Tragedy of the Commons became a rallying cry of conservation leading to the first Earth Day in 1970. The source of the phrase was a Garrett Hardin essay published in 1968. Within an article exploring the issue of global population growth, a few paragraphs introduced a parable about two herdsmen grazing their livestock on land open to all. Each herdsman, given the option, will choose to maximize his individual benefit from the pasture by keeping as many livestock on the pasture as is feasible, exceeding the capacity of the land.
The result of the decision is the long-term detriment of all, including the herdsman. The author observed that two options are available to prevent the tragedy: privatization of the resource or regulation. By selling the property, market forces would influence utilization and deter abuse. Regulation by the state, the second option, would enforce constraints in order to sustain the pasture for the long-term.
A third option was uncovered by the research of Elinor Ostrom: institutions for collective action 1. Ostrom documented case studies of organizations around the globe that formed in order to manage common pool resources (CPR). These innovative local institutions operated without regulation by a third party and did not require conveying the resource to the private sector. Each institution addressed a single resource of interest to competing parties who would appropriate the resource for economic gain: pasture for grazing, fisheries, watersheds that support irrigation, or forests producing fuel and wood products. In each case, the local organization tempered the tendency for an appropriator to extract the maximum in the short term for personal benefit. The enduring institutions shared characteristics: they are self-organizing and self-governing. Members adopt rules of governance, a code of conduct, and monitoring protocols that verify conformance to the code of conduct.
Forest restoration collaborative groups are a relatively recent evolution of collective action institutions. They have convened in local communities adjacent to public lands. The forests of interest are primarily the lands administered by the USDA Forest Service. In Idaho, the National Forest System footprint was delineated by Presidential Executive Order that established forest reserves over a century ago. President Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot were determined to prevent resource abuse that accompanied settlement in other regions. Delineating the reserves on a map separated the land from homesteading. Government staff trained in the science and practice of forestry would apply their knowledge to manage the land for the long-term, ensuring a sustainable supply of timber for building materials and water for irrigation. The forests would support the anticipated settlement located external to the reserves. Over a century after the establishment of the reserves, Idaho has eight active forest collaborative groups in communities on the edge of National Forests. If public ownership and professional management were the solutions to protect the forests from abuse, then what changed? Why are institutions of collective action needed today?
1. Ostrom, Elinor (1990). Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN9780521405997
Forest collaborative groups are needed today because of the competing public expectations between commodity production and non-market services of the nation's forests. For many stakeholder groups, commodity production is like the herdsman in Garrett's parable of the commons, maximizing the extraction of the resource for economic gain while compromising other services of the forest that benefit the public. Related conflicts arise between advocates for public access and conservation interests.
Because of the tension between these conflicting interests, projects on public lands are frequently delayed by legal challenges to a line officer's Record of Decision. Collaboration is a strategy to resolve conflicts in the project design phase, and reduce the use of litigation. Since the forest collaborative group is not the decision maker for the agency, the form of the collective action departs from the institutions reviewed by Ostrom. The action is a set of recommendations, adopted by consensus, and submitted to the Responsible Official.
Although collaborative groups work to expand forest management beyond historical tools focused on timber production, revisiting the management principles of forest regulation very well may support the transition by offering a constructive framework for organization of the forest. Can the management concept of regulation transition from a growth and yield commodity objective to one that sustains a range of ecosystem services?
The profession of forestry developed the science and management methods to produce a sustained yield of timber from the forest estate over time. The target forest, i.e. the desired condition, was designed within the concept of a fully regulated forest for timber production. Not to be confused with the government control referenced by Hardin in Tragedy of the Commons, forest regulation is a self-imposed management constraint to
achieve desired ends.
Traditional forest regulation organizes the growing stock of the forest, a stock-flow resource. Depending on a landowner's objectives, a manager can determine the rate of harvest from the growing stock. The resource unit of flow, logs, leaves the forest and is the source material for the future product: dimension lumber, wood panels, pulp for paper products, etc. At the scale of an individual stand, the resource can be "used up" until regeneration and stand dynamics replace the harvested trees. Forest managers aggregate individual stands in order to plan at broader ownership scale to reach the target condition of a regulated forest.
