Skip to main content

Scanning the Horizon for the Future of Forestry

Schematic of the horizon scanning process. Created by Maria Romero.

Director's Choice
A Minute with the Scientist

Dave Bengston: If you Google, ‘How to become an environmental futurist in just 50 years,’ you'll find a blog piece that I wrote that describes my journey, going back to when I was in high school actually, where my first interest in futures started because my father was a member of the World Future Society back in the early 70s. So we had the ‘ Futurist’ magazine in our house, and I found out there were people who called themselves ‘futurists,’ and they were serious, it was a serious business-oriented and military-oriented field because that's where it really started, in the military and then spread to the business world. And so, I had an individually designed bachelor's degree in future studies, and then went on to environmental economics in graduate school and got a job in Forest Service research. So, in about 2010 or 11, I had this idea, for the end of my career, going back to futures and doing futures research in the Forest Service, and that's how the Strategic Foresight Group got started.

I'm Dave Bengston. I'm a social scientist and environmental futurist with the Strategic Foresight Group at the Northern Research Station in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Foresters have always had this long term perspective — and you can find that in the writings of Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the Forest Service, Teddy Roosevelt, the great champion of conservation, whose administration the Forest Service was started [under] — they have this very forward looking and long term perspective, and foresters, because of the nature of trees and the growing cycle of trees, have always had a long term perspective. But, futures research brings something a little different, something to contribute to that, and II think it has an important role for forest planning, management, and policy.

The future is all about change. Horizon scanning is a tool for finding signals of change that could affect the future of an organization or field. This project designed and created a horizon scanning system for forestry with the goal of increasing strategic foresight and providing insight into how and why the future could be different than today.

Horizon scanning is a tool for finding signals of change, both within and outside of an organization or field. The Northern Research Station's Strategic Foresight Group recently worked with the University of Houston Foresight Graduate Program to design and implement a formal horizon scanning system for the USDA Forest Service, with the goal of increasing strategic foresight. The horizon scanning system is described in a report that summarizes the early phases in development of this tool and lessons learned. Among the topics covered in the report are the development of a method to identify useful scanning sources pertinent to forest futures, ways to analyze horizon scanning “hits,” or signals of change, and distinguishing between current and emerging issues for the Forest Service. Also discussed is the range of communication products generated to date by the project. The report contains the complete guide written for those volunteering to do the scanning. This collection will acquaint forest planners, managers, and policy-makers with horizon scanning as an integral step in anticipating the consequences of potential change and making better decisions in a rapidly changing environment.



External Partners

  • Andy Hines, University of Houston