Investing in Research and Technology Transfer
Sustainable management of nonfederal forests is dependent on timely and accurate information that flows from reliable and easily accessible scientific sources. Research on nonfederal forests, technology transfer, and dissemination of information is important to address unique and diverse ownership and management needs, growing demands for wood, and forest health and ecological concerns. This chapter provides an overview of research and technology transfer programs that are focused on nonfederal forests.
Research and Development
Important social and environmental benefits provided by sustainable nonfederal forests are challenged by the complexity of the ecosystems, ownerships, and institutions. The landowners are concerned about risk and capital requirements, and the public is concerned about appropriate combinations of educational, technical, and regulatory programs. These concerns detract from development of nonfederal forests to provide even greater benefits. These issues deserve more attention and research.
Information needed for the management and protection of nonfederal forests is often dissimilar from that required by other major landowner categories. Certainly, the variety of objectives associated with management of the nation's 9 million nonindustrial private forests requires information that often is different from that needed for the management of federal public lands. Similarly, tribal
forests, industrial forests, and state-owned forests often have markedly dissimilar goals that can drive informational needs in different directions.
There are three fundamental issues concerning research on nonfederal forests. The issues are (1) the magnitude of research activities, (2) the organization and management of research, and (3) future research directions. In some respects, these issues parallel the research concerns expressed in Forestry Research: A Mandate for Change (National Research Council 1990).
Quantity and Quality of Research
Although research on forests in general provides information that is often applicable to nonfederal forests, there is no major national focus on the informational needs unique to nonfederal-forests-management per se. This is especially troublesome given the information void and inconsistencies that often plague analyses of major issues involving nonfederal forests. The information available to describe the latter is often out-of-date, gathered by agencies with conflicting interests, inconsistent in form and presentation, and incapable of being summed across regions. However, the 1978 and 1994 nationwide reviews of private forest owners have been helpful in this respect (Birch 1966, Birch, et al. 1982). More frequent compilations of this sort could prove especially useful in anticipating issues involving nonfederal forests and in designing suitable program responses by public and private organizations.
The lack of information about nonfederal forests is especially alarming when considered in the context of growing public perceptions of the importance of forests generally and with the meager and often declining research investments being made in most forestry sectors generally. Since the late 1970s, real dollar federal investments in forestry research have remained the same or declined slightly. Private wood-based investments in forestry research continue to be substantially below the national average (4.7 percent) for company research expenditures as a proportion of domestic sales (paper and allied products: 0.8 percent; lumber, wood products and furniture: 0.7 percent) (National Research Council 1990; Ellefson and Ek 1996). The magnitude of needed research investments is put into perspective by the 70 million acres of nonindustrial private forests that are worthy of management practices yielding at least a 4 percent real rate of return. An investment of over $7.2 billion would be needed to produce that return, an amount reflective of the minimum value of the goods and services produced by these forests (USDA Forest Service 1989a,b). An annual research investment of $1 million devoted to this landowner category would be less than 0.02 percent of this value. In addition to concern over funding of research, there is concern over the availability of researchers (since the late 1970s, the number of students earning doctoral degrees in forestry has increased very little) (National Research Council 1990; United Nations 1992).
Organization and Management of Research
Research on nonfederal forests is fragmented by disciplines and organizations. Although such a structure has the advantage of being able to respond to various disparate research issues, it also can fractionate research responsibilities to the point that major problems requiring research are sometimes bypassed. Within such a structure, seldom does any one organization have as its dominant mission the development of information required by owners, managers, and users of nonfederal forests. The exception might be wood-based-industry research and development programs, which, when focused primarily on forestry research, are in the range of $60 to $70 million per year (Ellefson and Ek 1996). As is coordination and integration among forestry research scientists generally, coordination of scientific effort devoted to nonfederal forests is limited (National Research Council 1990). Given the importance of nonfederal forests to the nation and the diversity of clients that depend on them, the forestry research community needs to be aggregated and integrated.
Planning and Focus of Research
Providing for the informational needs of owners, users, and managers of nonfederal forests requires research focused on resource use, management, and protection. Often, only research on nonfederal forests receives attention within the context of larger forestry research planning. For example, gaining an understanding of the composition, function, and distribution of genetic variation of wildlife might have broad application among many owners, but more specific information might be needed by specific tribes and industrial timberland owners. A process does not exist for periodic review and establishment of a national research agenda for nonfederal forests. Research results useable to the community with interests in nonfederal forests depends on planning and focus. Such has yet to occur.
