Socioeconomic Monitoring

"The National Forests exist not for the sake of revenue to the government, but for the sake of the welfare of the public."

Gifford Pinchot, First Chief of the US Forest Service

Why is the US Forest Service interested in socioeconomic conditions? As a result of their proximity to the resource base and geographic isolation from other economic opportunities, many rural communities continue to rely upon forest products, even after the decline of the timber industry in the American West which led to economic hardship in many communities.

In a new era of collaborative forest management, community benefit remains central to the Forest Service mission. Regional Forester, Randy Moore, wrote in 2016, “It is my expectation that supporting local communities is at the forefront of the business that we conduct. The Sierra Institute continues to be a leader in socioeconomic monitoring in relation to forest management and rural communities.”

We’ve had the unique opportunity to complete socioeconomic monitoring work for three Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration projects in California.

The Dinkey Landscape Restoration Project (DLRP) seeks to improve understanding of the “triple-bottom-line,” or economic, ecological, and social conditions in communities local to the project area. The Dinkey Creek Collaborative, supported by Sierra National Forest (SNF), established an agreement with the Sierra Institute for Community and Environment (Sierra Institute) to conduct the socioeconomic monitoring for the DLRP. The purpose was to provide a snapshot of 2016 social and economic conditions in local communities around the DLRP, six years into the U.S. Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program funding.  Tree mortality across the Dinkey Landscape and beyond has brought a surge in employment to the local economy. Local contractors have a surplus of work. Out of town workers have moved in resulting in increased revenue in the rental housing market, the hospitality industry, as well as the service/supply portions of the economy. These outcomes are likely to be short term as mortality is harvested and then degrades. The Sierra Institute conducted local community capacity assessments and concluded that Collaborative or DLRP activities have not yet affected local community capacity. We identified that targeted work on training—including improving tribal workforce training, local contracting, and local business development can have important short-term benefits that will alter capacity and local socioeconomic outcomes, a clear goal of the CFLR program.

In 2018, the Sierra Institute began working with the Amador-Calaveras Consensus Group (ACCG) to conduct socioeconomic monitoring in the Cornerstone Project area. This work will help inform ACCG as they seek to design projects that can affect or respond to socioeconomic issues of concern, and provide insight on how projects can be structured to improve socioeconomic outcomes.

The Burney Hat Creek has been off to a great start. Natural Resource staff at the Sierra Institute have been working with local community partners to build consensus and mutually agreed upon goals with local partners and community members. Check back for more updates as the project continues to evolve!