Washington — The Forest Service is great at collecting data about our work, and it’s important to understand how that work affects communities and how to communicate those impacts to key stakeholders. In 2014, the Region 6 Office of Communications and Community Engagement began The Forest Service and Communities project, a three-year partnership with the University of Oregon Ecosystem Workforce Program to explore the effects of Forest Service investments in forest restoration in Oregon and Washington. Click here to view the full year 1 book.
Region-wide maps had been developed to display key ecological conditions on national forests across Oregon and Washington. At the same time, the University’s Ecosystem Workforce Program developed several sets of maps and infographics to illuminate social and economic conditions in eastern Oregon. These concurrent efforts and infographics sparked a conversation around the need for region-wide understandings of social and economic conditions, to match the region-wide understandings of ecological conditions.
The Forest Service and Communities project built on those efforts to identify new ways of understanding the broader geography and social and economic conditions across the Pacific Northwest. The effort began with identifying what regional Forest Service staff wanted to know about how social and economic conditions intersected with their program areas. Those conversations led to the questions that needed to be answered, as well as examining potential applications for existing data, identifying data gaps and considering ways to fill them.
The aim of the project is two-fold. It seeks to examine the social and economic impacts and trends associated with regional investments, and consider the best ways to communicate these impacts. It also intends to help the agency and their partners communicate the social and economic pressures faced by forest-proximate communities and explore what roles the Forest Service could play in advancing sustainable, natural resources-based economies.
This project has already covered a lot of ground in its first two years. In the first year, this project introduced several concepts; one of the most striking was that of community isolation. Community isolation—from financial resources, transportation and communication networks—can be used in combination with demographic characteristics of communities to understand how forest-proximate communities in Oregon and Washington respond, adapt and recover from natural resource impacts to their communities. Community characteristics, including isolation and access to services, affect community dependence on forests and the context in which the agency manages land. This part of the project stimulated discussion and cooperation across staff areas about how to consider social, economic and ecological impacts in forest planning and recreation, and how to prioritize future investments.
The project also looks at partnerships, using a broad definition of partnerships that includes forest collaborative partners, forest-restoration contractors, timber and nontimber forest product purchasers, fire suppression contractors, Grants & Agreements holders, volunteers, and educational partners. This work builds upon and expanded the university team’s preexisting work of understanding where and how agency projects and dollars were flowing to local and nonlocal partner organizations.
The team’s examination of how restoration occurs across the landscape lays a foundation not only for investigating how those activities relate to isolated communities, but also for advancing conversations around agency impacts and communities. This type of work could eventually allow the agency to link its ecological priorities with social and economic realities of isolated communities for the best outcome for all.
An outgrowth of this still-in-progress project is being implemented in support of the 25-year monitoring report for the Northwest Forest Plan. It will build on the present project to represent the diversity of agency–community relationships across the NWFP region and advance the data visualization and communication of agency actions to their effects on communities.
The Forest Service and Communities project team is just one nominee for the 2017 Chief’s Honor Awards. The Forest Service project and creative team includes: Shoshona Pilip-Florea, Maia Enzer, Emily Biesecker, Ryan Gregg, Lindsay Buchanan, Jessica Rubado, Karl Dalla Rosa, Kathryn Strawn, Janelle Geddes, Brenna White, Aly Warren, Lis Grinspoon, and Eric White. The University of Oregon team includes: Dr. Heidi Huber-Stearns, Dr. Cassandra Moseley, Autumn Ellison, Colin Phifer, Dr. Christopher Bone, Dr. Jonathan Salerno, Dr. Emily Jane Davis, Kelly Jacobson, Nathan Mosurinjohn, Greg Fitzgerald, Blake Andrew, Michael Johnduff, and Chris Mulverhill. Of special note is that this project was supported by the Region 6 Director team as part of a competitive process and had cross-deputy support with funding provided from four director areas.