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Blue Mountains National Resources Institute

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BMNRI Home > Publications > Search For A Solution > Chapter 2


Search For A Solution: Sustaining the Land, People, and Economy of the Blue Mountains


Keith A. Blatner, Matthew Carroll, Steven Daniels, and Kimberley Knowles-Yanez

The forest health problems of the Blue Mountains are commonly viewed in purely biological terms. This chapter reviews the human and economic consequences of these problems with particular reference to the region's rural resource-based communities, whose well-being is closely linked to forest health.

In discussing the circumstances these communities face, it is important to note that deteriorating forest health is only one of three sets of external changes affecting life in the "Blues." Changes in the world economy have resulted in an "uncoupling" of the relations between primary production, industrial production, and employment. The rise of environmentalism as a major political force, and what one author has described as the "environmentalization of rural spaces" is a third major factor. In attempting to understand rural social change and in designing solutions for rural problems, all three influences should be considered.

An adequate understanding of community effects requires attention to various dimensions of community life (including geography, social system dynamics, relational networks, the meanings local people attach to rurality) and the occupational structure of rural communities. Other specific factors external to individual communities include the methods and locus of control in planning for and regulating resource flows from public and private lands and the political and economic uncertainty that has emerged in recent years because of conflicts over resource extraction from public lands. Difficulties many resource-based communities have faced as a result of the myriad of external changes include internal and external social and political conflict, decreasing wages and employment security, increases in rural poverty, population declines, and flagging of "community spirit."

Approaches for helping communities adapt to changes are lumped into the concepts of "community development" and "economic development." The former is described as a marriage of approaches aimed at improving community organization as well as economic efficiency, organization, planning, and rural reconstruction. The latter is defined as ". . . the capacity of the local state to continue generating income and employment to maintain, if not improve, its relative economic position" (Summers, 1986:357). Economic development strategies often amount to attracting new industries or portions of industries to areas facing economic decline. The problems commonly faced by rural communities seeking to attract new industry are a small population base, the long distances to markets, the high cost of providing public facilities and services in rural areas, and the fragmentation of rural governmental units and rural economic development efforts.

Four often-cited economic development strategies that may have potential for the Blue Mountains are:

  • Diversification of current forest-based industries;
  • Promotion of recreation and tourism;
  • Attraction of retirees;
  • Promotion of local entrepreneurial activity.

Each strategy's pros and cons in specific situations were discussed. It should be emphasized that these strategies are not mutually exclusive and may be pursued in a complementary manner. Nor do these represent an all-inclusive set.

Responding to the forest health problems and to the social and economic needs of the human communities in the region will require some significant changes. Institutional barriers play a potentially important role in the ability of communities in the Blue Mountains to respond to change. As a social construct, institutions are defined as patterns of behavior, relationships, and constructs. Institutions are ways of controlling information and decisions and establishing which behaviors are off-limits and what collective rights and responsibilities are. Institutions evolve as conscious or unconscious responses to need, but as needs change, institutions that fail to adapt may become barriers.

The difficulty of institutional change derives, in part, from the constituencies that develop around them. For example, the concept of sustained yield from federal forests achieved institutional status in legislation and agency behavior. Industries and communities developed around federal timber-harvest levels, and as those levels have fallen in recent years, those groups have argued that an implicit contract between themselves and the agency has been broken.

One key social institution that may affect the management responses to the forest health problems in the Blue Mountains is our pattern of managing conflicts between competing resource users. It appears that managing for forest health will require an ecosystem approach that raises profound challenges for the specific-site/single-agency decision processes that have been the historical norm. If traditional agency decision processes and public participation techniques are ill-suited to the demands of ecosystem management, more collaborative techniques with a stronger grounding in dispute resolution theory offer some alternatives worth considering.

Resource management in the Blue Mountains will challenge us in a number of ways. Technically, it is going to be a challenge to arrest the current insect epidemics and control the resulting fire danger. Economically, it is going to be a challenge to capture whatever financial value might be obtainable through salvage operations, without undue negative impacts on nonmarket values. Administratively, it is going to be a challenge to marshal the personnel, resources, and inter-agency coordination to perform the tasks at hand. Lastly, it will be a tremendous social challenge, because it will test our ability to work together and deal with the differing goals we have for the region's forests.

In sum, it is clear the rural communities of the Blue Mountains face some very significant challenges. It also appears clear that inaction in the face of these difficulties will not benefit the people of the region. Despite the sense of alarm that is quite naturally emerging, great care should go into the design of approaches to benefit the region. Such approaches should take careful account of local circumstances, values, and culture and be in line with Gifford Pinchot's famous dictum to decide local questions on local grounds while, at the same time recognizing that local communities often lack sufficient resources to solve all their own problems and that they are part of a much larger society. Clearly only the communities themselves will be able to determine their future, but the degree of their success will be governed by the willingness of government and other institutions to facilitate change.

Contents of Chapter Two:

  • Introduction
  • Macro-Level Changes Affecting the Rural West
  • Human Communities: Their Structure and Dynamics
  • Definitions
  • Horizontal and Vertical Linkages
  • Occupational Groups
  • Stability and Sustained Yield
  • Planning, Locus of Control, and Political Uncertainty
  • Community Conflict and Convergence
  • Socioeconomic Difficulties
  • Employment
  • Poverty
  • Population Decline
  • Decline in Community Spirit
  • Role of Local Leadership in Community Adaptation
  • Community Development
  • Development Constraints and Options
  • Economic Development Alternatives for the Blue Mountains
  • Diversification of Traditional Forest-Based Industries
  • Recreation and Tourism
  • Rural Retirement Homes
  • Local Entrepreneurs
  • Institutional Barriers to Change and Developmentz
  • Decision Processes and Conflict Management
  • Context
  • Negotiation and Disputing Behavior
  • Linking Decision Processes to Disputing Behavior
  • Key Negotiation Concepts
  • Summary

US Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station, Blue Mountains National Resources Institute
Last Modified: Monday, 16 December 2013 at 14:18:43 CST

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