Bruce A. Shindler, Thomas M. Beckley, Mary Carmel Finley, eds. Two Paths toward Sustainable Forests: Public Values in Canada and the United States. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2003. x + 359 pp. $34.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-87071-561-7.
Reviewed by Bruce Shelvey (Department of Geography, History, and Political and International Studies, Trinity Western University)
Published on H-Environment (December, 2004)
A Complex, Wicked, and Messy Business
Two Paths toward Sustainable Forests examines the implications of the policy shift in forestry in the United States and Canada from scientific management, which dominated early practices including conservation and multiple-use, to sustainable management, which attempts to include scientific expertise, economic considerations, and social concerns. Sustainable forestry of the last decade amounts to a significant departure from the former extraction-oriented policies that determined forest management for over a century. However, far from being a smooth transition, the move to include values represented by forest-dependent communities, environmentalists, forestry agencies, and other stakeholders has been difficult and full of acrimony. The social scientists who write in Two Paths use examples and case studies from the United States and Canada to advocate for the continuation and strengthening of sustainable policies, especially an approach to forestry management that accounts for a broader spectrum of social and economic concerns.
Two Paths is a book about forest policy, specifically the necessity of a more holistic ecosystem-based approach and the inclusion of more public values in management decisions. Although the book does offer some preliminary insights on the context from which concepts of sustainability developed, its main focus is measuring public values toward forest resources and determining what strategies could be employed to engage public expertise and address public concern. The editors, Bruce Shindler, Thomas Buckley, and Mary Carmel Finley, should be commended for not taking a simplistic approach to the concept of sustainability. All of the individual authors support the notion of a balance between a scientifically-informed ecosystems approach and public input and involvement, yet they realize that public values do not always easily align with the opinion and ideas of the "experts."
It is encouraging to see a group of authors so committed to challenging technological solutions and to including other forms of knowledge when tackling resource management issues. Intriguing concepts like "community forests," where localized control and public input is sought as a part of Sustainable Forestry Management in Canada and Ecosystems Management in the United States, are introduced in Peter Duinker, Gary Bull and Bruce Shindler's essay on "Sustainable Forestry in Canada and the United States: Developments and Prospects." Solange Nadeau, Bruce Shindler and Christina Kakoyannis, in their essay "Beyond the Economic Model," provide an informative introduction to some of the commonly held standards through which the interests of forest dependent economies and the values of the public can be measured. The essays in section 2, which is entitled "New Demands on the Forest: From Timber Values to Forest Values," attempt to measure public opinion towards forests in various regions of the United States and Canada. The case studies of changing public values in regions in the North American West (including Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alberta) and other regions in Canada, like Western Newfoundland, argue that changing views of the forests must lead to greater local inclusion in policy decisions. In section 3, entitled "Institutional Responses to Emerging Demands," the essays describe various approaches to Sustainable Forestry Management and Ecosystems Management. The authors argue that experimental attempts to support the more holistic management paradigms, such as the grassroots ecosystem management organizations (GREMs) in the United States, Model Forests in Canada, or Adaptive Management Areas in the Pacific Northwest, are not keeping up to changing public values. The authors illustrate that there are many ways to implement policy that includes scientific information, human values, and stakeholder preferences.
The most interesting and wide-ranging material is contained in the chapters in section 4, entitled "Challenges for the Future," where the authors tackle such issues as certification, biotechnology, international trade, and climate change. In "From State to Market," authors Constance McDermott and George Hoberg argue that the process of "green" certification, which environmental groups designed to influence large scale changes in domestic forestry policies in order to slow the pace of tropical and old-growth deforestation and the use of biocides, is being challenged by industry standard certification, which forestry companies developed in an attempt to meet international environmental concerns while maintaining domestic production levels. The article "Emerging Issues of Globalization" introduces us to a fascinating, if brief, discussion of the impact of carbon sequestration as outlined in the Kyoto Accord, elimination of tariffs as argued in the World Trade Organization, and the softwood lumber dispute as adjudicated within the North American Free Trade Agreement. The final essay in this section captures the argument of the whole volume: that current resource management schemes are not capable of dealing with the diverse demands for increased natural resources and the evolving values and attitudes towards the environment.
The emphasis on techniques for sustainable policies produces papers that take an advocacy role rather than an analytical one. It would have been valuable to have attempted answers to questions like that posed by Edward Weber and Christina Herzog in their essay "Connecting the Dots." The authors ask, "is a pragmatic, incremental approach to the environmental problematique compatible with environmental sustainability?" Indeed, the ecosystem is a malleable scientific concept, one that promises to be hotly contested in the public sphere. Most "publics" do not think of themselves in integrated terms, rather lives are organized by commute times, school districts, work schedules and recreational opportunities, to name a few. As the collection illustrates, however, treating ecosystems as a managerial function, rather than a cultural construction, makes the task of connecting immediate and pragmatic social values with academic or theoretical ideals somewhat easier. For example, Weber and Herzog use J. C. Scott's Seeing like a State to point to the need for governments (or elites) to make room for ecosystem management, but this is not enough. Not probing deeper into issues of power gives the appearance that a shift to different management paradigms is only a response to special interest groups, not pro-active planning undertaken by a government for its own self-interest and preservation. Surely "ecosystems" will become as complicated culturally as constructed places as are "wilderness" areas. Conflict over their control, function, and purpose is inevitable.
Two Paths, by self-definition, is a cautious book. Perhaps more risks could have been taken to move the collection past a "state of the forest policy" report. Or, perhaps the numerous questions that were left unanswered reflect the complexity of forestry use. Either way, we are indebted to this collection because it does open the way for future studies. For example, the role of First Nations in forestry management is briefly discussed in Thomas Beckley's essay on "Forests, Paradigms, and Policies through Ten Centuries" and encourages us to think more about how aboriginal groups have and will contribute to past, present, and future forest policy. Given the importance of treaties in British Columbia, for example, First Nations are not just going to be side-players in policy; co-management schemes will ensure that they are as important as the sustainable policy itself. What strategies are First Nations across North America using to create wealth in the present and preserve resources for future generations? How do these goals align with the ecosystem's approach and public involvement?
The book also causes us to question the differences between Canadian and U.S. forests, especially the larger percentage of forested public land in Canada and the greater proportion of private forest lands in the United States. As the recent, and ongoing, softwood lumber dispute has illustrated, standard interpretations of Canada-U.S. relations that compare deferential and collectivist Canadians and more entrepreneurial and individualistic Americans are insufficient to explain the complexity of transboundary cooperation and conflict. Differences within and between the two countries matter, and it is this complexity that causes us to question the universality of principles and to probe the importance of geographical variations. The initial comparison of different regions--whether New Brunswick, British Columbia, Georgia, or Washington State--provide us with examples of more than "two paths" to healthy forests. The volume causes us to want more scholarship that highlights the complexity and interdependence of local planning, provincial/state jurisdictions, federal bureaucracy, and international pressures.
Two Paths is a useful introduction to new forestry planning models. The authors clearly point to the need to replace "centralized, bureaucratic, top-down, expert-driven management that privileges science content and favors technological solutions." Yet perhaps the question is not "Are We There Yet," as posed by the editors in the final chapter on whether public involvement and ecosystems management are attentive to change or flexible enough to adapt to changing forest values. Rather, one is left wondering whether the "complex, wicked, and messy" business of the forests bodes well for the long-term viability of sustainability as the guiding ideal in forestry.
. J. C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998).
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Bruce Shelvey. Review of Shindler, Bruce A.; Beckley, Thomas M.; Finley, Mary Carmel, eds., Two Paths toward Sustainable Forests: Public Values in Canada and the United States.
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