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Region 4 Science Partner Program: Socioeconomic Assessment and Forest Plan Revision on the Salmon-Challis National Forest

May, 2017

The goal of this partnership between the RMRS Human Dimensions program and the Salmon-Challis National Forest (SCNF), located in east-central Idaho, is to augment the Forest's expertise during the forest plan revision process. The planning team has identified a need to host community workshops to learn about the state of the forest products industry in Idaho and southwestern Montana. There is also a need to summarize the best available information on forest industry trends and market projections for the Northern Rockies. A near-term goal of this collaboration is to plan and execute the socioeconomic-focused community workshops.


The RMRS Human Dimensions program has gained regional notoriety for our expertise in this field, including very timely research on forest operations, harvested wood products accounting, biomass economics, and landscape scale resource mapping and spatial analysis. The collaboration between the Salmon-Challis National Forest and the RMRS Human Dimensions RMS program is an excellent opportunity to directly serve the needs of the Forest and agency more broadly.


Communities throughout the western United States have experienced a dramatic decline in natural resource-based industries in the past three decades. As the SCNF revises its 30-year-old plan under the 2012 Planning Rule, the Forest is taking seriously its responsibility to fully integrate socioeconomic concerns into the assessment and plan components. Community perceptions about global, regional, and local wood product economics in the primary area of influence for the Salmon-Challis often lack facts about historical trends and current conditions of the Intermountain West’s timber industry, as well as an understanding of the variables that influence those trends. As a result, conversations about future timber harvest scenarios tend to revolve around returning harvesting to the historically high levels of the 1970s and 1980s.

Because nearly all of the wood products infrastructure and industry has left Custer and Lemhi Counties, people unfamiliar with the realities of today’s wood products industry are making assumptions about economic development and forest management strategies and how those strategies might benefit local communities by increasing wood supply. One desired outcome of this science partnership is to provide a foundation of current, accurate information that can then be used to develop reasonable and feasible solutions.


Community forest planning workshop on the Salmon-Challis National Forest
Community forest planning workshop on the Salmon-Challis National Forest
The partnership between the SCNF and RMRS is intended to help RMRS Researcher Forester Nate Anderson understand the forest plan revision process, as well as the input received from the public, including what remains of small-scale wood products industry. Dr. Anderson works directly with SCNF collaboration specialist Gina Knudson to meet these goals. Gina Knudson, a member of the SCNF Forest Plan Revision Team, leads the socioeconomic assessment, identifying the need to host more community workshops about the current state of forest products across Idaho and southwestern Montana. Nate's expertise is in the production of traditional wood and fiber products and bioenergy, biofuels and biobased products in the context of forest management with a focus on research in silviculture, supply chain engineering, and applied economics. He has also collaborated with forest managers, industry professionals, agencies, and academic researchers across a broad range of disciplines. By attending forest plan revision team meetings and public scoping meetings, Dr. Anderson has been able to identify and develop relevant information that will be the basis of a productive public workshop and plan revision documents.

The partners are in the planning phase, orchestrating what is the most critical information to provide to stakeholders, resource managers, and scientists, as well as determining who to best present the workshops. 

Project Benefits:

  • Dr. Anderson provided research-based information for the socioeconomic section of the SCNF assessment (phase 1 of forest plan revision). Working collaboratively with RMRS helps SCNF's Forest Plan Revision Team determine what is realistic and achievable to have a healthy forest future. 
  • To engage members of the public in collaboratively designing desired socioeconomic and ecological conditions for plan development (step 2 of plan revision), we first need to have a shared understanding of feasible paths forward that accounts for current industry structure. This project will help accomplish this goal.



Researchers from the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the private sector gathered at the Salmon-Challis National Forest to discuss future public workshops on forest economics. Photo by Gina Knudson.
Researchers from the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the private sector gathered at the Salmon-Challis National Forest to discuss future public workshops on forest economics. Photo by Gina Knudson.

  • Learn from the Ashley National Forest (Utah). The Ashley National Forest (ANF) addresses forest economics through their forest plan revision “hot topics” workshops. This workshop took place in February 2018 in Utah. The SCNF/RMRS partners will communicate with the ANF workshop coordinators to glean any lessons learned and compare materials and information.

  • Reach out to timber industry professionals active in the region to make sure we choose a date for the workshop that will facilitate active participation from this group.  

  • Explore technology and media to make the workshop proceedings accessible after the workshop is over. This may include short videos or recorded webinar capabilities through Adobe Connect. 

  • Continue to leverage the relationships being formed through the Science Partner project to make sure the SCNF forest plan revision process integrates the best available science, including economics and social science, into plan development and analysis. 

Gina Knudson - Salmon-Challis National Forest