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The Role of Science in the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program

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The US Department of Agriculture Forest Service's Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) was created in 2009 to fund collaborative, science-based restoration. The role of science in collaborative forest restoration efforts such as the CFLRP is evolving as decisionmaking is complicated by a multitude of social and ecological factors. However, empirical evidence about the use of science in this context is limited. This article addresses the following question: How do CFLRP collaboratives obtain scientific information and what role does science play? Interviews and a survey of five CFLRP collaboratives in the Western United States were used to assess science sources, communication, perceptions, and obstacles. The results indicate that CFLRP collaboratives access scientific information primarily from university-based organizations and federal agencies via oral modes of delivery. Although the role of science is still somewhat unclear, CFLRP collaboratives are committed to incorporating science, and effective science delivery approaches may help facilitate the use of science.

Management and Policy Implications: The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) explicitly calls for “collaborative, science-based restoration” and use of the “best available science.” However, collaborative forest restoration is a complex process in which scientific outputs are some of many sources of information. This complexity makes access to usable scientific information critical if science is to play a significant role in planning, decisionmaking, and implementation. Understanding how CFLRP collaboratives access scientific information and view the role of science can improve our understanding of how to most effectively use science in this context. I found that the five CFLRP collaboratives surveyed in this article largely access scientific information from university-based sources and federal agencies, primarily the Forest Service. Meanwhile, the ecological sciences and silvicultural knowledge are the most common disciplines called on for scientific information. Science is primarily delivered in oral formats through in-person meetings and presentations, although notably, respondents preferred to receive scientific information in peer-reviewed articles. Although the role of science in CFLRP collaboratives is still somewhat unclear and contested, the participants in the CFLRP projects surveyed generally accept scientific information, and there is a clear commitment to incorporating science in decisionmaking. Therefore, I recommend that participants in CFLRP collaboratives and similar collaborative forest restoration efforts emphasize oral, in-person delivery of scientific information, as well as sustained interactions among scientists, collaborative stakeholders, decisionmakers, and implementers. Ongoing, face-to-face interactions can help to build trust and mutual respect, encourage transparency, and facilitate communication and development of a common language.
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Keywords: collaboration; decisionmaking; forest restoration; science communication; scientific information

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 8, 2017

This article was made available online on December 15, 2016 as a Fast Track article with title: "The Role of Science in the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program".

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