Forest Futures Visioning Process Project
The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) is responsible for the management and stewardship of 308,000 acres of state forest land in the Commonwealth. In 2009, some stakeholder groups, including citizen stewards, friends groups associated with DCR parks and a few environmental organizations voiced concerns with the department’s silvicultural and forest management practices. Some felt the Department’s focus was on timber production while other stakeholder groups, predominately timber producers and private landowners, expressed disappointment that DCR was not doing enough to support the production of local wood products in Massachusetts. DCR was in the unenviable position of having to balance competing public interests.
In an effort to be responsive to the concerns expressed, DCR embarked on a forest futures visioning process in the spring of 2009 to develop a 100-year “vision” for the future stewardship of state forests. DCR engaged the MA Office of Public Collaboration (MOPC) to serve as a neutral forum to design and facilitate a collaborative visioning process which brought together a diverse group of experts, stakeholders, and the public to assist DCR in creating that vision. The Forest Futures Visioning Process (FFVP) was a year-long process which culminated in a near-consensus set of recommendations for a 100-year vision for managing Massachusetts forest land.
Before launching the visioning process, MOPC conducted a stakeholder assessment which included interviews with all of the key stakeholder groups as well as state agency personnel. Through these interviews, MOPC learned in order for the visioning process to be successful it needed to:
- Bring clarity to the mandates and values reflected in DCR forest management
- Be informed by science from a variety of disciplines to establish criteria for forest management and silviculture that will address on-the-ground issues for the context and implementation of forest management
- Effectively engage the public
According to the MOPC facilitation team, the two key components of this process design were public accessibility and transparency. EEA and DCR wanted a process that was different from “business as usual” – they recognized early on that citizens are truly passionate about the land and they wanted to hear as many perspectives and ideas as possible.
MOPC assisted DCR in forming a Technical Steering Committee (TSC) which was composed of individuals who have a high level of expertise in the areas of climate change, forest conservation, forest ecology, invasive species, landscape ecology, natural resource economics, natural resource law, recreation, silviculture, social policy, visual/aesthetics, watersheds, and wildlife habitat. The members of the TSC were selected by a group in which stakeholders held a central role.
Assisting the TSC was also an Advisory Group of Stakeholders (AGS) which consisted of a representative group of stakeholders who reflected the various interest categories related to the public benefits and values of forests. This 22 member group was drawn from the citizen stewardship, economic development, environmental, forestry, government/municipal, landowner, recreational, and wildlife/habitat stakeholder interest group communities and played an instrumental role in assisting the TSC develop recommendations for a long-term vision for MA forests.
Throughout the visioning process, DCR with the support of MOPC, TSC and the AGS, created a number of opportunities for the public to actively participate. This included site visits, public forums, and a dedicated e-mail address through which the public could provide feedback. All meeting notices, agendas, meeting summaries, presentations and process documents were promptly posted on DCR’s website to allow the general public to follow along. Also, in order to meet the goal of transparency, all public comments and feedback received during the process were posted on the DCR website for the public to view. This public engagement effort involved over 500 participants and yielded about 450 written submissions and more than 250 on-line survey responses.
The final recommendations of the TSC urged DCR to implement forest stewardship practices that were grounded in a scientifically rigorous adaptive management approach that was responsive to ecosystem service objectives along with the adoption of strategies for continuing public involvement in forestry issues. More specifically, it was recommended that, among other things, the DCR use an ecosystem services model; raise the priority of environmental issues by heightening the influence of the forest stewardship official; tailor management practices to the requirements of the three land zones of forest reserves, parklands, and woodlands; institute procedures for public input; and adopt strategies to obtain the resources needed to implement the recommendations. These recommendations were ultimately adopted in their entirety by the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs who committed to their implementation, now currently underway.
The effectiveness of this visioning process was evaluated by MOPC using a logic model applicable to collaborative governance projects, including environmental policy making. Results showed that the goals of the visioning process – the creation of a facilitative collaborative process that involved experts, stakeholders, and the general public in the formation of forest stewardship policy and the development of consensus recommendations from numerous stakeholders – were met.
For more information on the FFVP initiative and to see the recommendations in their entirety go to: http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/conservation/landscape-designations/
Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. (April 21, 2010). Forest futures visioning process recommendations of the technical steering committee.
Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration. (September 30, 2010). Forest futures visioning process: Evaluation report. University of Massachusetts Boston.