest Service managers, community leaders, environmentalists, academicians, consultants, and fire fighters. These experts spoke knowledgeably about the challenges of forest restoration from their unique perspectives. Then examples were given of existing projects that were changing the environmental and economic landscapes of the forests they were designed to restore.

Four stewardship examples from the Pacific Northwest are amply documented in Redefining Stewardship: Public Lands and Rural Communities in the Pacific Northwest - a publication prepared by Ecotrust and Resource Innovations.

Besides meeting some terrific local leaders, what I learned was that patient community discourse is necessary in the formulation of sustainable projects. It is preferable to engage stakeholders up front rather than suffer the delays of reactive litigation to plans that have not been fully vetted by those most vested in the results of forest restoration - the local community.

Similar workshops will be held in Sonora (May 22-23), Bishop (May 28), and Chester (May 30).

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