Community-owned forests may be the answer for some U.S. communities now confronting unanticipated and unwanted large scale land use changes – changes that could irrevocably change their local landscapes and quality of life. Across the country, millions of acres of private forest lands are being put up for sale as the forest products companies who own them find other, cheaper sources of supply. If, as is likely, purchasers divide and convert the forests to residential or other development uses, nearby communities face losing the critical economic, environmental, recreational, social, cultural, and aesthetic values and benefits those forests have traditionally provided.
Affected localities are urgently seeking alternatives, such as government acquisition of the land and its addition to existing state or federal forests, identification of private purchasers who will maintain forest uses and/or limit development intensity, the purchase of development rights on the properties, or negotiation of conservation easements. Increasingly, however, forward thinking communities are pursuing a more exciting – and challenging – option: acquiring the lands to manage them as community forests, now and for the future.
Community-owned and –managed forests can be found around the world, and are not a new concept. Some New England “town forests,” for instance were established nearly a century ago. The recent surge of interest in community forests in the U.S., however is unprecedented. In response, a three-day national conference was held in Missoula, Montana, in 2005, to bring together practitioners from around the country to explore issues, options, and experiences in community forest establishment, governance, management, and use. Through presentations, group discussions, poster sessions, and field tours to proposed community forests in the nearby Blackfoot and Swan Valleys the conference addressed:
Understanding the issues
Current and historic community forests in North America
Corporate forest land divestiture – issues and opportunities for companies and communities
Exploring the possibilities
Assessing local readiness and capacity to establish a community forest
Forest land acquisition and financing; options, tools, and techniques
Costs and revenues: doing the calculations, making the choices
Making it work
Developing and sustaining a collective vision for a community forest
Forest management models that have worked – and some that haven’t
Building needed social, financial, institutional, and technical capacity
Community learning: multiparty monitoring and participatory science
Facing the challenges
Defining the “community”
Dealing with issues of property, tenure, responsibility, risk, and governance
Managing a forest for multiple public and private values
Ensuring effective community leadership, investment, and control over the long term
The missing pieces: needed new or revised laws, policies, and financing tool
Kathryn Mutz, Caroline Byrd, Mo Hartmann, Carol Daly, Melanie Parker, Anne Dahl, Gerry Gray, Michael Goergen, Brian Donahue, Robert Turner, Jim Beil, Ray Powell, Arnie Valdez, David Willcox, Ann Ingerson, Jill Belsky, Patrick Heffernan, Bill Ginn, Tom Tuchmannp, Peter Stein, Liz Bell, Steve Keith
Communities Committee, University of Montana. School of Forestry. Bolle Center for People and Forests, Wilderness Society (U.S.), Nature Conservancy of Montana, Swan Ecosystem Center, Northwest Connections, Blackfoot Challenge, Flathead Economic Policy Center, Pinchot Institute for Conservation, American Forests, and University of Colorado Boulder. Natural Resources Law Center, "AGENDA: Community-Owned Forests: Possibilities, Experiences, and Lessons Learned" (2005). Community-Owned Forests: Possibilities, Experiences, and Lessons Learned (June 16-19).
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