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Integrating research, policy, and practice for forest resource protection


Dr. Paul W. Adams
Professor and Forest Watershed Extension Specialist
Forest Engineering Department
Oregon State University
Corvallis, Oregon, USA


A successful code of forest practice requires a solid foundation of research and other comprehensive analyses to accurately identify forest practice problems as well as cost-effective solutions. Although public and political pressure for expedient and significant regulatory action often exists, considerable caution is needed in interpreting not only the views of the public, but also those of interested scientists and other experts who may mix facts with personal preferences. Once a reasonable and potentially effective code of practice is developed, training, supervision and other complementary actions may be essential for successful implementation. Overall success should be further enhanced if forest owners, managers, and operators can actively communicate their views and experience throughout the process of designing, applying, and revising the code.


This meeting focuses on a form of forest policy, the code of practice, which typically is used to promote certain environmental benefits. In this paper I will discuss briefly some important considerations, particularly those that apply before and after code adoption or revision, that can greatly affect the code's success. I will draw heavily on our experience in Oregon, where we have had over 20 years of experience in the development and implementation of a detailed code of forest practice (Adams 1988).

I will first offer a reminder about the importance of conducting adequate research before making major policy changes. In the 1960's and early 1970's in the Pacific Northwest USA, for example, a policy of removing woody debris from streams was broadly implemented. At that time, it was believed at that time that this debris was a barrier to fish migration as well as a debris torrent hazard, although very little research had been done to support this perception. When the research eventually was done, it showed much the opposite, i.e., wood in streams helped create good habitat and often reduced channel erosion. More recently, we have had a complete reversal in policy, including major revisions in the code of practice, so as to promote woody debris in streams that are seen now as habitat deficient (Adams et al. 1988).

Even when research is lacking, however, public perceptions of a problem can lead to strong pressure for prompt changes in policy. Both politicians and government employees may be willing to quickly assess and change policies in order to appear responsive to public needs. This sometimes leads to what might be called "guilt by association" technical analyses to direct policy changes (Adams and Cleaves 1993). Such analyses often lack the depth and duration that are needed to clearly establish cause and effect relationships between forest practices and policies and environmental costs and benefits. A current example in Oregon is the issue of forest practices and fisheries impacts, which remains poorly defined, yet has generated widespread, costly and perhaps marginally beneficial policy responses.

Technical analyses for policy development sometimes are based heavily on research results, but the research primarily is historical. What may occur is that past findings are not interpreted in the context of current equipment and operating standards. For example, much of the detailed research on forest practices and soil and water impacts in Oregon was done over 20 years ago, using machines and procedures that are seen less frequently today (Adams and Ringer 1994). Although much fewer in number, carefully conducted studies of newer equipment and procedures often have shown dramatic improvements in environmental performance. Yet a quick and superficial analysis of largely historical research could "weigh the evidence" and readily conclude some inaccurate expectations about future impacts of forest practices.

As mentioned earlier, public perceptions can weigh heavily into policy decisions. In recent years, policy and decision makers in the USA often have pointed to a shift in public values to justify changes in forest policies such as codes of practice. Public opinion polls frequently are cited as clear evidence of such shifts. A danger lies in using the terms public values and opinion interchangeably, because they may be very different things that may each deserve careful assessment (Adams 1995a). I would argue that public values may be better shown by what people do than by what they say.

An opinion poll, for example, might reveal overwhelming public preference for a ban on clearfelling, which could be used to support such a ban in a code of practice or other law. But while the public may say something quite different, the strong demand for wood clearly shows they still place a high value on the availability of economical forest products, which in many areas is enhanced by clearfelling. This type of broader understanding may not make the final policy decision any easier, but it should make it more effective in addressing real needs and changes in public values. Careful analysis of key facts and values also may help determine if a policy solution is likely to be found primarily in an administrative, research, educational or political arena (Satterlund and Adams 1992).

Most forestry professionals now recognize how easily public opinion can be shaped by mass media information sources. In our major Oregon newspaper, for example, negative and controversial issues are the most frequently reported and discussed forestry topics, with accompanying photographs and sketches that usually show newly clearfelled areas or some other unattractive or divisive image. No less a media leader than Ted Turner, the owner of CNN, has publicly called on reporters and journalists to become strong environmental advocates. Although this clearly is contrary to the long held American ideal of a relatively unbiased and centrist press, many in my country apparently have heeded Turner's call.

Given the complexity of the issues and the fickle nature of public opinion, it is becoming more common to hear calls to turn over many of the policy decisions to scientists and other technical experts. Or alternatively, to have individual or groups of scientists volunteering their input in policy matters (Adams 1995b). Dozens of scientists and technical experts, for example, have signed letters to President Clinton and Vice President Gore recommending major changes in the management policies for natural resources in the Pacific Northwest. The problem with such letters or direct policy involvement, is that the scientists often will make recommendations that are as much based on their own personal preferences as they are on scientific fact, while not clearly distinguishing the two types of information. Compounding this problem of direct scientist involvement is the amount of trust that the public gives to the experts (Adams and Cleaves 1993), which may give them an inappropriate degree of influence in the policy arena.

In addition to not being able to separate facts from personal judgments given by experts, policy makers also may not recognize the limitations of narrow expertise when applied to policy development. For example, a group of 12 university faculty and other experts recently wrote a letter to the Oregon Department of Forestry, recommending that the code of practice require a 30 meter no-cut buffer along most streams, a change that would substantially affect thousands of private landowners and operators. To my knowledge, none of the experts has owned or actively managed or harvested timber on private forest land, yet their recommendations were given considerable attention, including media reports (Adams 1995b).

