What is a community forest?

Posted by Renee Magyar on May 21, 2014

With our partners, we're growing the movement of community-owned forests in our region.

Photo by Mt Adams Resource Stewards

Watching elk tracks melt with the snow, gazing at pine and Douglas Fir towering overhead, and listening to the sound of an ocassional sandhill crane calling from the neighboring wildlife refuge, you wouldn't know that this forest is more than a healthy piece of land. You wouldn't know that this property - the Mount Adams Community Forest - is the result of years of work by the people of Glenwood, Washington to ensure they have access to timber, recreation and outdoor education opportunities for generations to come.

Community-owned forests are as diverse as the communities who own and manage them. They range from largely government-controlled forests like the Teanaway Community Forest in Cle Elum, Washington to the non-profit owned Usal Redwood Forest outside of Ft. Bragg, California. They vary in size, forest type, and proximity to urban centers. Some prioritize sustainable harvest for lumber, while others maintain hiking and biking trails and prioritize recreation. The commonality in all of these community forests is the essential role the community plays in making decisions about how the forest should be used, for the maximum health and benefit of those that live nearby.

Ensuring communities play a role in managing forests is something that Sustainable Northwest has dedicated itself to for twenty years. We've been successful in the public lands arena, where we've established, facilitated, and participated in forest collaborative groups. We've helped design nationwide programs supporting collaboratively designed management across large federally-owned landscapes. But our national forests are only one piece of a restoration forestry economy. We want to ensure that communities in the Northwest are utilizing local forests for economic stability and local benefit. Community forests are a model of forest ownership and management that can provide complementary forest conservation and economic development outcomes. To be successful, they must have strong community support and clear management goals.

To that end, Sustainable Northwest - and partners Mount Adams Resource Stewards, the Columbia Land Trust, the Nisqually Land Trust, the Great Peninsula Conservancy, and Jefferson Land Trust - launched the first Northwest Community Forest Forum. Held on May 5th and 6th, this meeting pooled technical expertise and resources in one place to address the challenges of development and implementation of community forests in our region.

The Forum was the first of its kind to bring together community-based organizations, land trusts, legal advisors, funders, consultants, state and federal agency representatives, and local leaders to discuss current examples of community forests, the essential elements of a community forest - a financing plan, governance structure and long-term management plan - and the existing and needed technical resources available to those interested in pursuing community forestry in the Pacific Northwest. 

Attendees came from across the region to share information, ideas, and strategies for building community owned forests. The Forum was the first of many efforts to promote community forests. Reflecting on the event, Dan Stonington, Executive Director of the Northwest Natural Resource Group says "the forum was energizing and reinforced to me that a community forest movement is taking shape in the Northwest." The Mount Adams Community Forest will be wrapping up the purchase of a second tract in the next few weeks. We hope this is the beginning of many more community forests in the Pacific Northwest.