National assessments could be used to guide the direction of research on nonfederal forests; however assessments are limited. One effort to do so was carried-out by the American Forest and Paper Association (1995a) which ranked research needs in the following order: forest management research, research on environmental-social-biological interactions, silvicultural research, and research on energy utilization and markets. The report also calls for a national research coordinating council. A more narrowly focused national assessment addressed the nonindustrial private-forest sector (Ellefson et al. 1990). Many assessments leading to a national research agenda are very broad in scope. For example, a report prepared by the National Science and Technology Council (1995) suggests that research focus on understanding the state of natural systems and their susceptibility to change, socioeconomic dimensions of environmental changes, human health consequences of environmental change, and vulnerability of socioeconomic
and ecological systems to environmental changes. Greater emphasis on economic and sociology research is also suggested (National Research Council 1990). Especially useful information is found in recent national reviews of the number, characteristics, and intentions of persons owning nonindustrial private forests. Also of special relevance have been the few comparative assessments of policies and programs that are being implemented by other countries.
Information and Technology Transfer
Demand continues to increase for scientific information required to make informed decisions on the use, management, and protection of nonfederal forests. A challenge facing the nation, however, is how to transfer such information effectively to the users, managers, and owners of the nation's nonfederal forests, and the variety of current and potential partnerships that involve these users and managers (National Research Council 1990). The potential for transferring information exists among a number of public and private organizations and within the research community itself. A variety of issues prevent full access to this potential.
The forestry community is increasingly viewing science as an important basis for informed decisions. Unfortunately, researchers are not always well organized to transfer scientific findings to users, managers, and owners of forest land, including findings on nonfederal forest (National Research Council 1990). For example, many public and private organizations have responsibility for extending information, often doing so with little coordination and conflicting missions. Similarly, the modest funding often available to these organizations seldom enables them to achieve meaningful results. The client groups and the scope of programs (for example, professional continuing education, services to landowners, and informing the general public) in the technology-transfer area are exceptionally broad, a circumstance that tends to diffuse and blur organizational direction. Unknowns about the appropriate combination of methods used to deliver scientific information to important client groups (for example, electronic mediums, traditional classroom settings, and demonstration projects) are also distressing. Limited focus on emerging clients for new science also is of concern (for example, tribal forestry, urban and community forestry, and private interest groups). Although communication is increasingly suggested as an important role for researchers, they are often hesitant to communicate the results of their research to important client groups.
Building a more effective systemwide structure and associated commitment to transferring scientific information to interested users can be accomplished in a number of ways. For example, clarify the scientific informational needs of persons and organizations interested in or responsible for nonfederal forests; fostering mechanisms for transferring information, especially public and private partnership arrangements that can provide mutual synergy and potentially eliminate duplication; merge public organizations that have similar information-transfer
functions; build on private-sector strengths in information transfer, especially private consultants and industrial forestry information programs; encourage development of continuing-education opportunities for professional managers of natural resources and provide incentives for participation in programs offered by such centers (for example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Training and Education Center); substantially increase the funding of information-transfer programs; and aggressively incorporate technology-transfer components into research projects focused on nonfederal forests. In addition, partnerships and incentives that encourage cooperative efforts, outreach, and expansion of technology-transfer programs to a broader clientele—including newly emerging clientele groups such as Native American and urban forestry—should be cultivated.
Monitoring and Information Management
Management of the nation's nonfederal forests requires relevant and readily available information. Two invaluable methods to provide information are assessment and monitoring systems that gather information about the status of resources and the programs devoted to them, and information-management systems that enable information to be easily shared across regions, ownerships, and administrative units. The forestry community has a rich history of assessment and inventory activities that guide policy and program activities. These activities have served the nation well; however, they are in continual need of refinement because of the demand for different types of information, demand for timely information, and demand for accurate information. Refinement is needed as the nation becomes more sensitive to the importance of diversity in the structure of forest ecosystems and to the cumulative effects of management activities in large ecosystems that involve many different types of nonfederal-forest owners.
Assessment and Monitoring
Federal and state governments and some nonprofit organizations (for example, the Nature Conservancy) have engaged in developing complex assessment and monitoring systems that evaluate the status of forest resources and the progress in implementing programs on them. One of the most widely acknowledged assessment programs is the Forest Inventory and Analysis program authorized by the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974. Other examples are the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water Quality Assessment Program; the National Biological Survey Gap Analysis Program; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program; and the National Forest Health Monitoring Program which was begun in 1990 and involves a variety of public and private cooperators. In addition, various monitoring programs provide resource users and managers with information needed to focus, discard, or expand programs. An
example is state-level programs that monitor the application of best-management practices in forestry.