Not surprisingly, groups of experts like these tend to focus on technical solutions, with little or no consideration of economic, institutional, or social feasibility in implementing the policy. Also, the impressive credentials of many academic or agency experts may lead decision makers to overlook or discount the less articulate input of persons with limited formal education but substantial practical experience in implementing forest practices and policies (Adams and Hairston 1994). Both technical experts and policy makers may view a code of practice primarily in a regulatory context or without considering other policy alternatives such as education, technical assistance, or incentives. Even where regulation is justified, such complementary policy approaches and related program coordination may be needed for overall success in meeting the desired resource objectives (Adams 1995c).

As codes of practice are developed and expanded throughout the USA, their potential costs and benefits are receiving greater attention. For example, in 1991 the administration costs for codes in Alaska, California, Oregon, and Washington ranged from 1.1 to 11 million US dollars, with amounts relating more to the nature of the code rather than the level of logging activity. Other regulatory costs may include changes in equipment needs or harvest layout, the current and future value of growing timber that is left for environmental protection, as well as changes in investment levels and strategies when the evolution of regulations becomes more onerous or unpredictable. Depending on the specific nature of the regulatory requirements, these added costs may be relatively small or large.

On the positive side, a regulatory approach clearly provides a direct way of dealing with poor operators and of promoting consistency in forest practices. The regulatory structure also can be used to educate operators about both the techniques and benefits of improved practices, which can enhance compliance. It is noteworthy that some states in the USA have taken very different approaches to influencing forest practices (e.g., voluntary/educational vs. regulatory), which have produced similar positive environmental results but varying costs. Studies in Oregon also suggest that the code of practice may affect different types of landowners in varying ways. For example, increased stream protection requirements may be more costly and difficult for non-industrial, private forest owners because of the relative size and pattern of these ownerships in the landscape.

Careful analysis and design of a code of practice does not guarantee that the desired practices will be implemented. Penalties or their enforcement may be insufficient to deter undesirable practices. Lack of positive action also may stem from inadequate awareness, understanding, skill or supervision of forest operators. In Oregon, for example, specific design criteria for stream crossings have been required for over 20 years, but many have failed to meet these standards. The criteria are generally reasonable and appropriate for environmental protection, but education and understanding for their implementation by forest operators are lacking. In the USA, training programs usually favor participation by those with flexible schedules and financial resources, such as government and large company employees. It is not very common, for example, that operator training programs are specifically designed, economically priced, and conveniently scheduled.

Oregon has a well developed structure and staff for administering its code of practice. Yet most forest operations (i.e., about 75%) still receive no field inspection. If permanent and widespread staff for field supervision and enforcement are lacking, other approaches such as operator education and training may be even more important in promoting code compliance. It is also noteworthy that even when financial incentives rather than regulations are used to promote desirable actions among forest owners and operators, implementation of the desired practices may be significantly greater and long-lived when the practices and their benefits are clearly understood.

Finally, successful design and implementation of desired forest practices invariably require direct and open communication with landowners, managers, and operators. These groups can not only help identify potential implementation problems, but also opportunities for improving practices and reducing costs and other obstacles to implementation. Often, the key to understanding and tapping the vital perspective and experience of these groups is to present them with the desired environmental objectives, and then sincerely engaging their assistance in developing the practical means for accomplishing the objectives.

Literature Cited

Adams, P.W. 1995a. Public values have changed? Journal of Forestry, Vol. 93: in press.

Adams, P.W. 1995b. Professional ethics in water resource issues in forests. In: Proceedings of Society of American Foresters National Convention, Anchorage, Alaska, 18-22 September, 1994. Society of American Foresters, Washington DC, in press.

Adams, P.W. 1995c. Addressing forestry issues for the future: A vision for coordinated research, extension, and assistance programs. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, Vol. 50, in press.

Adams, P.W. and A.B. Hairston. 1994. Using scientific input in policy and decision making. Extension Circular 1441. Oregon State University Extension Service, Corvallis.

Adams, P.W. and J.O. Ringer. 1994. The effects of timber harvesting and forest roads on water quantity and quality in the Pacific Northwest: Summary and annotated bibliography. Report to Oregon Forest Resources Institute. Forest Engineering Department, Oregon State University.

Adams, P.W. 1993. Closing the gaps in knowledge, policy, and action to address water issues in forests. Journal of Hydrology 150(1993):773-786.

Adams, P.W., and D.A. Cleaves. 1993. Structures and approaches for watershed resources education and research. In: Proceedings of Symposium on Watershed Resources: Balancing Environmental and Social Factors in Large Basins. College of Forestry, Oregon State University, Corvallis.

Adams, P.W. 1988. Oregon's Forest Practice Rules. Extension Circular 1194. Oregon State University Extension Service, Corvallis.

Adams, P.W., R. Beschta, and H. Froehlich. 1988. Mountain logging near streams: opportunities & challenges. In: Proceedings of International Mountain Logging and Pacific Northwest Skyline Symposium. Forest Engineering Department, Oregon State University, Corvallis.

Satterlund, D.R. and P.W. Adams. 1992. Wild-land Watershed Management, 2nd Edition. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. New York, NY.

Author's Contact Information

Dr. Paul W. Adams
Professor & Forest Watershed Extension Specialist
Forest Engineering Department
Oregon State University
Corvallis, Oregon, USA
Telephone: +1 503 737-4952
Fax: +1503737-4316

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