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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
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Sierra Institute’s socioeconomic monitoring program endeavors to assess the influence that forest collaborative groups have had on the social and economic conditions in the local area. This is done by analyzing demographic trends, interviewing local stakeholders, assessing community capacity through workshops, and analyzing data about forest-related businesses. We work closely with each collaborative group throughout the monitoring process to identify key data sources, capture unique local trends, and ensure that research includes the factors most important to the group.

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

In a new era of collaborative forest management, community benefit remains central to the Forest Service mission. The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP), established in 2009 and re-funded in 2019, is a Congressional funding program that supports collaborative approaches to restoration, and requires both ecological and socioeconomic monitoring. Sierra Institute has had the unique opportunity and privilege to complete socioeconomic monitoring work for the 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.

Highlights:

  • 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.

Read the full Report Here. 

In 2018, the Sierra Institute began working with the Amador-Calaveras Consensus Group (ACCG) to conduct socioeconomic monitoring in the Cornerstone Project area to assess effects of the CFLR, provide a baseline for future monitoring, and make recommendations for expanding local benefit. Monitoring was completed in Winter 2020. 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.

Highlights:

  • One important benefit of the collaborative has been bringing stakeholders together and leveraging resources, which has aided in the development of the workforce development organization, CHIPS, and brought in additional grant dollars.
  • Events external to the collaborative - the 2015 Butte Fire that burned 70,000 acres and subsequent influx of cannabis cultivation - had important impacts in the area that are impossible to separate from the impacts of the Cornerstone Project, highlighting the importance of understanding the effects of the collaborative group within the context of broader socioeconomic trends.
  • With the benefit of having done CFLRP socioeconomic monitoring previously, Sierra Institute was able to improve upon data collection by conducting a survey of contractors who worked in the CFLR area, which gave insight into how workforce development and creating opportunities for local contracting can be improved.

Read the full Report Here.

The Burney-Hat Creek socioeconomic monitoring began in 2019. Initial work has focused on identifying monitoring goals and measurement indicators in partnership with members of the collaborative. Unlike with the other CFLRs, Sierra Institute did a socioeconomic assessment for the group in 2010, so there is already a baseline to which ongoing monitoring can reference. Check back for more updates as the project continues to evolve!

“It is my expectation that supporting local communities is at the forefront of the business that we conduct and that we make full use of the tools at our disposal to do so.”

– Randy Moore, Regional Forester