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Factors Influencing Adaptive Capacity in the Reorganization of Forest Management in Alaska

Colin Beier, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

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Abstract

Several studies of U.S. National Forests suggest that declines of their associated forest products industries were driven by synergistic changes in federal governance and market conditions during the late 20th century. In Alaska, dramatic shifts in the economic and political settings of the Tongass National Forest (Tongass) drove changes in governance leading to collapse of an industrial forest management system in the early 1990s. However, 15 years since collapse, the reorganization of Tongass governance to reflect ‘new’ economic and political realities has not progressed. To understand both the factors that hinder institutional change (inertia) and the factors that enable progress toward reorganization (adaptation), I analyzed how Tongass forest management, specifically timber sale planning, has responded to changes in market conditions, local industry structure, and larger-scale political governance. Inertia was evidenced by continued emphasis on even-aged management and large-scale harvesting, i.e., the retention of an industrial forestry philosophy that, in the current political situation, yields mostly litigation and appeals, and relatively few forest products. Adaptation was evidenced by flexibility in harvest methods, a willingness to meet local demand instead of political targets, and a growing degree of cooperation with environmental advocacy groups. New partnerships, markets, and political leaders at state and national levels can frame a new blueprint for reorganization of Tongass management toward a more sustainable future.

Key words

forest management; inertia; organizational change; rigidity traps; timber sale planning; Tongass National Forest
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087