Forest inventory supports regulation for timber production through the field measurement of stand level characteristics relevant to growth and yield: age, size class, density, site productivity. Composition is also relevant because the regional market prices will vary by species. These variables are essential to characterize the current condition. In addition, the stand level attributes are critical input to the analytical methods that forecast future growing stock and periodic harvest. The spatial distribution of the individual stands impacts operational costs due to haul costs from the forest stand to the mill or log landing.
Sequence of Activities
In practice, forest managers develop a schedule that allocates stands to harvest and silvicultural investments. The allocation alters forest conditions and produces commodities that have a market value. The target future condition will ensure the control, or regulation, of the flow of timber over the planning horizon without compromising the resource capacity to produce wood and fiber for future generations.
Forest regulation remains a valid management construct for collaborative forest restoration. However, the assessment of the desired future forest has changed. Federal land managers have shifted from an emphasis on continued flow of resource outputs (as directed by Congress in the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960) to sustaining the flow of benefits from ecosystem services (Ecosystem Restoration Policy , 2016).
The Ecosystem Restoration Policy objective is to achieve resilient conditions that have the capacity to provide four categories of ecosystem sevices:
Provisioning services, such as clean air and fresh water, energy, food, fuel, forage, wood products or fiber, and minerals;
Regulating services, such as long-term storage of carbon; climate regulation; water filtration, purification, and storage; soil stabilization; flood and drought control; and disease regulation 2
Supporting services, such as pollination, seed dispersal, soil formation, and nutrient cycling; and
Cultural services, such as educational, aesthetic, spiritual, and cultural heritage values, recreational experiences, and tourism opportunities.
The provisioning services, including timber production, are retained. However, the other three categories are equally important for forest regulation. The three other services - regulating, supporting, and cultural - are fund-service resources. They do not become part of a market commodity like timber or range forage consumed by livestock. These fund-service resources produce at an inherent and fixed rate not subject to change by a management allocation. Although they cannot be used up, the services can be compromised, or "worn out". For example, cultural services do wear down and require management action in order to maintain the service. Roads and trails that provide public access are not used up when a visitor travels the road or rides horseback over a trail. The transportation system is a man-made infrastructure that requires maintenance to meet performance standards.
The fully regulated forest for ecosystem services involves a change in scale for management information. The pattern of vegetation at a landscape scale becomes an important indicator of ecosystem function. Stand attributes of successional stage, species composition, structure class, and historical fire regime form a pattern that constitutes a landscape structure. Pattern begets function, and function returns the favor. The target for the regulated forest is a pattern of characteristics at a landscape scale that are within the Natural Range of Variability. The target condition will increase the odds of a forest resilient to disturbance and will maintain the capacity to support both fund-service and stock-flow resources.
Sequence of Activities
A landscape restoration project allocates subareas to a schedule of restoration actions that will transition the landscape towards the desired condition over time. The actions include vegetation treatments (commercial harvest, prescribed fire, pre-commercial harvest) and actions addressing the condition of man-made infrastructure (roads, trails, stream crossings). Commodities are produced, but the flow of logs is not the main objective. Progress of a project should be measured as the decrease in the departure from the desired landscape condition that will achieve regulation of services.
2. Not explicitly included in the Policy statement, maintenance of wildlife habitat, both terrestrial and aquatic, is a regulating service (implied).
The ecosystem services commitment as expressed by the agency's restoration policy does challenge our institutions for collective action. Traditional forest regulation for timber production has the advantage of commensurable measures for outcomes between a proposed action and its alternatives: volume, market value, costs. Economic efficiency of projects can be calculated and compared in a discounted cash flow model.
Conversely, the ecosystem service approach to forest regulation involves services that provide benefits difficult to quantify. The public benefits are often incommensurable compared to commodities valued in the marketplace. Because of this challenge, local collaborative groups perform an important role - recommending priorities for restoration actions that will improve benefits to the public.
Note that in NEPA documentation, economic analysis of project efficiency tends to rely on techniques applied to traditional forest regulation and timber production. Next issue we will explore principles for a restoration economics. How do we determine if a restoration based project is economically efficient? Can project analysis resolve the incommensurable nature of ecosystem service objectives?