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Policies and other institutions to support cross-boundary forest management: lessons from four "shared stewardship" projects in the western United States




Aldworth, Tyler Lee, author
Schultz, Courtney, advisor
Cheng, Antony, committee member
Scott, Ryan, committee member

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Land managers are increasingly seeking to increase the pace and scale of management actions by working across boundaries, but a key question is whether new approaches can be undertaken within the confines of existing institutions. Climate change, past forest management practices, and alterations in land use have led to increases in both the extent and severity of wildland fire in recent decades. Growing the pace and scale of land management activities to meet these challenges requires the cooperation of a diverse set of jurisdictions, organizations, and actors operating at various scales and with different capacities while balancing sometimes conflicting suites of objectives and public interests. In 2018 the United States Forest Service published "A Shared Stewardship Strategy" – an initiative focused on increasing the pace and scale of management actions and providing leadership direction for cross-boundary work, elevating as part of a longer-term trend the role of states and non-federal entities in managing forested ecosystems. Through qualitative inquiry, this thesis reports on four landscape-scale cross-boundary projects that meet the intent of Shared Stewardship. Chapter One introduces the study and reviews relevant literature related to institutions, policy implementation, cross-boundary work, and the context of forest management in the United States. Chapter Two, a research product written for a practitioner audience, discusses the involvement of partners and their roles in each project, the prioritization processes utilized by each project, and the key formal and informal factors that influenced each project. Chapter Three, a research product intended for a peer-reviewed journal, evaluates the institutions that facilitate and challenge cross-boundary work, and ways that actors attempted to overcome institutional challenges using a framework that integrates theories of policy implementation and historical institutionalism. Chapter Four conveys overall conclusions and suggestions for further inquiry. Key findings were that guaranteed funding and central coordinators helped projects move forward, while internal USFS policies often negatively impacted a project's relative success. Project planners often innovated around institutional challenges through creative agreements and contracting methods. Insights from this research could help inform forest managers across the United States on ways to design and execute large-scale, cross-boundary work. This study also contributes to the growing body of literature on using policy implementation and institutional innovation lenses to investigate forest and other land management governance contexts. Further research should investigate the consequences of novel institutional changes, such as budget modernization and the impact of additional funding opportunities presented by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021.


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cross-boundary management
wildland fire
wildland fire mitigation
forest service


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