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Sociology's Potential to Improve Forest Management and Inform Forest Policy Open Access


Author or creator
Beckley, Thomas M.
Korber, Dianne
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forest sociology
forest management
forest policy
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The social context within which forest managers operate today differs dramatically from that which existed fifty, thirty, or even ten years ago. Both government (public) and corporate (private) forest management decisions are coming under increased public scrutiny. A single, dominant forest management regime has existed in North America from the age of Fernow and Ponchot until today. That management regime is characterized by close relations between government regulators and industrial users/owners of forests, and an emphasis on industrial (fibre) uses of the vast majority of forest land. Over the last century that management regime has undergone evolutionary change without much interest or input from the general public. Times are changing rapidly. Environmental issues have increased in importance for the North American public in the last quarter century. However, it is only much more recently that the traditional paradigm of forest management has come under siege by a broad spectrum of stakeholder groups demanding greater input in forest management decision-making. The emerging forest management paradigm is focused on ecosystem health, the diverse human uses of forests, and long-term sustainability. Such a paradigm will necessarily need to draw on a wider base of scientific research to inform policy. This paper examines the potential of sociology to contribute to improved forest management within the new framework of integrated, ecosystem-based resource management. Sociology can provide forest managers and policy-makers with better information on the diversity of value orientations and interests of both \"new\" and traditional stakeholder groups. Sociologists study mechanisms of public involvement as well as instances when those mechanisms fail and overt social conflict over forest management emerges. Understanding why current management and policies work or fail from a social perspective, could help alleviate future policy stalemates and controversies over management. Finally, sociology may also provide a better understanding of the larger societal context of forestry and forest use. This may be done at the macro level through analyses of the impact of global restructuring in the forest sector, or at the micro level, through comparative case studies of forest-dependent communities. Such analyses could help policy-makers to better understand the social dynamics of local places where their decisions have the greatest impact. In this work, we will first review the past contributions of the social sciences (sociology in particular) to forest management. Several sociological methods that can help forest managers improve the quality of public involvement in forest planning and development will be reviewed. We also review literature on social movement and conflict and conflict resolution as they apply to forestry contexts. Further contributions to the general understanding of human interactions with forests will be examined. And finally, we will argue that Canada is particularly well situated to benefit from applied research in forest sociology.
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