Nonfederal forests are typically included as an integral part of broader assessment and monitoring efforts and therefore are subject to their shortcomings. For example, protocols for inventory (assessment) methods and resource descriptions might lack standardization (for example, the variation in the definition of forestland by USDA Forest Service and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service); information sampling methods might be incompatible; certain landowner categories or forestland classifications might be excluded from survey samples; research designs providing information about resource conditions might be inconsistent; information on the human dimension might be lacking (for example, political, legal, and economic information); and the information reported might be out-of-date or poorly timed for important decisions. Those shortcomings in assessment and monitoring systems can have serious implications for guiding the use, management, and protection of nonfederal forests. Problems might occur in comparing assessment information both temporarily and spatially (for example, between states and between regions), in coordinating analysis of resource information between disciplines, and in comparing the results of research on important forestry use and management problems (Council on Environmental Quality 1995; Sample and LeMaster 1995).
Informed decisions about nonfederal forests require a shared interest in collecting and disseminating information. In reality, however, there are obstacles to doing so. For example, the general public reports a lack of fundamental resource information that describes the character of nonfederal forests (for example, area, type, and condition) and their potential for providing various benefits to different client groups (for example, wildlife habitat condition and scenic beauty condition). In contrast, there is an enormous amount of information that is gathered by Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) activities. The implication is that FIA processes are apparently gathering a wide variety of information that is not being provided in a manner that can be easily accessed by interested persons and organizations.
Additional conditions that detract from easy access to information about nonfederal forests include information-management systems that might use incompatible technologies; GIS technologies that might not be available to a wide range of interested users (including the general public); systems that suffer from lack of use because they are not "user friendly"; information-gathering activities that are duplicated among organizations; a lack of technical advice that is needed to enhance clients' understanding and use of information; and possible lack of administrative or organizational leadership and resources that are needed to focus the collection, management, and dissemination of information. The inability of
public and private organizations to share information can detract markedly from their ability to carryout their mission. Similarly, the general public's inability to secure information easily can foster inaccuracies and mistrust.
Summary of Findings and Recommendations
Accomplishing needed forestry research that is focused on nonfederal forests will require continued engagement of public organizations and an even greater role for the private sector. Funding research on forests and related resources is generally of concern because of the conservative fiscal climate being experienced by the nation. Although greater public funding of research might be difficult, funding decisions should take into account the ever growing importance of the nation's nonfederal forests. Public funding should be continued and where possible augmented to be commensurate with current or potential benefits provided by nonfederal forests. In addition, research administrators should consider creative funding mechanisms, including dedicated public funding, special fees on commodities obtained from forests, a greater role for the private sector via the issuance of bonds and reinvestment of revenues, and fees for conducting research activities. As for the number and quality of forestry scientists, innovative recruitment and enhanced educational climate should be explored (National Research Council 1990).
Organization and management of research on nonfederal forests will continue to be a problem as long as funding deteriorates and research units must operate large-scale, efficient research enterprises. Consideration should be given to structures to coordinate national and regional research, partnerships and cooperative arrangements among research enterprises, fiscal and tax incentives for collaboration between organizations and scientists, merging of some federal-research projects with similar projects at universities, and development of greater clarity between public and private research responsibilities.
Existing research establishments need greater clarity of mission, reliance on broader environmental and natural-resource research agendas, and a national research coordinating structure devoted to the nation's nonfederal forests. With regard to the latter, serious consideration should be given to the National Research Council's recommendation for a National Forestry Research Council (National Research Council 1990).
Information-management and monitoring and assessment functions are growing in importance as reliable information bases become increasingly critical to decisions about the use, management, and protection of nonfederal forests. Among the many potential actions that would enhance availability of information for these decisions are the development of guidelines that foster commonality in data and information bases, especially since it would promote integrated resource management. Developing technical information systems (GIS) that support easy access to information by the interested public and owners and managers of
nonfederal forests is important as well as promoting access to and distribution of information that is currently being gathered by programs such as Forest Inventory and Analysis. Information-gathering approaches that improve the accuracy, reliability, and statistical soundness of information should be promoted. Developing linkages with and integration of various information systems; carrying out planning activities that focus information gathering and improve the quality of information systems; establishing information partnerships and cooperatives between public and private concerns, especially at state and regional levels; and focusing administrative leadership for the management of information about the nation's nonfederal forests is fundamental (National Science and Technology Council 1994).
Improve the quantity, quality, and timeliness of information about nonfederal forests and enhance access to this information.
This recommendation points to the following specific recommendations:
- Research focused on nonfederal forests should be strengthened by expanding public and private investments in research, improving the organization and management of research, and guiding research with a strategic research plan for nonfederal forests.
- Programs for transferring information about nonfederal forests to landowners, managers, and citizens should be strengthened. Cooperative partnerships should be used to assist in this effort.
- Programs for monitoring the condition and use of nonfederal forests and systems for managing this information should be strengthened, with emphasis on establishing consistent information gathering protocols for monitoring activities.